Macdonald Smith: Profile of the Golf Legend

golfer Macdonald Smith pictured in 1928
Macdonald Smith was a Scotland-born, American-naturalized golf star whose tournament wins stretch from the early 1910s to the mid-1930s. And there were a lot of tournament wins: Smith has the second-highest total of official PGA Tour victories of any golfer who did not win a major championship, and the highest total of any golfer not yet in the World Golf Hall of Fame. But his wins included many big tournaments, despite the fact that he played very few tour events in any given year.

Date of birth: March 18, 1890

Place of birth: Carnoustie, Scotland

Date and place of death: August 31, 1949, in Glendale, California

Nicknames: Mac (he was often referred to as "Mac Smith" in print); sometimes called "the Silent Scot"

In the Majors

The list of Macdonald Smith's biggest pro wins — more than 25 of them — appears at the bottom of this article. You won't find any of the modern professional majors on the list, however. Smith never won a major, something that was surprising to his peers and that leads many golf aficionados today to rank him among the best golfers ever without a major championship title.

Two of his brothers did win majors: Willie Smith won the 1899 U.S. Open, and Alex Smith won the 1906 U.S. Open and 1910 U.S. Open. Macdonald's best finish in a major was second, which he achieved three times. But it should be noted that Macdonald never played in a PGA Championship, and played in The Masters just once, tying for seventh in the inaugural 1934 Masters.

It's a tournament he did not finish second in, though, that has come to be most-associated with Macdonald Smith's failure to win a major. At the 1925 British Open, Smith went into the lead with a second-round 69. The final day was 36 holes, and in the morning third round Smith stretched his lead to five strokes over second-place Jim Barnes and Archie Compston.

That Open was played over the cramped Prestwick links, and when the Scotland-native Smith appeared on his way to victory Scottish fans began coming out in droves. By the afternoon fourth round, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 fans were trying to follow Smith's play in a time before roping-and-staking and other means of crowd control.

Smith was being jostled, rushed, back-slapped and crowded; his shots were falling in areas that were trampled and toussled. He was unnerved, and his game fell apart. Smith needed only a 78 to win the 1925 Open, but instead scored 82 and finished in fourth. (The events in this tournament led the R&A to decide against playing any more Opens at Prestwick.)

Mac Smith's three runner-up finishes in majors were these:

  • 1930 British Open: Smith had the bad luck to record two of his best majors during Bobby Jones' Grand Slam year. Smith was tied with Jones in first place after a first-round 70. He fell five off Jones' pace following Round 2, and was seven behind after the third round. A 71 in the final round got Smith into a tie for second with Leo Diegel, two behind Jones.

  • 1930 U.S. Open: Opening with 70, Smith shared the first-round lead with his close friend Tommy Armour. Smith fell back with a second-round 75, and after a 74 in round three was seven off Bobby Jones' lead, tied for fifth. In the final round, Smith rallied with another 70 to finish solo second, two behind Jones.

  • 1932 British Open: Gene Sarazen led this Open wire-to-wire, and Smith was nine strokes behind following the third round. But he moved up from fifth into solo second with a 70 in the final round, finishing five behind.
Smith also tied for the lead after 72 holes in the 1910 U.S. Open, but lost in a three-way playoff. Today, that would be counted as tying for second place, but in 1910 Smith's third-place finish in the playoff got him third-place money, and so he is credited with a third-place tournament finish. Smith's brother Alex won that 18-hole playoff with a 71, John McDermott scored 75 and Macdonald had a 77.

Smith made 19 starts in the U.S. Open and finished in the Top 10 in nine of them (and five times in the Top 5). He made nine starts in the British Open and finished in the Top 10 in seven of them, all seven of those times actually fifth place or better.

In the U.S. Open, Smith finished in the Top 25 13 consecutive years during one stretch, from 1923 through 1936. That is tied for the fifth-longest streak of consecutive Top 25 U.S. Open finishes.

In addition to the 1910 U.S. Open, Smith had third-place finishes in the the 1923 British Open and 1924 British Open. In the 1923 Open, he finished two behind despite a first-round 80.

Smith posted fourth-place finishes in the 1913 U.S. Open, 1924 U.S. Open, 1925 British Open, 1934 British Open and 1936 U.S. Open. And he had a fifth-place finish in the 1931 British Open. Smith's other Top 10 finishes were in the U.S. Opens of 1926, 1928, 1931 and 1934; plus in the aforementioned 1934 Masters.

More About Macdonald Smith

One of the chapters in Harvey Penick's Little Red Book (affiliate link) is titled "The Prettiest Swing," and began this way: "The prettiest swing I ever saw belonged to MacDonald Smith." Penick, who first saw Smith play in the 1920s, continued:

"(Smith's) swing was full and flowing and graceful. I wouldn't know how else to describe it. It didn't break down into parts any more than a wonderful poem breaks down into words."
Many who saw Macdonald Smith play had the same thoughts about his swing. One of the quirks of his game is that he never took a divot with his iron shots. Penick saw that first-hand, writing that "Smith didn't hit down on the ball. He swept it away without a divot. At clinics, Smith would hit full 2-irons off the putting green and there were be only a brushing of the grass. They used to say he could hit the ball off an altar cloth without disturbing it."

Mac Smith was the younger brother of Willie Smith and Alex Smith, both U.S. Open winners. But long before that, the Smith brothers (two others also became golf professionals) learned golf on the Carnoustie links.

Macdonald left Scotland for America in 1908, at the age of 17. (Willie and Alex had emigrated years earlier). And although his brothers both won majors and he didn't, most of their fellow golfers who saw all three considered Macdonald the best golfer of the Smith boys.

Smith's firs brush with fame was that 1910 U.S. Open playoff that he lost. In 1912, his first big win on tour was the Western Open, one of the biggest of them all — second only to the U.S. Open in importance at that time in America.

It was 12 years before Smith won another tournament that is counted today as an official PGA Tour victory. What happened? Some older books state that Smith stepped away from golf for a while and worked in a shipyard. What definitely happened is that he joined the U.S. Army, and was serving (stationed in San Diego, Calif.) when he applied for and received U.S. citizenship in 1918.

Smith began playing tournament golf again in 1923, and in 1924 won twice on the tour and also took the Miami International Four-Ball (partnered by Wild Bill Mehlhorn) off the tour.

Multiples years of multiple victories on tour followed. He won four times in 1924, five in 1926 (plus the Miami Four-Ball again), three in 1928. Smith continued winning in the 1930s, with his final PGA Tour win happening at the 1936 Seattle Open.

Smith's 25 official PGA Tour wins are the second-most by any male golfer who did not win a major, behind Harry Cooper's 29. But those 25 wins are the most by any golfer not (yet) in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Despite not winning any of the three majors available during the bulk of his competitive career, Smith did win some big tournaments: He had three wins in the Western Open (also taking that title in 1925 and 1933), four in the Los Angeles Open (1928, 1929, 1932, 1934), plus the Canadian Open (1926), North and South Open (1925) and Texas Open (1926), all big titles at the time.

"Mac has the dignity of a true champion, the mien of a monarch and the deepest respect of all who know him." — Tommy Armour in 1936
And there is no question that Smith was one of the biggest and most-popular stars of his era. A 1930 article in Golfdom magazine stated that, "none, with the lone exception of Walter Hagen, is better-known wherever the Royal and Ancient sport is played" than Smith. Macdonald Smith-branded golf clubs were common each year in the golf market, but were a premium product, marketed only to elite golfers. (He was involved with several companies in club and ball design, and also was a strong advocate for club-fitting.)

And Smith compiled his 25-win total despite playing only here and there on the PGA circuit — many years, even in his prime, making fewer than 10 starts in tour events.

For example, in 1925 Smith won four times and was second twice in just seven tour starts. In 1926 he had five wins, one second and two thirds in just 12 starts, in all of which he finished in the Top 10. In 1928 it was three wins, three seconds and two thirds, and 12-for-13 in Top 10 finishes.

He last played in a PGA Tour tournament in 1940, when he was 50 years old.

According to, Smith, in addition to his 25 victories, also had 12 runner-up finishes and was third 14 times. The PGA Tour credits Smith with 107 starts, 64 Top 5 finishes and 86 Top 10 finishes.

Smith's main work was as a club pro. Places he worked included Del Monte Club in California; and, from 1934-49, Oakmont Country Club in Glendale, California (where, in 1936, he was playing with Babe Didrikson when she scored her first-ever hole-in-one). Other stops included Lakeview Golf & Country Club in Great Neck, New York.

After Alex Smith died in 1930, Macdonald gathered some of Alex's tournament trophies and medals, including the winners' medals from Alex's two U.S. Open victories, and took them to the Smith brothers' home club — Carnoustie.

In 1950, the year after Macdonald Smith died of a heart attack, just 59 years old, Henry Cotton delivered some of Mac's own trophies and medals to Carnoustie. Today, Carnoustie displays a trove of Smith family trophies and memorabilia. Carnoustie still conducts the annual Macdonald Smith Trophy tournament.

Macdonald Smith is not a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, but that will probably change some day. In 1954, he was the 16th person inducted into the PGA of America's Hall of Fame.

Macdonald Smith's Pro Wins

Smith is credited with 25 official wins by the PGA Tour today. Tournaments marked with an asterisk (*) in the following list are not counted as tour wins today.
  • 1912 Western Open
  • 1914 Pennsylvania Open Championship*
  • 1914 Metropolitan Open*
  • 1924 California Open
  • 1924 Northern California Open
  • 1924 Miami International Four-Ball* (partnered by Bill Mehlhorn)
  • 1925 California Open
  • 1925 North and South Open
  • 1925 Western Open
  • 1925 Long Island Open
  • 1926 Texas Open
  • 1926 Dallas Open
  • 1926 Canadian Open
  • 1926 Metropolitan Open
  • 1926 Chicago Open Championship
  • 1926 Miami International Four-Ball* (partnered by Bill Mehlhorn)
  • 1928 Los Angeles Open
  • 1928 Palos Verdes Golf Club Open
  • 1928 South Central Open
  • 1929 Los Angeles Open
  • 1929 Long Island Open
  • 1930 Long Island Open
  • 1931 Metropolitan Open
  • 1931 Long Island Open
  • 1932 Los Angeles Open
  • 1933 Western Open
  • 1934 Los Angeles Open
  • 1935 Oakmont Open
  • 1936 Seattle Open

Photo credit: "Macdonald Smith, 1928" by Los Angeles Times is licensed under CC BY 4.0 .

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