Tom Creavy: Golf Prodigy Whose Pro Career Ended in His 20s

Tom Creavy was a professional golfer who was turning heads on tour while still in his teens and winning a major championship before he turned 21. He was a tall, slim golfer with a smooth swing and a soft-spoken nature. The strength of his game was putting. But his tournament career was cut short by back problems and he retired from competitive play while still young.

Full name: Thomas Daniel Creavy

Date of birth: February 3, 1911

Place of birth: Tuckahoe, New York

Date and place of death: March 3, 1979 in Delray Beach, Florida

Creavy's Biggest Wins

Creavy is credited with two PGA Tour wins:
  • 1931 PGA Championship
  • 1934 San Francisco National Match Play Open
He also won the Northeastern New York PGA in 1931 and 1932.

His PGA Championship Win and Other Majors

Tom Creavy was only 20 years old when he made it through the stroke-play qualifying rounds and into the match-play bracket at the 1931 PGA Championship. In the first round, he beat Jock Collins, 5 and 4, and in the second round, Peter O'Hara, 3 and 1.

A U.S. Open winner, Cyril Walker, was up next. But Creavy dispatched him, 3 and 1. Next, in the semifinals, was Gene Sarazen. Sarazen was already the winner of two PGA Championships, in 1922 and 1923. Sarazen was 20 years old when he won the 1922 PGA Championship, the same age as Creavy at the time of this semifinal match. And Creavy didn't give the "old man" any quarter: He bested Sarazen, 5 and 3.

That set up a championship match between Creavy and Denny Shute. Shute eventually won three majors, but was looking for his first here. Creavy had control for most of the match and was 4-up with just six holes to play. But starting on the 31st hole, Shute made a charge. When Creavy double-bogeyed to lose the 34th hole, reducing his lead to just 1-up, it looked like the youngster might be choking.

But Creavy regained his composure to win the 35th hole and close out the match for a 2-and-1 victory. He was the PGA champion. And, at age 20, less than two months older than Sarazen had been in 1922. Today, Sarazen and Creavy remain 1-2 on the list of youngest PGA Championship winners.

In that title match, Creavy showed off his short-game prowess. He needed 29 putts during the first 18 holes, an impressively low total for the time. He started the afternoon 18 with eight one-putt greens over the first 11 holes.

That was the very first PGA Championship that Creavy played in, too. He had attempted to qualify the two previous years, without success. In 1929, Creavy was in great shape in his qualifier but blew up with an 11 on the final hole and failed to advance.

In his title defense in the 1932 PGA Championship, Creavy reached the semifinals against Frank Walsh. He was 8-down after just 16 holes, only to come roaring back to square the match. But Walsh eventually beat him on the 38th hole.

In the 1933 PGA Championship, Creavy reached the quarterfinals before bowing out to Jimmy Hines, 4 and 3. Those three PGAs — a win in 1931, semifinals in 1932, quarters in 1933 — were the only PGAs in which he made it out of stroke-play qualifying. But, due to physical ailments (more on that to come), Creavy only played in four more PGAs after 1933.

How did Creavy fare in other majors? In the 1934 U.S. Open at Merion, Creavy closed with a 66 to finished tied for eighth place. It was the only round below 70 in the entire tournament, and tied the 18-hole U.S. Open scoring record of the time. The tie for eighth was also Creavy's best finish in a major outside of the PGA Championship.

Creavy also had the distinction of being invited to the very first Masters Tournament in 1934, where he tied for 25th place. Creavy played in only 11 majors total, first at the 1930 U.S. Open and last in the 1940 U.S. Open.

More About Tom Creavy

Tom Creavy grew up in Tuckahoe, New York, in the golf hotbed of Westchester County. As a child, he got into the game through caddying, and as a teen caddie carried the bags of, among others, Gene Sarazen and Johnny Farrell.

In 1928, when Creavy was only 17 years old, Farrell sponsored him for membership in the Professional Golfers Association, and he turned pro. His first job was working at Bonnie Briar Country Club in the same county as his hometown. Just a few weeks after receiving Farrell's help in joining the PGA, Creavy beat Farrell in the quarterfinals of the Metropolitan PGA (but then lost to Sarazen in the semifinals).

That was his first notice in the world of pro tournament golf, but more soon followed. Creavy was runner-up by one stroke to Willie Macfarlane in the 1930 Westchester Open.

In August 1931, Creavy won his first tour event (although, because it was 36 holes, it is no longer counted as an official PGA Tour win by today's PGA Tour) at the Northeastern New York PGA. One month later came his victory, at age 20, in the 1931 PGA Championship.

Creavy repeated as champ at the 1932 Northeastern New York PGA and then, trying to repeat as PGA champ, reached the semifinals before losing.

Going for the three-peat at the Northeastern New York PGA in 1933, he was runner-up. Creavy also finished second in the Glens Falls Open and Mid-South Pro-Pro (partnered by Herman Barron) in 1933.

Then, in 1934, Creavy won the San Francisco National Match Play Open, beating Jimmy Thomson in the championship match.

Creavy was still just 23 years old at that point. Yet his career was soon essentially over. What happened?

He slipped. Not his golf game — his feet. Walking in spikes on a tiled floor in a clubhouse just a few weeks after winning in San Francisco in 1934, Creavy slipped and fell. He twisted his knee, but, worse, he severely wrenched his back. His back pain was so bad that he missed almost the next two years of PGA Tour play.

When he finished sixth in the 1936 Bellaire Open, it was something of a last hurrah. Creavy still made tournament appearances after that, attempting from time to time to play on tour again. But he was never the same player after the fall.

A 1939 article in Esquire magazine said that Creavy "had a brilliant tournament record brought to an end by persistent sacroiliac trouble." It wasn't really brought to an end, since he did, as already seen, make an effort to play on tour again. But that end did come in 1943 when Creavy battled through a case of spinal meningitis.

After that, Creavy officially retired from competitive tournament golf. He had been working since before his PGA Championship win as the head pro at Albany (N.Y.) Country Club, but due to the spinal meningitis resigned that position.

After recovering, Creavy was named pro at Saratoga Spa golf course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he remained until his retirement from club pro duties in 1973. Over the years, Creavy became a highly respected teacher of the game. Among his pupils was Tommy Aaron, who won the 1973 Masters Tournament.

He was 68 years old when he died of a heart attack in 1979. Creavy today is a member of the Metropolitan PGA Hall of Fame.

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