Lionel Hebert: Bio of Major-Winning Pro Golfer

Lionel Hebert was a PGA Tour winner in the 1950s and 1960s who also played in the Ryder Cup. He won one major championship, and his older brother won the same major several years later.

Full name: Lionel Paul Hebert

Date of birth: January 20, 1928

Place of birth: Lafayette, Louisiana

Date and place of death: December 30, 2000, in Lafayette, Louisiana

List of Wins

Lionel Hebert is credited with five wins on the PGA Tour:
  • 1957 PGA Championship
  • 1958 Tucson Open
  • 1960 Cajun Classic Open Invitational
  • 1962 Memphis Open Invitational
  • 1966 Florida Citrus Open

In the Majors (Including a PGA Championship Win)

Lionel Hebert played in 55 major championships, first at the 1952 U.S. Open, last at the 1981 PGA Championship. His appearances were sporadic in the 1950s and 1970s, but he played all of The Masters and PGA Championships of the 1960s, and all but two of the U.S. Opens in that decade. (Hebert never played the British Open.)

In all, Hebert finished in the Top 10 in sixth of those majors. He reached the Round of 16 (technically a tie for ninth place) in the 1956 PGA Championship. He tied for ninth in the 1960 Masters, tied for eighth in The Masters of 1967 and 1969, and tied for seventh in the 1968 Masters.

That's five of the six Top 10s. The other? Victory in the 1957 PGA Championship, the last PGA that used the match-play format.

Through 31 holes of the championship match against Dow Finsterwald, the match was all square and neither finalist had led by more than 1-up. On the 32nd hole, Hebert sank a 15-foot birdie putt to take a 1-up lead. But when Finsterwald hit into water on the 34th hole, Hebert got to 2-up. A par won him the 35th hole and gave Hebert the 3-and-1 victory and the PGA Championship trophy.

To get to that championship match, Hebert defeated Max Evans, Marty Furgol, Charles Farlow, Mike Souchak, Claude Harmon and, in the semifinals by a 3-and-1 score, 1953 PGA champion Walter Burkemo. In that semifinal match against Burkemo (who had beaten Lionel's brother Jay Hebert in the previous round), Lionel went 2-down when he called a penalty stroke on himself on the 19th hole — he said his ball moved as he was taking his address on the green. But Hebert's putter caught fire over the next eight holes and he was in control by the 32nd hole.

The man Hebert beat in the championship match, Finsterwald, won the next year at the 1958 PGA Championship — the first one played at stroke play. Hebert tied for 16th in his title defense.

His best finish in a U.S. Open was tied 14th in 1963; his best finish in a stroke-play PGA Championship was tied 14th in 1967.

More About Lionel Hebert

Lionel Hebert was five years younger than his brother, Jay Hebert, with whom he formed the most successful brother duo on the PGA Tour in the 1950s/1960s. They combined for 12 PGA Tour wins and two PGA Championship wins. (Jay's victory was in the 1960 PGA Championship, three years after Lionel's win.)

They both earned their first PGA Tour wins in 1957, they both won their hometown Cajun Classic, they both played in the Ryder Cup. The Heberts remain the only brothers to win the PGA Championship, and they were just the third pair of brothers to win any major (after Willie Park Sr. and Mungo Park, British Open winners in the mid-1800s; and Willie Smith and Alex Smith, U.S. Open winners in the late 1800s/early 1900s).

The Hebert boys were Louisiana Cajuns, growing up in a house in Lafayette where French was as likely to be spoken as English. Lionel got into golf when, at age 8, he started following Jay to Lafayette Municipal Golf Course. Soon Lionel was caddying there, then playing. And by age 14, he was already winning the Louisiana state high school championship.

After serving in the military late in World War II, Lionel enrolled at Louisiana State University. His brother and Gardner Dickinson were members of the LSU golf team at the time, but Lionel didn't bother joining. He often played against the team members, though, honing his game. He graduated from LSU with a degree in music.

Lionel turned pro in 1950, again following his brother's lead. He spent the early and mid-1950s in Pennsylvania working as a club pro at four different golf courses. He also began making sporadic appearances in tour events.

Lionel first made 10 or more PGA Tour starts in 1955. In 1956 that grew to 17 starts. He played a full schedule after that, sometimes making more than 30 starts per year, into the 1970s.

What prompted Lionel to try the tour full-time was his runner-up finish in the 1956 St. Petersburg Open. He tied Mike Fetchick after 72 holes, then lost the sudden-death playoff. But it convinced Hebert he was good enough to play on the pro circuit.

And in that first full-time year on tour, 1957, Hebert only won a major championship. That PGA Championship victory also earned him a spot on Team USA for the 1957 Ryder Cup. Great Britain won that year, 7.5 to 4.5, the Brits' first win since 1933. Hebert did not play in the foursomes, and lost his singles match to Ken Bousfield, 4 and 3.

Of Hebert's four other wins on the PGA Tour, it's difficult to pick one as the most-impressive — they all were, in their way. The Tucson Open was prominent when Hebert won it in 1959, and doing so proved his PGA Championship win was not a fluke. Then in 1960 Hebert won the Cajun Classic, his hometown tournament in Lafayette, Louisiana. (Brother Jay won the first one in 1958.)

His win at the 1962 Memphis Open was the result of a playoff victory over Gary Player and Gene Littler, two stars and future Hall of Famers.

And the three runners-up to him at the 1966 Florida Citrus Open included Jack Nicklaus plus future Masters winner Charles Coody. That was the inaugural playing of the tournament that later became better known first as the Bay Hill Invitational, then as the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Speaking of Palmer, Hebert finished runner-up to Arnie twice on tour: at the 1963 Whitemarsh Open by one stroke; and at the 1964 Oklahoma City Open by two. He also tied Palmer for second behind winner Ken Venturi in the 1958 Baton Rouge Open Invitational.

Hebert also posted seconds in the 1960 St. Paul Open Invitational, 1962 Beaumont Open Invitational, 1964 Azalea Open (by one to Al Besselink), 1965 500 Festival Open Invitational (tied with Jacky Cupit one behind Bruce Crampton), and, partnering with brother Jay, at the 1965 PGA National Four-ball Championship.

Hebert never finished in the Top 10 of the money list but did rank in the Top 60 (the cutoff then for avoiding weekly qualifying) every year from 1957-66. For his career, Hebert played in 490 PGA Tour tournaments with the one major championship victory and five overall wins. He finished second eight times and had three third-place showings, with 83 Top 10 finishes. He first appeared in a PGA Tour event in 1950, last in 1981.

Hebert did try the Senior Tour, making nearly 100 starts from 1980 through 1987 but posting only four Top 10 finishes.

Throughout his career he was involved on the administrative side of the tour, too, in a time when the tour was still run by the PGA of America. He was on the PGA Tournament Committee in 1961-62 and was chairman of the committee in 1962-63. He served on rules committees and was a player-director of the tour's policy board in 1972-74.

Lionel Hebert, who had a music degree from LSU, was an accomplished jazz trumpet player. He often took his trumpet on tour with him, packing it in a suitcase. Sometimes he sat in with professional jazz bands. The Associated Press' story about his 1957 PGA Championship victory called him "the trumpet-tooting Cajun from Louisiana's bayous" in the very first sentence.

Hebert is a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Gulf States PGA Hall of Fame. The Lafayette, La., municipal golf course where Lionel tagged along with his brother in the 1930s is today named The Jay and Lionel Hebert Municipal Golf Course, often shortened by locals to Hebert Municipal.

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