Golfer Wes Ellis: 1950s/1960s PGA Tour Winner

Wes Ellis was an American professional golfer who played on the PGA Tour in the 1950s and 1960s. He got off to a hot start on the tour, but quickly decided he'd rather work as a club professional. Still, Ellis won three big tournaments and had some good showings in majors.

Full name: Wesley Ellis Jr.

Date of birth: January 27, 1932

Place of birth: Kansas City, Missouri

Date and place of death: June 4, 1984, in Teaneck, New Jersey

His Biggest Wins

Ellis had three wins on the PGA Tour:
  • 1958 Canadian Open
  • 1959 Texas Open
  • 1965 San Diego Open
He had one victory on the Caribbean Tour at the 1968 Maracaibo Open Invitational.

Ellis won numerous state and regional tournaments around the New York/New Jersey area, and was the region's dominant player in the early 1960s:

  • Metropolitan Open: 1957, 1961, 1963
  • New Jersey PGA Championship: 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964
  • New Jersey State Open: 1962, 1963
  • Westchester PGA Championship: 1968, 1969

In the Majors

Ellis never played the British Open, but he had Top 10 finishes in two of the other three majors. His best finish in a major was a tie for fifth place in the 1961 PGA Championship. A year earlier, in the 1960 PGA Championship, he was sixth.

In the U.S. Open, Ellis tied for ninth in 1956 in what was his very first appearance in a major championship. He also tied for eighth in the 1966 U.S. Open. He tied 12th in the 1967 U.S. Open, and in the PGA Championship was tied 13th in 1965 and tied 17th in 1963.

Ellis did not have any Top 10s in The Masters, but had two Top 20s: tied 15th in 1965 and tied 16th in 1967. His last appearance in a major was at the 1970 U.S. Open.

More About Wes Ellis

Wes Ellis grew up in Texas and played his first golf tournament at age 11. After winning a Texas junior championship in 1950, he played on the University of Texas golf team (under coach Harvey Penick) from 1950-52. Ellis won the Southwest Conference individual championship in 1952.

Ellis graduated from college in 1953 and turned pro as a golfer in 1954. His first pro tournament victory of note was in the 1957 Metropolitan Open. That helped encourage Ellis to give the PGA Tour a full-time effort in 1958.

Ellis made an impression very soon after joining the PGA Tour. His first tour win was a big one, the 1958 Canadian Open. He bettered major championship winner Jay Hebert by one stroke, and Ellis' 267 winning score was the third-lowest to that time in a tournament whose history dated to the early 1900s.

In that rookie year, Ellis also made it into a playoff at the 1958 West Palm Beach Open. But Pete Cooper pipped him for the trophy with a birdie on the first extra hole.

Ellis followed up his rookie year with a two-stroke win in the 1959 Texas Open, another one of the tour's longest-running events. He must have appeared to fans and fellow pros a real up-and-comer.

But in 1960, Ellis decided he wanted to spend more time with his family instead of traveling around the country. To do that, he took a club pro job at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, New Jersey. For the rest of his life, he was closely associated with the New Jersey/New York area.

But Ellis didn't completely give up playing PGA Tour events. He just played fewer of them, staying home the majority of the year. A 1961 issue of Goldom magazine had this to say about Ellis: "Wes Ellis, pro at Mountain Ridge CC, West Caldwell, NJ, is one of the few seems to handle a home pro job full-time and still make money on the circuit. He put in eight months last year at his club but managed to find enough time playing the circuit to earn more than $9,000. In December and January, he picked up $6,500 on the tour."

Ellis had multiple runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour. He was second to Billy Casper at the 1959 Mobile Sertoma Open; to Arnold Palmer at the 1961 Baton Rouge Open; to Harold Henning in the 1966 Texas Open; and Art Wall in the 1966 Insurance City Open.

But he also had another win in him: Ellis took the 1965 San Diego Open, and he did so while putting cross-handed (left-hand low). It is believed to be the first time a golfer won a PGA Tour tournament using that putting grip. And his winning total of 267 was a tournament record that stood until 1987.

While Ellis won only three PGA Tour titles, they were all in tournaments that were long-running, prestigious events. (The Canadian and Texas opens, in particular, were considered much bigger at the time than they are today.)

All the while, Ellis was playing in state and regional tournaments in the New Jersey/New York area. He won all three of the New Jersey Open, the New Jersey PGA and the Metropolitan Open in 1963, one of just two golfer to win those titles in the same year.

Ellis won the New Jersey PGA four consecutive years, 1961 through 1964. He won the Metropolitan Open three times and was runner-up three more times. And Ellis was named New Jersey Player of the Year three consecutive years, 1961, 1962, 1963.

Ellis, like many PGA Tour players, also played on the winter circuit known as the Caribbean Tour. He had one victory at the 1968 Maracaibo Open, plus a slew of second-play finishes. He was runner-up in the Caracas Open three times (including 1965 to Al Besselink and 1966 to Art Wall); runner-up to Wall in the 1965 Maracaibo Open; and runner-up twice in the Panama Open (1965 to Wall and 1968 to Butch Baird).

Ellis was also a respected golf instructor. For the 1960 book Golf Magazine's Pro Pointers and Stroke Savers (affiliate links used in this post), Ellis penned the entry on "Lofting the Irons." His own golf instruction book, All-Weather Golf (with co-author George Sullivan and a foreward by Tommy Bolt) was published in 1967. And he also had an entry titled "Swingin' in the Rain" in the 1968 book Golf Magazine's Your Long Game.

Ellis was well-known enough in the late 1950s, early 1960s that he played a made-for-television match. Ellis and Mike Fetchik were the golfers in a 1960 episode of the television series World Championship Golf.

As a club pro, Ellis first worked at Greenwood Country Club in River Vale, New Jersey, before joining Mountain Ridge. In 1967, he took over the very prestigious head pro position at Westchester Country Club in New York.

Ellis was was only 52 years old when he died of kidney disease in 1984.

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