Golfer Johnny Farrell: Beat Bobby Jones in U.S. Open Playoff

Golfer Johnny Farrell pictured swinging golf club in 1922

Johnny Farrell was a regular winner on the PGA Tour from the early 1920s into the mid-1930s, including one year with seven wins on tour. He's most-famous for beating Bobby Jones in a 36-hole playoff to win the U.S. Open. Farrell later became a very highly regarded teaching pro, working with celebrities, presidents and royalty. Throughout his golf career, he was known as one of the "nice guys" of the game.

Full name: John Joseph Farrell

Date of birth: April 1, 1901

Place of birth: White Plains, New York

Date and place of death: June 14, 1988 in Boynton Beach, Florida

Nicknames: "The Gentleman;" Gentleman Johnny; and Handsome Johnny

Number of Wins

Johnny Farrell is today credited by the PGA Tour with 22 victories in official tour events, which still ranks him in the Top 35 all-time. Eleven of those wins happened in two years: He won four PGA Tour tournaments in 1926 and seven more in 1927.

The figure of 24 is sometimes cited as Farrell's PGA Tour win total because he twice won the Miami International Four-Ball team event (once with Bobby Cruickshank, once with Gene Sarazen). However, the tour today no longer credits those as official tour wins. (Even in its own time, that tournament was considered part of the PGA Tour schedule in some years, not in others.)

All of Farrell's wins are listed at the bottom of this article.

His U.S. Open Playoff Win Vs. Bobby Jones and Other Majors

Johnny Farrell won "only" once in major championships, but he had a stout record in the biggest tournaments. From 1923-33, he was rarely outside the Top 10 in a major. In 24 appearances in majors during that stretch, Farrell had the one win, two seconds, two thirds and 18 Top 10 finishes.

Farrell played his first major at the 1919 PGA Championship, and last at the 1956 Masters, the vast majority of his starts in majors coming in the 1920s and 1930s.

What Farrell is most-famous for is beating Bobby Jones in a 36-hole playoff to win the 1928 U.S. Open. While Jones was considered the favorite in the playoff, Farrell was coming off a 1927 PGA Tour season in which he won seven times and been named Golfer of the Year.

Jones took the lead after the second round of the tournament, with Farrell seven strokes behind at that point. In the third round, Jones maintained his lead with a 73, but Farrell shot 71 to move into the Top 10 and close the gap to five strokes.

In the final round, Farrell scored 72 to Jones' 77, creating a tie at 294. Farrell had finished his round well ahead of Jones and was hanging out in the clubhouse, beliving he had no chance at the title. Gene Sarazen had to inform Farrell that he faced a 36-hole playoff the next day against Jones.

In that playoff, Farrell led after the morning 18, shooting 70 to Jones' 73. They were tied again by the seventh hole of the afternoon 18, but Farrell went two ahead again when Jones double-bogeyed the 27th overall hole. Farrell then reeled off three consecutive bogeys to drop one behind, but birdied the 31st to tie it again. When Jones bogeyed the third-to last hole, Farrell had the one-stroke margin he carried to the end and to the championship.

Farrell finished second in two other majors, both the following year: the 1929 British Open and 1929 PGA Championship. He was a distant six strokes behind the Open winner, Walter Hagen. In the PGA Championship, Farrell defeated Craig Wood in the quarterfinals and Al Watrous in the semifinals. But Leo Diegel dispatched Farrell in the 36-hole championship match, 6 and 4.

Farrell made the semifinals of the PGA Championship two other times, in 1926 (losing to Hagen) and 1933 (falling to Sarazen). He was knocked out in the PGA quarterfinals three other times, 1924, 1925 and 1930.

In the U.S. Open, Farrell tied for fifth place in 1923, then tied for third in both the 1925 U.S. Open and 1926 U.S. Open. He was one stroke off the lead after 54 holes in 1925, but shot 78 in the final round and missed a playoff by one stroke. Farrell was never really in contention in 1926, finishing four behind the winner, Jones.

Farrell tied for seventh in the 1927 U.S. Open, and also had Top 10s in the 1930, 1931 and 1933 U.S. Opens. He played the British Open only four times during his prime years, but in addition to his 1929 runner-up, Farrell also posted a tie for fifth place in the 1931 British Open.

The Masters tournament was founded in 1934, and Farrell played in the first three plus others in later years, with a best showing of tied 14th in 1940.

More About Johnny Farrell

Johnny Farrell was greatly admired by other golfers for his smooth swing, which Byron Nelson once compared to "an old rocking chair" ("very rhythmic ... back and through, back and through"). But despite that great-looking swing, Farrell was not a long hitter or great ballstriker. He made up for that, though, by being one of the best scramblers of his era, and he is sometimes mentioned among the best putters of all-time.

Farrell was equally well-known for his attention to dressing well as we he was for his class, charm and friendliness. Newspaper and magazine writers of the era rarely failed to work in references to both his clothing and his courteousness in profiles.

Farrell's father died when Johnny was young, and Johnny didn't stay in school for long. He needed to work to help support the family.

He started caddying at courses in one of the hotbeds of American golf, Westchester County, New York. He caddied at Fairview Country Club in Elmsford, N.Y., among other clubs, and sometimes carried the bag for famous golfers. One was Jerry Travers, a four-time U.S. Amateur champ and winner of the 1915 U.S. Open.

When Farrell was 15, he watched from the gallery as the best golf professionals played the 1916 PGA Championship at Siwanoy Country Club in New York — the very first PGA Championship. Farrell had already worked his way onto the pro staff at Siwanoy by that point, and his life in golf was set.

In 1919, at age 18, Farrell became head pro at Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, N.Y., and he also began playing in some tour events.

His first tour victory was at the 1921 Garden City Open. He won again in 1922 and once more in 1924. In 1925, with two wins, Farrell had his first multi-victory year on tour.

Then, in 1926, he had the first of two huge years. He won four times on tour in 1926, including his second Shawnee Open victory. Off the tour, Farrell added the 1926 Westchester Open and Mid-South Pro Best Ball.

In 1927, Farrell was even better: He won seven times on the tour, plus once more in a non-tour event. One of those victories was his third in the Shawnee Open. It was in the 1927 Shawnee Open that Tommy Armour, according to legend, scored a 23 on a single hole. But the real story of that tournament was Farrell's 10-stroke winning margin, and his score of 279 that the New York Times called "one of the lowest figures ever made in a stroke competition."

Various sources in print and on the web claim that Farrell had a long consecutive-wins streak in 1927, winning (depending on which source is cited) nine, eight, seven or six tournaments in a row in which he played. The PGA Tour does not credit Farrell with win streaks of any such lengths, and our own research cannot support any of those claims, either. (The consecutive-wins streak claim of six probably was supported based on the standards of 1927, when reporters might have left major championships out of the equation but included non-tour tournaments.)

But no such streak is necessary to recognize how good Farrell's 1927 season was. At one point, he won four out of six consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour (Metropolitan Open, Shawnee Open, Eastern Open, Massachusetts Open). He was voted Best Golf Professional in the U.S. at the end of the year.

His "golden year" might have been 1927, but 1928 is when he won his major championship, beating Bobby Jones in the playoff. Farrell also scored 63 — a rare score on tour at the time — in the final round to win the 1928 La Gorce Open; and, for the second time, won the Miami International Four-Ball. Once again, he was named Best Golf Professional.

After winning the U.S. Open, Farrell embarked on an exhibition tour with Gene Sarazen, then did more barnstorming in 1928 with Walter Hagen. The combination of his U.S. Open win and his appearances with superstars Hagen and Sarazen pushed him to a new level of stardom. Farrell got wealthy (by the standards of the time) in the aftermath of the U.S. Open, from appearance fees plus all the new endorsement deals that came in.

But 1929 was his first winless year since 1923. He won twice in 1930, though, and also got married that year: Farrell married a socialite named Catherine (Kay) Hush, and the wedding made headlines in newspapers. They were together the rest of his life (she outlived him by 10 years).

Farrell's final PGA Tour win was the 1936 New Jersey Open, where he defeated Vic Ghezzi in an 18-hole playoff, 71 to 75.

Farrell was part of Team USA in the first three Ryder Cups ever played. In the 1927 Ryder Cup, he won a foursomes match with partner Joe Turnesa, and, in singles, defeated Aubrey Boomer, 5 and 4. In the 1929 Ryder Cup, Farrell and Turnesa partnered again in foursomes and halved with Charles Whitcombe/Archie Compston. In singles, Farrell lost to Whitcombe, 8 and 6 (36 holes). In the 1931 Ryder Cup, Farrell and Sarazen partnered to a foursomes win, but Farell lost his singles match to Bill Davies, 4 and 3.

Throughout his tournament career, Farrell was serving as the pro at prestigious golf clubs. After starting at Siwanoy, he was the head pro at Quaker Ridge from 1919-30.

In 1934, married and starting a family, Farrell decided it was time to stop playing so much on tour and to settle into a full-time pro job. He became head professional at Baltusrol that year, and had that job for nearly four decades to come.

Soon Farrell became almost as famous for his prowess at teaching the game as he had been for playing it. Before long it wasn't just Baltusrol members or his friends on tour who were visiting him for lessons, but the famous and powerful, too. His pupils included four American presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Ford); some of the biggest celebrities around, including Bing Crosby and Bob Hope; and even some members of royal families.

In 1956, Farrell began wintering in Florida, and added the position of head pro at Country Club of Florida (Delray Beach) to his Baltusrol duties. As the pro at Baltusrol, he was the host professional for four majors: the 1936 U.S. Open, 1954 U.S. Open, and 1967 U.S. Open, plus the 1961 U.S. Women's Open.

Farrell retired from Baltusrol in 1971 and moved permanently to Florida, where he continued working as the pro at CC of Florida until fully retiring in 1980.

During his career, Farrell also took part in film instruction and wrote several books on golf. Farrell was featured in a golf instructional films in the 1930s. One of those, titled How to Play Golf (1931), was aimed at women golfers and features his wife Kay as the student:

In the 1950s, Farrell was host of a television program called Swing Into Sports, one of the first golf instructional shows in TV history.

His books were Johnny Farrell on Golf Sportsmanship (published in 1929); If I Were In Your Golf Shoes (1951, affiliate links used in this article) and The Weekend Golfer (1952). He also contributed chapters to other golf instructionals, and many magazine articles.

Farrell died at age 87 in 1988. He is a member of the PGA of America Hall of Fame, the Metropolitan Section Hall of Fame, and the New Jersey State Golf Association Hall of Fame. As of 2024, Farrell will be a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Farrell had a brother, Jim, who was also a golf professional. Two of his sons (Johnny and Kay had five children) became golf pros, too. Jimmy Farrell served as an assistant to his father as a club pro. Billy Farrell played some on the PGA Tour and, like his father, won the New Jersey Open.

List of Farrell's Tournament Wins

PGA Tour

  • 1921 Garden City Open
  • 1922 Shawnee Open
  • 1924 Florida West Coast Open
  • 1925 Philadelphia Open Championship
  • 1925 Mid-South All Pro
  • 1926 Florida Central Competition
  • 1926 Florida Open
  • 1926 Shawnee Open
  • 1926 Mid-Winter Tournament
  • 1927 Metropolitan Open
  • 1927 Shawnee Open
  • 1927 Eastern Open Championship
  • 1927 Massachusetts Open
  • 1927 Pennsylvania Open Championship
  • 1927 Philadelphia Open Championship
  • 1927 Chicago Open Championship
  • 1928 La Gorce Open
  • 1928 U.S. Open
  • 1930 Pensacola Open Invitational
  • 1930 New York State Open
  • 1931 Pensacola Open Invitational
  • 1936 New Jersey Open

Other Wins

  • 1925 Miami International Four-Ball (partnered by Bobby Cruickshank)
  • 1926 Westchester Open
  • 1926 Mid-South Pro Best Ball
  • 1927 Wheeling Open
  • 1928 Miami International Four-Ball (partnered by Gene Sarazen)
  • 1940 Rhode Island Open
  • 1941 Rhode Island Open

Photo credit: Johnny Farrell pictured in 1922. Public domain via Library of Congress.

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