Johnny Fischer: Profile of Prominent Golfer

Johnny Fischer was a prominent amateur golfer in the 1930s whose biggest victory was in the U.S. Amateur. He was famous for pulling off come-from-behind victories. Fischer was also one of the first golfers to win both the NCAA and U.S. Amateur championships, and he was one of the last golfers to win a big tournament playing clubs with wooden shafts.

Full name: John William Fischer

Date of birth: March 10, 1912

Place of birth: Cincinnati, Ohio

Date and place of death: May 25, 1984, in Cincinnati, Ohio

Also known as: John W. Fischer. A nicknamed that was sometimes used was "King," a pun on kingfisher, a type of bird.

Fischer's Biggest Wins

  • 1930 Queen City Open
  • 1931 Queen City Open
  • 1932 Big Ten Championship
  • 1932 NCAA Championship
  • 1932 Queen City Open
  • 1933 Big Ten Championship
  • 1935 Big Ten Championship
  • 1936 U.S. Amateur

His U.S. Amateur Victory

Johnny Fischer is still a name in the golf history books because of his biggest trophy, the 1936 U.S. Amateur Championship. His road to the championship match included a 2-up victory over Chick Evans (a U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open champ) in the third round. In the semifinals, Fischer beat Johnny Goodman, 2 and 1. Goodman won the 1933 U.S. Open and went on to win the U.S. Amateur a year later.

That set up a championship match against Scotsman Jack McLean, who was playing because he was part of the 1936 Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team that was in America.

Fischer was 1-down with three holes to play. But he saved a half on the 34th hole by laying a stymie, which McLean was unable to successfully play over or around. On the 35th hole, they both birdied for another halve.

On the 36th hole, Fischer evened the match with a 12-foot birdie putt, sending the title match to extra holes. And on the first extra hole, the 37th hole overall, Fischer won it with a 20-foot birdie putt. It was a stirring comeback victory for Fischer, something that was a theme throughout his competitive career.

Ironically, a tournament that concluded with a match in which the stymie played a big part began with the USGA surveying participants for their opinion on whether stymies should be eliminated from the rules for match play. After the tournament ended, the USGA said the majority of players in the 1936 U.S. Amateur responded in favor of eliminating the stymie. That was eventually done, but not until 1952.

Fischer was just the fourth golfer to win both the NCAA Championship and the U.S. Amateur (after Chandler Egan, Jess Sweetser and George Dunlap). He also went down in the history books as the last golfer to use wooden-shafted clubs to win a USGA championship. (One of Fischer's grandsons, many decades later, was president of the Society of Hickory Golfers.)

Upon his return to his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, Fischer was celebrated with a ticker-tape parade.

More About Johnny Fischer

Johnny Fischer got into golf when he began caddying at Western Hills Golf Club in Cincinnati in 1925, when he was 13 years old. A few years later he was winning three Cincinnati city junior titles as well as the Ohio state high school championship in 1929. He also won the Queen City Open, Cincinnati's city championship, three years running (1930-32). (He was later runner-up in that tournament, in 1935, to PGA Tour star Johnny Revolta.)

Fischer's name began spreading outside of Ohio when he became a star on the University of Michigan golf team in the first half of the 1930s. His reputation as a dangerous come-from-behind player was first established when he won the 1932 Big Ten Conference championship by birdying three of the last four holes.

Then, at the 1932 NCAA Championship, Fischer was 1-down on the 32nd green, with opponent Billy Howell (of Washington and Lee University) six feet from the cup and Fischer 50 feet away. He stroked in that long putt to halve the hole, then came back for the 2-and-1 victory over the final four holes.

Fischer won the individual Big Ten Championship again in 1933, but didn't play that event in 1934 in order to travel to Scotland as part of Team USA for the Walker Cup. (Michigan won the conference team championship all four years Fischer was there, 1932-35, although he didn't play in the 1934 tournament due to the Walker Cup.)

In the last of his three Big Ten titles, in 1935, he came from three strokes behind with nine holes to play with a back-nine 31, overtaking teammate and defending champ Chuck Kocsis for the title. Fischer won with a score of 281, a tournament record (breaking Kocsis' mark of 284) that stood for 46 years. It was tied in 1956, again in 1972, but wasn't beaten until Joey Sindelar finally lowered the record in 1981.

Fischer was the first Big Ten golfer to win three individual conference championships, and still shares that record today (with, among others, Steve Stricker and Fred Wampler). Michigan also won the NCAA team championship in 1934 and 1935, so Fischer earned one individual NCAA trophy and two team titles.

In both 1932 and 1933, Fischer was medalist in the U.S. Amateur stroke-play qualifying, but he was dispatched in the quarters and the Round of 16, respectively, those two years. Those were his first two appearances in the U.S. Amateur. In that 1932 Amateur, Fischer announced himself to the golfing world by knocking off Lawson Little in the first round, before losing to Francis Ouimet in the quarterfinals. In the 36-hole, stroke-play qualifying rounds in 1932, Fischer tied the tournament record of 142. Then, in 1933, the 141 he scored in the qualifier set a new tournament record that stood until 1939.

After a couple first-round losses in the U.S. Amateur in 1934-35, Fischer had his biggest career win in the 1936 U.S. Amateur. When he returned in 1937 to defend his title, he raced to the semifinals (including another win over Evans) before bowing out to Ray Billows. Fischer also made the quarterfinals in 1940. His final appearance in the tournament was an early loss in 1941.

He played in the U.S. Open only twice, placing 27th in 1932 and 43rd in 1933. He entered the British Amateur only twice, in 1934 and 1938, but was knocked out early both times. Fisher also earned low-amateur honors three times in the PGA Tour's Western Open.

And his come-from-behind reputation extended into exhibition matches, too. Fischer was once 4-down to Walter Hagen with five holes to play, but scored an eagle and three birdies in those five holes to halve the match.

Fisher played on Team USA in the Walker Cup three times, in 1934, 1936 and 1938. He halved the only foursomes match he played in those three appearances, but won all three of his singles matches. In the 1934 Walker Cup, Fischer defeated Eric Fiddian, 5 and 4. In the 1936 Walker Cup, he beat Cecil Ewing, 8 and 7.

And in the 1938 Walker Cup singles, playing Leonard Crawley, Fischer was 4-down after the morning 18. But he wound up winning 3-and-2 after running off seven consecutive scores of 3 from the 8th through the 14th holes (the 26th through 32nd holes overall).

Fischer was still playing wood-shafted clubs at the 1938 Walker Cup. He continued playing wooden shafts long after virtually all other pros and top amateurs had switched to steel shafts. The 1940 book Golf As I Play It: Inside Golf by 28 Champions (affiliate link) notes that Fischer "is one of the very last of the ranking players still using wooden shafts." (Fischer never wrote a golf instructional book, but his ideas about the swing and equipment are extensively noted in that book.)

Fischer was basically retired from competitive golf, with a few exceptions here and there, after that last Walker Cup. He worked as an attorney in Cincinnati, eventually becoming a senior partner at a prominent firm. He also at one time served on the USGA Executive Committee.

Fisher also served as general chairman of the U.S. Pro-Amateur Championship from 1959 to 1971. That was a briefly prominent stroke-play tournament that paired top pros with top (or at least famous) amateurs. Fischer played in the tournament many years, such as in 1964 when he partnered Tommy Bolt to a tie for second place.

And he wasn't done with the Walker Cup. Fischer was captain of Team USA in the 1965 Walker Cup, and guess what the United States had to do to avoid losing: stage a furious comeback. Team GB&I had an 8-3 lead after Day 1, and after the teams split the Day 2 foursomes appeared almost certain to win. But in the Day 2 singles, where GB&I needed to win only two matches to claim the competition, the U.S. team won six matches and halved a seventh. GB&I managed only one victory, resulting in an 11-11 tie.

Fischer was 72 years old when he died in 1984. He is a member of the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor.

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