Fred McLeod: U.S. Open Winner, First Masters Tournament Honorary Starter

Golfer Fred McLeod swings in the early 1900s

Fred McLeod was a Scotsman by birth but lived most of his life in the United States, where he won a U.S. Open in the first decade of the 20th century. He almost won two other majors, and took part in a couple international match-play tournaments that led to the creation of the Ryder Cup. And in his 80s, McLeod was one of the first honorary starters at The Masters Tournament.

Full name: Frederick Robertson McLeod

Date of birth: April 25, 1882

Place of birth: North Berwick, Scotland

Date and place of death: May 8, 1976 in Washington, D.C.

Nicknames: Freddie, The Wasp

McLeod's Biggest Wins

  • 1905 Riverside Open
  • 1905 Western PGA Championship
  • 1907 Western PGA Championship
  • 1908 U.S. Open
  • 1909 North and South Open
  • 1912 Shawnee Open
  • 1920 North and South Open*
  • 1921 St. Augustine Open*
  • 1924 St. Petersburg Open*
  • 1927 Maryland Open
    (*counted today as official PGA Tour wins)
McLeod also won the 1938 Senior PGA Championship (then called the PGA Seniors' Championship).

His U.S. Open Victory and Other Major Finishes

McLeod had one win in a major championship, at the 1908 U.S. Open, and was runner-up in two others — the 1919 PGA Championship and the 1921 U.S. Open.

When McLeod, who was the pro at Midlothian Club in Chicago in 1908, left on the train ride to Boston, near Myopia Hunt Club where the U.S. Open was being played, he weighed 118 pounds. When the tournament ended a week later, McCleod was down to 108 pounds. He was 5-foot-4 both before and after the tournament. He is considered the smallest man ever to win a major.

McLeod carried only seven, homemade golf clubs during that U.S. Open (and his earlier victories). He later explained, "I made my own clubs and I took care of them. I had only seven clubs, but we made full use out of our irons. We closed the face for some long shots and opened it for shorter distances."

McLeod was five strokes off the lead following an opening 82 in that 1908 U.S. Open. Another 82 in the second round failed to close the margin, but he stood in solo fourth place. An 81 in Round 3 moved him into second place, one stroke behind Willie Smith.

In the final round, McLeod scored 77, tying the lowest round of the tournament. Smith had a 78, and they finished tied at 322. They returned the next day for an 18-hole playoff, which was tied through 13 holes. McLeod took a one-stroke lead on the 14th hole, then stretched that lead over the closing holes. He wound up winning the playoff and the trophy by six shots, 77 to 83.

In the 1919 PGA Championship (the second one played), McLeod beat J.D. Edgar, 8 and 6, in the quarterfinals, and George McLean, 3 and 2, in the semifinals. That set up a championship matchup against Jim Barnes. Barnes was the winner of the first PGA Championship in 1916, and he won this one, too, beating McLeod, 6 and 5.

Barnes was also the winner of the 1921 U.S. Open, ahead of runners-up McLeod and Walter Hagen. But McLeod and Hagen were a distant nine strokes behind.

Twice McLeod finished one stroke out of a three-man playoff in U.S. Open. In the 1910 U.S. Open, he was solo fourth, one behind Alex Smith, John McDermott and Macdonald Smith (Alex Smith won the playoff). In the 1911 U.S. Open, McLeod had a three-stroke lead following the third round. But he struggled to an 83 in the final round and finished one shot out of a playoff (McDermott beat Mike Brady and George Simpson).

McLeod's first major played was the 1903 U.S. Open, and the last major he completed was the 1935 Masters. But he continued playing The Masters for years to come, all way through 1962, although he typically withdrew during or after the first round.

In the period from 1905 through 1926, McLeod had seven Top 5 finishes (six in the U.S. Open, one in the PGA Championship), plus an additional three Top 10s and two quarterfinal appearances in the PGA Championship. In the U.S. Open, McLeod tied fifth in 1907 and tied third in 1914, in addition to those finishes already mentioned above.

His final Top 10 finish in a major was seventh place in the 1926 British Open, one of just two times McLeod traveled back to the U.K. to play in his native Open.

More About Fred McLeod

Fred McLeod was small of stature and short off the tee. A lack of power clearly didn't hold back his golf career.

"He made up for his lack of size with a fine short game and was an outstanding bunker player, using a No. 9 iron even after the wedge become popular," the authors of a golf encyclopedia published in England in 1975 commented.

He was born in the golf hotbed of North Berwick, Scotland, but McLeod was not a well-known figure in Scottish golf when he decided, at age 21 in 1903, to head to America. Many Scottish golf pros were doing the exact same thing, as golf grew in the United States and country clubs looked for experienced pros to work with their wealthy club members.

McLeod soon landed a job as pro at Rockford Country Club in Illinois, and within a few months of his arrival played in his first U.S. Open (tying for 26th place). He also spent time at St. Louis Country Club and won the Western PGA Championship, a match play tournament, twice.

Then, in 1908, McLeod had his major breakthrough at the U.S. Open. At the time, he was the pro at Midlothian Club in Chicago. He won the North & South Open at Pinehurst in 1909 and the Shawnee Open in Pennsylvania in 1912. That was all in the pre-PGA Tour days.

When the PGA of America was founded in 1916, McLeod was one of its founding members. Today's PGA Tour traces it history to the founding of the PGA, so McLeod's tournament wins prior to 1916 are not counted by the tour today as official tour wins. His 1920 North & South Open is, as are his wins in the 1921 St. Augustine Open and 1924 St. Petersburg Open.

Along the way McLeod had some near-misses in big tournaments, too, including the majors mentioned above. He was runner-up in the 1907 Western Open and, by one stroke to Willie Anderson, in the 1908 Western Open. After the PGA's creation, he had second-place tour finishes in the 1917 and 1921 North and South Opens, the 1922 St. Augustine Open and 1925 Florida West Coast Open.

McLeod finished fifth on the PGA Tour money list, his best showing, in 1921, when he had one win and two second-place finishes (including in the U.S. Open). In 1927, at age 45, McLeod won the Maryland Open and lost in a playoff to Leo Diegel at the Middle Atlantic Open.

He also played in a couple events that built momentum toward the creation of the Ryder Cup. After playing in the 1921 British Open, McLeod stuck around for an informal series of matches between British pros and pros based in the United States. Although Scottish, McLeod played for the American side since that is the country where he was living and working. The 1921 Britain vs. USA matches helped seed the idea for the Ryder Cup.

In 1926, when McLeod once again was in the U.K. for the Open (he finished seventh), he once again took part in a Ryder Cup-style team match play tournament, once again on Team USA. That 1926 competition directly led to the inaugural Ryder Cup the following year, but written into the rules of the Ryder Cup was that a golfer had to be native-born or a naturalized citizen to represent a side.

Senior (over-50) golf tournaments were rare at any level, and virtually non-existent in professional golf, before McLeod, Bobby Jones and others help prod the PGA of America to create the Senior PGA Championship (then called the PGA Seniors' Championship). It launched in 1937, when McLeod was 55 years old. He finished fourth in the first one, which was won by Jock Hutchison. In the 1938 Senior PGA, McLeod beat Otto Hackbarth in an 18-hole playoff to take the title. (In the 1954 Senior PGA, McLeod won the 70-74 age division.)

Those first two Senior PGA Championships were played at Augusta National Golf Club. And McLeod was invited by Jones to play in The Masters for years to come, as was Hutchison, the first Senior PGA winner.

In 1963, the 25th anniversary of the last of the two Senior PGA Championships played at Augusta National, Jones asked McLeod and Hutchison to hit the opening drives of The Masters Tournament. Thus began what we know today as the honorary starters tradition in The Masters. McLeod and Hutchison, in their 80s, continued playing after that opening drive the first few years, completing 18 holes in less than 2 hours, 30 minutes. McLeod continued hitting the opening drive in The Masters through 1976 (Hutchison last did so in 1973).

As a club pro, after leaving Midlothian McLeon took over as a pro at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland. And he was there for the next 55 years, from 1912 through 1967, when he was 85 years old. Along the way he was elected the first president of the District of Columbia PGA, and the first president of the Middle Atlantic PGA.

He was 94 years old at the time of his death in 1976, one month after he last teed off The Masters Tournament as honorary starter. He was buried at Columbia Country Club.

Today, McLeod is a member of the PGA Hall of Fame, elected in 1960; the Middle Atlantic PGA Hall of Fame, elected in 1991; and the Maryland Golf Hall of Fame, elected in 2022.

Photo credit: Bain News Service, P. Fred McLeod — golf., ca. 1910. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, Public domain.

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