Sam Parks Jr.: Bio of U.S. Open-Winning Golfer

Golfer Sam Park Jr follows through on a swing

Sam Parks Jr. was a U.S. Open winner in the 1930s. He was not well-known to the general golfing public at that time, and he remains today one of the lesser-known major championship winners. In fact, his U.S. Open title is the only PGA Tour title to his credit. Be he also played in a Ryder Cup for Team USA, and the way he prepared before winning that U.S. Open still gets attention.

Full name: Samuel McLaughlin Parks Jr.

Date of birth: June 23, 1909

Place of birth: Bellevue, Pennsylvania

Date and place of death: April 7, 1997, in Clearwater, Florida

Nickname: Sammy

His U.S. Open Victory

When Sam Parks Jr. is remembered today, it is almost always in the context of his preparation for the 1935 U.S. Open — how he won the tournament by practicing, practicing and practicing some more on the host golf course, Oakmont Country Club.

All the golf stars of the day knew that Oakmont, with its treacherous bunkers and challenging greens, was going to be a stern test at that year's Open. Parks had an advantage over the rest of the field, though: He lived and worked in Pittsburgh and passed by Oakmont on his way to work each day. He was the pro at South Hills Country Club, not far from Oakmont.

So, every day for about a month before the Open, Parks, on his drive to work, stopped at Oakmont and played nine holes. Usually, he skipped around — he wasn't playing the front nine this day and the back nine the next, but skipping around the course, hole to hole, checking out all the angles, playing all the shots, working around all the greens complexes.

Most days he had the added benefit of the knowledge of Emil Loeffler, pro and superintendent at Oakmont and a regional tournament winner. Loeffler often played along with Parks, helping him learn the course.

Parks took in-depth notes on every hole and every shot, drawing schematics, labeling his drawings with what to club to use from which spot. He charted all the greens in great detail. Some golf historians consider Parks' Oakmont notes to be the first-ever yardage book.

But there's preparing for the U.S. Open, and there's playing it. We probably would never had heard about Parks' prep work had he not then gone ahead and won the 1935 U.S. Open. But he did.

Parks, a few weeks shy of his 26th birthday, opened with a first-round score of 77. Doesn't sound great, but there were no great scores in this tournament — nobody broke 70, and only one golfer got as low as 70. So Parks' 77 wasn't a bad score, either.

His 73 in the second round tied him for low score of the round. It also moved Parks into fourth place, four strokes behind the leader, Jimmy Thomson.

Parks added another 73 in the third round to tie Thomson atop the leader board. He bogeyed the second and seventh holes in final round, but then chipped in for eagle on the par-5 No. 9 hole. From the fifth hole through the 14th hole, Parks played Oakmont in 1-under-par. That was a terrific stretch, considering that none of the golfers who began the final day in contention broke 75 in the very tough final round.

That included Parks, who bogeyed the 15th, 16th and 18th holes and finished with a 76. But his 299 total made him the only golfer to break 300, and that made him the U.S. Open champion. He won by two strokes over Thomson.

That 299 total remains the highest winning score in any U.S. Open since 1927. The toughness of Oakmont was to blame for some of the high scoring, but conditions were exacerbated by wind and rain that started on Day 2 and continued throughout the 36-hole last day.

Parks was known as a relatively short hitter but with a strong short game, combined with his prep work — especially his charting of the greens — he had only two three-putts for the week. Parks is the last golfer to win a U.S. Open scoring 77 in any round.

"I played all the golf I had in me. I was scared to death down the stretch, but I tried to hang in with all I had." — Sam Parks Jr. after winning the 1935 U.S. Open

More About Sam Parks Jr.

Sam Parks Jr.'s father was a fine amateur golfer and a member at Highland Country Club in Pittsburgh. When young Sammy was 12, in 1922, he took lessons from the pro at Highland, Gene Sarazen. Sarazen's instruction was a base for Parks, but it wasn't an ongoing relationship: Shortly thereafter Sarazen won the 1922 U.S. Open and 1922 PGA Championship, his first big wins at age 20.

In high school, in addition to golf, Parks played football and basketball. But golf is where he excelled, and he won the Western Pennsylvania Junior Championship.

In the late 1920s, Parks attended college at the University of Pittsburgh and helped create the school's first golf team. He was captain of the team in 1929, 1930 and 1931.

His pro career began when he was hired at Summitt Golf Club in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a mountain course where golfers were transported to the first tee on the backs of donkeys. A year later, Parks left to join South Hills Country Club in Pittsburgh, which is where he was at the time of his Open win.

In 1933, Parks played some tournaments in California during the winter. He had no wins or seconds, but something about his game caught the eye of Bobby Jones because Parks received an invitation to play in the inaugural Masters Tournament, the 1934 "Augusta National Invitation" (he tied for 46th).

Later in 1934, Parks finished runner-up to Willie Macfarlane in the 1934 Pennsylvania Open, which, at that time, was a PGA Tour event. It was Parks' only second-place finish in a tournament that is counted today as an official tour event by the PGA Tour.

Parks won the Pennsylvania Open in 1940, but at that point it was no longer part of the PGA circuit. Parks also won the regional Tri-State Championship in 1937, 1943 and 1945. But he never won a PGA Tour tournament, outside of the U.S. Open.

But Parks also never played much on the PGA circuit of his time. According to PGA Tour records, Parks made only 80 starts in tournaments that today are counted as official PGA Tour events. He had the one win, one runner-up, five Top 5 finishes and 14 Top 10 finishes.

A couple months before his U.S. Open victory, Parks tied for 15th in the 1935 Masters. He also reached the Round of 16 in the 1935 PGA Championship, technically a ninth-place finish and his only other Top 10 finish in a major.

After his U.S. Open win, Parks went on an exhibition tour, as was common for the stars and also for U.S. Open winners at the time. The tour opened on July 4, 1935, at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey, where the local assistant pro, Byron Nelson, teamed with Vic Ghezzi to defeat Parks and the U.S. Open runner-up, Jimmy Thomson, 4 and 3.

Parks had won $1,000 for winning the USGA national championship, and the PGA Tour credits him with $6,700 in career tournament winnings. But he reportedly earned $17,000 from that exhibition tour.

A few months after that exhibition opener, Parks was back at Ridgewood CC as part of Team USA in the 1935 Ryder Cup. Parks, the reigning U.S. Open champ, faced Alf Perry, the 1935 British Open winner, in singles. On the the 36th hole of the match, Parks sank a 30-foot birdie putt to win the hole and halve the match. The U.S. won the cup, 9 points to 3. Parks also played for Team USA in the 1936 Lakes International Cup, a USA vs. Australia matchup. The American side won easily.

By 1937 Parks decided to stop playing the winter tour, although he continued to play in some regional tournaments and also in some majors. (He last played the PGA Championship in 1942 and last played the U.S. Open in 1947. He continued being invited to The Masters long past the point he had left the club pro life, last appearing in The Masters in 1962).

By the mid-1940s he was no longer a club pro, either, having quit to take a job as a salesman (later a manager) for American Steel & Wire, a division of U.S. Steel. He eventually became well-off enough financially that he was able to join Oakmont.

Parks retired from U.S. Steel in 1972 and moved to Florida, where he lived out his life. Parks was 87 years old when he died in 1997.

Photo credit: Los Angeles Daily News, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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