Mike Souchak: Bio of PGA Tour Record-Setter

golfer Mike Souchak swings the club
Mike Souchak was a PGA Tour golfer who won 15 times on the tour in the 10-year span of 1955-64. He never won a major, but did come close multiple times in the U.S. Open. Souchak's name was part of the PGA Tour record book for decades after his career ended thanks to multiple scoring records he set in the 1955 Texas Open. He also made the American Ryder Cup team twice.

Full name: Michael Souchak

Date of birth: May 10, 1927

Place of birth: Berwick, Pennsylvania

Date and place of death: July 10, 2008, in Belleair, Florida

Souchak's PGA Tour Wins

Souchak is credited with 15 career wins in official PGA Tour tournaments: Some of his 15 PGA Tour wins were by large margins: seven strokes at the 1955 Texas Open; nine strokes at the 1959 Motor City Open (over runners-up Billy Casper and Doug Ford); seven strokes over second-place Sam Snead at the 1961 Greater Greensboro Classic. But Souchak also eked out wins by one stroke over legends Arnold Palmer at the 1959 Western Open and Jack Nicklaus at the 1964 Houston Classic.

He also won the Havana Invitational in 1955, at one time counted as an official tour win but no longer credited as such today.

Souchak's PGA Tour Scoring Records

When Mike Souchak won the 1955 Texas Open, it was his very first victory on the PGA Tour. And what a way to get started: In the win, Souchak set or tied PGA Tour scoring records that stood for decades.

The tournament was played at Brackenridge Park, a municipal golf course in San Antonio, Texas. It was a course and a tournament already well-known for producing low scores. Just the year before, Chandler Harper won the Texas Open with a score of 259, only the second sub-260 score in PGA Tour history. (The first was Byron Nelson's 259 at the 1945 Seattle Open.)

But Souchak, in the 1955 Texas Open, went even lower. These are the scoring records he tied or broke in that tournament, plus how long each stood:

  • 27 for 9 holes: Souchak played the back nine of his first round in 27 strokes, scoring 2, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 2. It was the lowest 9-hole score in PGA Tour history, and nobody else matched it until 1975. This record stood until 2006, when Corey Pavin scored 26 for nine during the Greater Milwaukee Open. This was the longest-standing of Souchak's records — 51 years.
  • 60 for 18 holes: Souchak tied the PGA Tour scoring record for 18 holes by completing that first round with a score of 60. Souchak was the sixth golfer to score 60 in a PGA Tour tournament. He shared this record until Al Geiberger recorded the first 59 at the 1977 Memphis Classic.
  • 192 for first three rounds: After shooting 60 in the first round, Souchak then had rounds of 68 and 64. That 192 total was the tour's all-time record for the first three rounds of a four-round tournament. This was the first of the records set by Souchak in the 1955 Texas Open to fall — Gay Brewer carded a 191 total for the opening three rounds of the 1967 Pensacola Open.
  • 257 tournament total: Souchak's winning score of 257 lowered by two strokes the previous tour record that had been held by Nelson and Harper. He had a 65 in the final round, added to his 192 from the first three rounds. Nobody tied or beat this score on the PGA Tour for 46 years, until Mark Calcavecchia won the 2001 Phoenix Open with a 256.
  • 27-under-par tournament finish: Souchak tied Ben Hogan's PGA Tour record (set at the 1945 Portland Invitational) for most strokes under par at 27-under. His 257 total was scored on par-71 golf course. This record wasn't tied until 1997, and wasn't broken until John Huston won the 1998 Hawaiian Open at 28-under.

U.S. Open Near-Misses and Other Major Finishes

Souchak's best finish in a major championship was tied for third place, which he achieved twice, in back-to-back U.S. Opens. In fact, in three consecutive U.S. Opens Souchak was in a good position to win, but didn't get it done:
  • 1959 U.S. Open: Souchak began the final round five strokes behind leader Billy Casper. But with four holes left in his round, Souchak was in the lead. Alas, he bogeyed all four of the remaining holes and finished tied for third, two strokes behind the winner, Casper.
  • 1960 U.S. Open: This is the tournament known for Arnold Palmer's record-setting 7-stroke comeback to win in the final round. It was third-round leader Souchak who Palmer began the final round trailing by seven. Souchak had a 3-stroke lead after two rounds at 135, a 36-hole U.S. Open record at the time. Souchak began stumbling on the final hole of third round, which he double-bogeyed. He still took a 2-stroke lead into Round 4, though. But Souchak shot 75 in that final round, opening the door for Palmer to come from way back to win. Souchak tied for third with five others, three behind Palmer.
  • 1961 U.S. Open: Souchak was in second place after the third round, and after five holes of his final round he held the lead. But he wound up with a 73 and a tie for fourth place (with amateur Jack Nicklaus). Souchak finished three back of the winner, Gene Littler, who closed with a 68.
Souchak only regularly played majors from 1955-66, but his first appearance was in the 1953 U.S. Open, and last in the 1976 British Open. He had 11 Top 10 finishes in majors, six of those in the Top 5. Those included tied fourth in the 1955 Masters, tied fifth in the 1959 PGA Championship, and tied fifth in the 1962 Masters. He played the Open Championship just once during his prime years, in 1956, and tied for eighth.

More About Mike Souchak

Mike Souchak was a stout, strong-looking man, not surprising given his background as a football player. He was, in the words of the editors of the 1975 Encyclopedia of Golf, "a likeable bear of a man with massive strength and a fine rhythmic swing." He put his muscular, athletic build to good use, as he once explained to Sports Illustrated, by taking part in weekly long driving contests that preceded the start of many PGA Tour tournaments: "I used to earn my caddie fee every week, $150 or $200, in the Wednesday driving contests."

He grew up in Pennsylvania but spent most of his college and PGA Tour career living in North Carolina. That started when he earned a football scholarship to attend Duke University beginning in 1947. After two years in the Navy, Souchak returned to Duke for the 1950-52 years. On the football team, he was a receiver and placekicker, and made some All-Southern teams. As a golfer, he was team captain in 1951-52 and led Duke to the conference championship in 1951.

After college, Souchak turned pro (as a golfer, not a football player), and in 1953 he played 10 tournaments on the PGA Tour.

His first runner-up finish happened in 1954, then Souchak had his breakout year in 1955. That season, Souchak's first victory, in the Texas Open, is the one where he set all the scoring records. He won again the following week in the Houston Open. And Souchak had six runner-up finishes in 1955, too. He finished fourth on the money list, his career best.

In 1956, Souchak won a PGA Tour-leading four times. Those included rolling in a 10-foot birdie putt on the tournament's final hole to claim the Azalea Open; and birdying the final six holes consecutively to win the St. Paul Open (at the time the PGA Tour record for consecutive birdies at the end to win a tournament).

He had a three-win season in 1959, and, in addition to 1955, also won twice each in 1960 and 1964. His biggest wins include the 1956 Colonial (by one over Tommy Bolt), the 1959 Tournament of Champions (by two over Art Wall), and the 1959 Western Open (by one over Arnold Palmer). Souchak had an endorsement deal with MacGregor Golf, which made clubs and golf balls carrying his name.

Souchak's final win on tour was at the 1964 Memphis Open Invitational, which he won by a stroke over runners-up Billy Casper and Tommy Jacobs. Along the way Souchak recorded four other Top 10 finishes on the money list: eighth in 1956, sixth in 1959 and 1960, and 10th in 1964.

Souchak also played for Team USA in the Ryder Cup twice, compiling a 5-1-0 record in six total matches. He was 2-0 in the 1959 Ryder Cup and 3-1 in the 1961 Ryder Cup.

In the 1959 Cup, Souchak partnered Bob Rosburg in a foursomes victory, and he defeated Ken Bousfield in singles, 3 and 2. In the 1961 Cup, Souchak and Bill Collins partnered in two foursomes, winning one and losing the other. In singles, Souchak def. Ralph Moffitt, 5 and 4, and beat Bernard Hunt, 2 and 1. Team USA won both Ryder Cups.

In the mid-1960s, and in his late-30s, Souchak began looking at settling down. He left the tour in 1966 to become assistant pro to Claude Harmon Sr. at Winged Foot. Then, when Al Watrous retired in 1967 as pro at Oakland Hills Country Club, Souchak became head pro at that famous club.

He had his last Top 3 finish in a tour event in 1966, and last top 10 finish in 1968. Souchak made a handful of starts each year through 1972, the just a few sporadic starts thereafter. His final PGA Tour appearance was in 1980.

But while at Oakland Hills, Souchak ran up numerous victories in Michigan PGA events and state tournaments. Those included the 1967 Michigan Open and 1968 Michigan PGA Championship.

PGA Tour stats credit Souchak, in addition to his 15 wins, with 18 second-place finishes and 10 third-place finishes. In 373 career PGA Tour starts, he made the cut 329 times and had 102 Top 10 finishes.

Three of his second-placing showings were losses in playoffs: to Shelley Mayfield in the 1955 Thunderbird Invitational; to Jimmy Demaret in the 1957 Thunderbird Invitational; and to Dave Hill in the 1963 Hot Springs Open Invitational.

Souchak played the Champions Tour beginning in 1980, but made more than 10 starts in only a few years in the mid-to-late 1980s. His best showing was second place, which was Souchak's only Top 5 finish on the senior circuit.

As a club pro, Souchak remained at Oakland Hills until 1972, when he permanently moved to Florida. He was the first pro at Innisbrook Golf and Country Club in Clearwater, remaining in that role for many years and later founding and running a golf-cart maintenance company.

Souchak was 81 years old when he died of a heart attack in 2008. He is a member of the Duke Sports Hall of Fame, Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, and Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame.

Mike's brother Frank Souchak was also a football player and golfer, although as a golfer he remained a lifelong amateur. Frank was an All-American football player at Pitt, spent one year playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and later had a one-year stint on the Steelers' coaching staff. As a golfer, Frank Souchak won numerous amateur titles in Pennsylvania and was low amateur in the 1953 U.S. Open, placing ninth. Mike and Frank teamed to win the pro-am title at the 1967 Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Photo credit: Lisa5252, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

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