Golfer Bill Nary: Set PGA Tour Records That Stood for Decades

Bill Nary was a professional golfer from California who played on the PGA Tour from the early 1940s into the mid-to-late 1950s. He then spent decades as a teaching pro, working with pupils into his 90s. Nary never won a PGA Tour tournament. But he did play one historic round in a tour event in 1952 in which he set multiple, all-time PGA Tour records — one of which stood for 50 years.

Full name: William S. Nary

Date of birth: June 20, 1915

Place of birth: San Francisco, California

Date and place of death: March 13, 2012, in Chula Vista, California

In the Majors

Nary played in major championships 19 times, first at the 1941 U.S. Open, last at the 1957 U.S. Open. He played in The Masters three times, the PGA Championship five times and the U.S. Open 11 times.

Nary's best finish in a major was eighth place in the 1950 U.S. Open. He was in contention late, but bogeyed three of the last five holes and finished three strokes behind winner Ben Hogan.

He reached the quarterfinals (a tie for eighth place) in the 1953 PGA Championship before falling to Claude Harmon, 6 and 5. Nary also had Top 20 finishes in the 1947 U.S. Open (tied 13th) and 1953 U.S. Open (tied 17th).

That Magic Round: Setting Long-Standing Tour Records

In the third round of the 1952 El Paso Open, Nary tied one PGA Tour scoring record and set two PGA Tour putting records, and he held all three of those records for a minimum of 25 years — and he held one of them for 50 years.

Nary's score that day was 60, 11-under par for the round. It was just the second 60 ever scored in a PGA Tour round. Nary had a 31 on the front nine and a 29 on the back nine. No golfer scored lower on the PGA Tour until 25 years later, when Al Geiberger shot the first 59 in the 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic.

Nary's front-nine 31 included just 12 putts, a low total. But that was nothing compared to what he did on the back nine. Over his final nine holes, on which he shot 29, Nary chipped in twice and had seven one-putts. Seven putts total for the final nine holes.

That record — fewest putts for nine holes on the PGA Tour — stood for 50 years, until Stan Utley needed just six putts over nine holes in the 2002 Air Canada Championship.

And the third record Nary set during that magical round? Fewest putts for 18 holes — he took only 19 putts for the entire round. Nary was the first-known golfer to play a PGA Tour round in fewer than 20 putts. And his record of 19 putts stood until 1979, when Sam Trahan became the first golfer to record 18 putts at the IVB Philadelphia Golf Classic.

And how did Nary fare in the tournament? He opened with a 68, then shot 73, 60 and 73, and finished in a tie for 11th place. But he wrote his name in the golf history books.

More About Bill Nary

Bill Nary never won on the PGA Tour. But he did have notable wins in non-tour events, including the 1948 Northern California Open. He also won several San Diego County titles, match play and stroke play, in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

And he played his way into two, 18-hole playoffs in PGA Tour tournaments, the closest he came to winning on tour.

At the 1952 Baton Rouge Open, Nary lost a 3-way playoff to Jack Burke Jr. and Tommy Bolt. All three tied in the playoff with 70s, so they went to extra holes. Bolt was eliminated on first extra hole, then Burke beat Nary on second extra hole with a birdie.

The next year Nary lost a 5-way playoff at the 1953 Houston Open to Cary Middlecoff. In the playoff, Middlecoff shot 69 to win, Jim Ferrier and Shelley Mayfield had 71s, Earl Stewart a 72, and Nary carded a 75.

In 1938, Nary became head professional at Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club, north of San Diego, a position he held until 1942. There Nary became friends with golf fanatic Bing Crosby, and they played together frequently.

By that time, Nary had already started making appearances on the PGA Tour. In one of those starts, ironically, he drew attention for a terrible putt. At the 1940 Harlingen Open, Nary lipped out a putt that stopped just on the edge of the hole. Then he somehow missed (probably whiffed, it's not clear) that half-inch tap-in. It wasn't the type of attention any golfer would want, but that incredible miss "earned" Nary an appearance in the syndicated Ripley's Believe It or Not panel that year.

When World War II erupted, Nary entered the Navy and he served through 1945, mostly stateside.

In 1949, Nary teamed with pro baseball player Lefty O'Doul to win the team pro-am portion of the Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. It was a sweet win (though not an official tour win) given his relationship with Crosby. Also during the tournament proper that year, Nary had a 65, which, at the time, tied the Pebble Beach course record.

Although he never won on tour, Nary was competitive from the late 1940s into the 1950s. He finished in the Top 25 of the money list in multiple years during that period.

As a golfer, he wasn't actually known for his putting — in fact, he sometimes struggled with it (believe it or not). Nary's forte was driving, and he supplemented his tournament winnings by competing in long-drive contests. He won his share, too. For the 1951 movie about Ben Hogan, Follow the Sun, Nary was hired as a "golf double." He played most of the shots that actor Dennis O'Keefe is shown hitting in the movie.

Nary worked club jobs all along, including as the teaching pro on the staff of playing pro Babe Didrikson Zaharias at Twin Orchard Country Club near Chicago beginning in 1951. In 1953 Nary became pro at Hillcrest Country Club in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1958 he was at Four Hills Country Club in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In 1959 Nary returned to California and he lived and worked in the San Diego area the rest of his live. Through 1977 he was pro at Bonita Golf Club, when that club closed. He worked at a few other clubs in the interim, but when Bonita re-opened at a new location in 1980, Nary was back as the pro. Nary remained the teaching pro there into his 90s, finally retiring in 2011.

Nary was still playing golf weekly, and usually beating his age, until suffering a stroke at age 95 in 2011. He died one year later at age 96.

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