Johnny Revolta: Profile of 1930s PGA Tour Star

Johnny Revolta was a PGA Tour golfer who was a consistent winner through the 1930s. He won enough to rank among that decade's best, and those victories included a PGA Championship. He later became a top instructor, called a "genius of the short game" by Ben Hogan, and wrote multiple books with his teachings.

Birth name: John F. Revolta

Date of birth: April 5, 1911

Place of birth: St. Louis, Missouri

Date and place of death: March 3, 1991, in Palm Springs, California

Nickname: Iron Master or Iron King

Revolta's PGA Tour and Other Wins

Johnny Revolta is credited with these official PGA Tour wins, 18 of them: Revolta also won numerous non-tour events, including some that were official PGA Tour tournaments in other years. The Miami International Four-Ball appears on his PGA Tour win list above, but he also won it in 1935 and 1936 (with Henry Picard as partner), years it is not counted as a tour event.

Revolta won these state PGA championships:

  • Wisconsin State Open: 1930, 1931
  • Illinois PGA Championship: 1936, 1937, 1938, 1941, 1947
He also won the Waterloo Golf Classic in 1936 and, partnered by Patty Berg, the Pro-Lady Victory National in 1944.

His PGA Championship Win and Other Majors

Revolta's history in major championships is surprising. He was a consistent winner on tour through the 1930s, including a 5-win year and a 4-win year. He led the PGA Tour in money one year. And yet he never contended in a major — except for the one he won.

The major championship Johnny Revolta won was the 1935 PGA Championship, when that tournament used a match-play format. Revolta began his run to that title with a first-round, 1-up victory over Walter Hagen, the 5-time champion who was then 42 years old but had been medalist in the stroke-play qualifying. Revolta then beat Jimmy Hines, Pat Circelli, Eddie Schultz in the quarterfinals and Al Zimmerman in the semifinals.

In the championship match, 3-time major winner Tommy Armour was waiting. Revolta was 24 years old, Armour 40. A frigid wind may have numbed Armour's chances, but Revolta was hot out of the gate: A front-nine 33 gave him a 3-up lead, and Revolta ended the morning 18 leading, 4-up.

Armour warmed up a bit in the afternoon 18, but after the 27th overall hole Revolta was 6-up. He cruised the rest of the way to a 5-and-4 victory, the 1935 PGA Championship trophy, and his lone victory in a major.

Outside of that year, Revolta never made it past the Round of 16 in the PGA Championship. And he made it that far in only four other years.

Revolta played in the British Open just once, and his chances of winning the U.S.-based majors were lessened by the interruption of World War II. So he didn't play a lot of majors (just 24 appearances pre-war, around that number post-war after his game had started diminishing) for a golfer of his accomplishments. Still, Revolta had only one Top 10 finish in a stroke-play major: tied for eighth in the 1934 U.S. Open. His first appearance in a major was in the 1933 U.S. Open, and his last the 1962 Masters.

More About Johnny Revolta

Johnny Revolta was nicknamed "Iron Master" because he was known as one of the best golfers with a wedge. His short game — his pitches and chips, bunker shots and putting — drove his success.

In 1958, Paul Runyan, himself a legendary short-game practitioner, named Revolta one of the four best putters he'd ever seen. He also raved about Revolta as a chipper. In Runyan's 1962 Book for Senior Golfers (affiliate links used for book titles in this article), Runyan ranked the ability to get the ball up-and-down in two from just off the green third to putting and driving in importance. He wrote that, "In my heyday, I ranked myself in this respect second only to Johnny Revolta. Johnny probably had to be a little bit better, because he hit even fewer greens than I did."

And writing about Revolta's wizadry with a wedge on pitch shots and lob shots, Runyan said that "Johnny turned more 79s into 69s with great pitch shots from under 125 yards than any man I ever saw."

Revolta was also known as both a practitioner and teacher of the waggle as a swing trigger, but as a golfer he used different types of waggles for different shots. Ben Hogan, in his 1957 book Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, wrote about Revolta's waggle and how it impacted Hogan's own approach:

"I was just starting to follow the circuit in 1932 when I learned from observing Johnny Revolta and talking with him that this genius of the short game geared himself for the different demands of each shot around the greens by modifying his waggle to suit that particular shot. Say he had to pop the ball over a bunker and have it put on the brakes immediately. He'd waggle with sharp, staccato, jabby strokes, a 'coming attraction' of the stroke he'd use to clip the ball the way it had to be clipped to produce maximum bite. Or say he was pitching the ball to land on a selected point on a slippery green and was going to let the ball trickle the rest of the way to the cup down a side slope. He'd gear himself then with delicate, little pencil-stroke waggles that seemed to be all finger tips. And so on and on — an individual waggle for each different chip shot in his marvelous reper- toire. It struck me that it would be a very intelligent thing to use this method of Johnny's not only for my short shots but to adapt it also for my full shots. I began to do so immediately."

Revolta got into golf through caddying beginning at age 12. His first golf club was one he built himself using the head of a mid-iron he'd found and a shortened broomstick. By age 14, Revolta was working as the caddie master at the public golf course in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and at that same age he won the Wisconsin State Caddie Championship tournament.

He turned pro in 1929, becoming, at age 18, the professional at Swan Lake Country Club in Portage, Wisconsin. His first pro tournament wins soon followed, at the 1930 and 1931 Wisconsin State Opens.

In the early 1930s, Gene Sarazen and Tommy Armour came through the area as part of a national exhibition tour (common for top golfers of the era). Revolta, the local hotshot — by the time he was 20 he held 17 course records around Wisconsin and Minnesota — played them one vs. two, his ball against the two golf legends' better ball ... and won. That was Revolta's cue that it was time to try to the big tour.

He joined the PGA Tour at the Miami Biltmore Championship early in 1933, and finished second. One week later he got his first tour win at the Miami Open.

He won twice in 1934. Then came 1935, Revolta's best year and one of the great "forgotten years" of the era. Revolta's 1935 season began with him finishing runner-up in the season-opening Los Angeles Open, and it only got better from there. He won five times on tour and he finished second a total of seven times. He placed in the Top 10 in 22 of his 28 starts on tour that year.

His wins in 1935 included his lone major, the PGA Championship, and also the Western Open, which was behind only the PGA, U.S. Open and Masters in importance at the time. Another of his victories was in the Inverness Invitational Four-Ball, where his partner was Henry Picard. Revolta and Picard won another tournament in 1935 off the tour, the Miami International Four-Ball. (They won five five four-ball tournaments total as partners.) In 2019, Wisconsin Golf magazine rated Revolta's 1935 season the greatest ever by any Wisconsin golfer.

Revolta led the PGA Tour money list at the end of the 1935 season. After three more wins in 1936-37, he had another big year in 1938 and finished second on the money list. Revolta won four times on the tour in 1938, including his second St. Paul Open victory, and off the tour added the Illinois PGA Championship.

Revolta was twice a member of Team USA in the Ryder Cup, the first time during his magical 1935 season. Revolta went 2-0 in the 1935 Ryder Cup, including partnering with Picard to beat Alf Padgham/Percy Alliss in foursomes. In singles, Revolta took a 2-and-1 victory over Reg Whitcombe. He played only one match during the 1937 Ryder Cup, and the Revolta/Picard magic finally ran out: They lost in foursomes to Alliss/Dick Burton.

Only two of Revolta's PGA Tour wins happened during the 1940s: the 1941 San Francisco National Match Play Open (he beat Harry Cooper 7-and-6 in the championship match) and, his last tour win, the 1944 Texas Open during wartime.

When World War II ended, Revolta began cutting back on his playing time on tour. He didn't retire from the tour until 1952, but began spending more time with his club job as head pro at Evanston Golf Club in Evanston, Illinois.

According to Al Barkow's The History of the PGA Tour, Revolta, in addition to his 18 career wins (which place Revolta on the list of golfers with the most wins on the PGA Tour), finished with 21 career second-place finishes, fourteen thirds, and 143 total Top 10 finishes on the tour.

Revolta had his position at Evanston Golf Club from 1937 through 1966, and developed a reputation as a great instructor of the game. He continued teaching at Evanston during the summers until 1988, and from the 1960s into the 1980s also taught at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.

Revolta believed in keeping things simple — golf instruction should be easily understood and easily acted upon. Overthinking is the enemy of good golf. "You don't have to be dumb to play good golf," Revolta sometimes said to a student who was overthinking things, "but it really helps."

He had many famous pupils over the years, such as Masters champion Bob Goalby. But he always continued teaching juniors, too. And he was particularly popular among the golfers of the LPGA Tour, where his pupils, at one time or another, included Kathy Whitworth, Patty Berg, Sandra Palmer, Shirley Englehorn, Mary Mills, Sandra Spuzich and Marlene Floyd.

Revolta was involved in multiple books of golf instruction, including two he authored. As a contributor, his instruction was first featured in the 1937, Wilson Sporting Goods-published From Tee to Cup. He contributed to the 1940 Golfmasters: A Sure Way to Better Golf, subtitled 14 Champions Write a Book; and to the 1963 How to Solve Your Golf Problems (America's Top Teachers Tell).

His first solo book of golf instruction was 1949's Johnny Revolta's Short Cuts to Better Golf, which has remained in publication for decades since. In 1954, his 6 Lessons from Johnny Revolta was published.

Among the other clubs at which Revolta served as pro were Chippewa Elks in Wisconsin, Riverside Country Club in Michigan, Tripoli Country Club in Wisconsin, and Golf Hills Country Club in Mississippi.

Revolta was elected to the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 1963, and is also a member of the Wisconsin Golf Hall of Fame and Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. He is not in the World Golf Hall of Fame, although there are plenty of supporters pushing for his election.

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