Golfer Olin Dutra: 2-Time Major Champion

Olin Dutra is arguably one of the more underrated golfers in the history of pro golf: He won "only" 10 PGA Tour tournaments (in the 1920s and 1930s), but, then, he entered fewer than 100 PGA Tour events. Two of those wins were major championships, one of those victories being famous for what Dutra overcame to claim it. He was the first golfer born in California to win a U.S. Open.

Full name: Olin Anthony Dutra

Date of birth: January 17, 1901

Place of birth: Monterey, California

Date and place of death: May 5, 1983, in Newman, California

Nickname: He was called "King Kong" because, at 6-foot-3 and weighing around 230 pounds in his best years, he was very big for his era of golf. He was also known as "The Golden Basque" because his family, with Basque heritage, immigrated to California from Spain.

His Biggest Wins

Dutra is credited with 10 PGA Tour victories:
  • 1929 National Orange Open
  • 1930 Long Beach Open (tie with Joe Kirkwood Sr.)
  • 1930 Southern California Pro
  • 1932 Metropolitan Open
  • 1932 North Shore Chicago Open
  • 1932 PGA Championship
  • 1934 U.S. Open
  • 1934 Miami Biltmore Open
  • 1936 Sunset Fields Open
  • 1936 True Temper Open
He also won numerous non-PGA Tour tournaments within the state of California, including the Southern California PGA Championship six times (1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1938, 1940). He also won the 1922 Del Monte Match Play, 1931 California State Match Play, 1931 Pacific Southwest PGA and 1940 California State Open.

His Two Major Championship Wins and Other Major Finishes

He had a short window of major championship excellence, but Olin Dutra took advantage of it. From 1933 through the first major of 1935, Dutra played in seven majors. He finished in the Top 10 in six of them, won two of them and also had a third-place showing.

Dutra is best-remembered today for his win in the 1934 U.S. Open, the second of his two major championship wins, and where he became the only golfer (that we know of) to win a major soon after suffering from dysentery.

Traveling from California to Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia (and picking up his brother, Mortie Dutra, also a pro golfer, in Detroit), Dutra picked up a gastrointestinal bug that ravaged him. He lost 15 pounds and couldn't get out of bed for days, nor practice or play any golf for 10 days. He came close many times, before and during the tournament, to withdrawing. With his brother encouraging him to do so, he carried on.

After 36 holes, sometimes struggling to continue, Olin was eight strokes behind the leaders. There were 17 golfers ahead of him. The final 36 holes were played on the same day at that time, another obstacle for a man in Dutra's condition. Some wags began referring to him as "the sick man of Merion."

But Dutra shot 71 in the third round and moved into a tie for fourth place, just three behind leader Gene Sarazen. Then, in the final round, Dutra shot 72 to Sarazen's 76, winning the U.S. Open by one stroke.

At the time, Dutra's 8-stroke deficit after 36 holes was the largest in tournament history made up by the eventual winner. Arnold Palmer tied the record in the 1960 U.S. Open; it wasn't until Lou Graham came back from 11 strokes down in the 1975 U.S. Open that Dutra's record was broken.

Several years later, Dutra said:

"My illness was a blessing in disguise. It slowed down my swing, forced me to take my time and conserve energy. I concentrated harder because of my physical weakness. Illness sometimes sharpens mental faculties. It did in my case."
His first win in a major was in the 1932 PGA Championship. The week began with Dutra winning medalist honors in stroke-play qualifying, the third of five times in the PGA's match-play era that the medalist went on to win the title. En route to the championship match, Dutra defeated George Smith (9 and 8), Reggie Myles (5 and 3), Herman Barron (5 and 4) and, in the semifinals, Ed Dudley, 3 and 2 (all matches 36 holes). In the championship match, Dutra dispatched Frank Walsh, 4 and 3.

Dutra's next-best showing was solo third in the 1935 Masters Tournament. Dutra was in second, one stroke behind leader Craig Wood, following the third round. But Dutra shot 74 in the final round and finished two strokes out of the Wood-Gene Sarazen playoff, won by Sarazen.

Dutra played in very few majors for a golfer with his pedigree. He played in The Masters only twice and the British Open only once. Most years, he also skipped the PGA Championship. His first appearance in a major was in the 1928 PGA Championship, his last in the 1953 Masters, but he played in a major only 21 times. Dutra tied four seventh place in the 1932 and 1933 U.S. Opens, was sixth in the 1933 British Open, and went out in the Round of 16 (a tie for ninth place) in the 1933 PGA Championship. He also had Top 20s in the U.S. Opens of 1935 (tied 12th), 1938 (t16) and 1939 (t16).

More About Olin Dutra

Olin Dutra was born in Monterey, California, 18 years before Pebble Beach Golf Links opened on the Monterey Peninsula. He was always strongly associated with the state, living and working there for most of his life.

Olin and his brother Mortie got into golf through caddying. In his teen years, Olin worked in a hardware store, and so he could also work on his golf game he would get up at 4 a.m. in order to practice golf before heading to the store.

He turned pro in 1924 and immediately turned heads, although initially simply for his size. Olin was a large man for his era of golf. Golf publications often referred to him as a giant, and Golf Magazine once called him the "beetle-browed behemoth from California."

Dutra's first appearance in a PGA Tour event was in 1926 and his last was in 1960. But despite that long span, the fact is Dutra was never more than an occasional tour player: He had only 96 career starts in official PGA Tour tournaments, acccording to the tour's statistics. He finished in the Top 10 in more than half of them (50), with 10 wins, eight seconds and five thirds.

In only one year, 1930, did he make as many as 10 starts. And in that one year, 1930, those 10 starts included two wins, four seconds and eight Top 4 finishes.

It was simply more profitable at the time for Dutra (and most of the other tour pros) to hold down one (or more) club pro positions, and also to do exhibition tours. For example, Dutra toured the country with Walter Hagen in 1933.

The UPI news service once quoted Dutra, who was speaking after retirement about his 1935 U.S. Open win but whose comments apply to the attitude many pros had at the time about going on tour:

"Winning the Open was a big thrill for me, naturally, but it wasn't the big deal it is now. .... Most of the men playing in the Open in those days were club pros, and we all had to tend shop, teach, look after members, keep everyone happy and play mostly in local tournaments. To play in a big tournament, like the Open or the PGA, was just an escape for a week."
That didn't stop Dutra from racking up wins, both on and off the PGA Tour. In his home state, he got his first big win at the Del Monte Match Play in 1922. He later added six wins in the Southern California PGA Championship. The last was in 1940, when Dutra also won the California State Open.

His first PGA Tour win was at the 1929 National Orange Open. In 1930, he won two PGA Tour titles, the first of four years in which he claimed multiple tour events. At the end of 1930, Dutra was runner-up to Tony Manero by one stroke in the Catalina Open, the second-to-last tournament on the PGA Tour schedule. In the season-ender, Manero then beat runner-up Mortie Dutra to win the Pasadeno Open, vanquishing the brothers in back-to-back weeks. (Mortie Dutra never won on the PGA Tour.)

The year of his PGA Championship win, 1932, Olin won two other PGA Tour titles, including the North Shore Chicago Open. He had two, big near-misses that year, too: He was runner-up by one stroke to Walter Hagen in the very prestigious Western Open; and tied for second behind Macdonald Smith in the Los Angeles Open.

In 1934, in addition to his U.S. Open victory, he also claimed the Miami Biltmore Open. The last two of Dutra's 10 PGA Tour wins happened in 1936.

Dutra played on Team USA in the 1933 Ryder Cup, but went 0-2. That included a 9-and-8 singles loss to Abe Mitchell (36 hole matches at the time). In the 1935 Ryder Cup, Dutra lost in foursomes again but earned his only Ryder Cup match win against Alf Padgham (4 and 2) in singles. He also played for Team USA in the 1936 Lakes International Cup, a matchup against Australian golfers.

Dutra worked at many golf clubs in California, as a head pro and teaching professional, with one of his longest stints being at Brentwood Country Club in Los Angeles. Other places he worked included Fort Washington (Fresno), Sunnyside (Fresno), Wilshire CC (Los Angeles), Jurupa Hills Golf Course (Riverside), Anaheim Municipal and Pajaro Valley (Watsonville). He also spent time at Club de Golf in Mexico City, and his last club job was at San Luis Bay Club in Avila Beach, Calif.

Olin was very well-known as a teaching professional. At several of his stops, Mortie joined him as an assistant pro.

In 1932, at Brentwood Country Club, Olin Dutra gave Babe Didrikson what was publicized as her first golf lesson. When she teed off what was said to be her first-ever round of golf, Didrikson laced a 240-yard drive. Later, she pulled off a very long carry, which led Dutra to tell sportswriter Grantland Rice, "I saw it, but I still don't believe it." (It turns out that Didrikson had, in fact, played golf prior to this "first lesson," but was still very much a novice.)

Dutra had a couple of "flicker books" — with pages that, when quickly flipped, produced a moving image of the swing — of golf instruction. One was a 31-page book published in 1941 titled All You Need to Know to Start Golf. Another, published in 1948, was titled The Golf Doctor. They are scarce collectibles today.

He was made a member of the PGA Hall of Fame in 1962.

Olin Dutra was 82 years old when he died in 1983. In addition to the PGA Hall, Dutra was also inducted into the Southern California PGA Hall of Fame, Southland Golf Hall of Fame and Fresno County Athletic Hall of Fame.

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