Ed Furgol: U.S. Open Champ, PGA Tour Victor

Golfer Ed Furgol on 1955 Sports Illustrated cover
Ed Furgol was a PGA Tour golfer from the 1940s into the 1960s, winning a half-dozen times. And one of those wins was a U.S. Open. To have his successful golf career, he had to overcome the permanent and shattering effects of a childhood accident that left one of his arms withered, crooked and shorter than the other.

Full name: Edward Joseph Furgol

Date of birth: March 24, 1917

Place of birth: New York Mills, New York

Date and place of death: March 6, 1997, in Miami Shores, Florida

Nickname: "Silent Ed" or "Wingy." The Associated Press news report about Furgol's U.S. Open victory began by calling him, "Probably the most untalkative golfer ever to trod a fairway." (Furgol was a very friendly fellow, he just preferred not to talk while he golfed.) "Wingy" stemmed from the damage to his left arm, described below.

His PGA Tour Wins

Ed Furgol won six times on the PGA Tour: Outside of the PGA Tour, Furgol had several more wins of note. As an amateur he won the 1945 North and South. As a pro, he took the Michigan PGA Championship in 1951, the Havana Invitational in 1954, and the Tri-State PGA Championship (covering West Virginia plus parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania) in 1962, 1963 and 1965. Furgol also won the individual title in the 1955 Canada Cup.

In the Majors

Ed Furgol's biggest achievement in golf was his victory in the 1954 U.S. Open. Furgol was 37 years old at the time and entered the tournament with only two wins on the PGA Tour — although one of them came earlier in the season at the Phoenix Open.

Furgol didn't break 70 for any of his four rounds, but he was very consistent with scores of 71-70-71-72. He was tied for fifth following the first round, and tied for second after the second round.

Furgol's 71 in Round 3 sent him into the lead by one stroke over Dick Mayer. Gene Littler, in his rookie year (he had won the San Diego Open earlier in 1954 while still an amateur), was among the golfers in third place, three behind Furgol.

The tournament came down to how Furgol, Mayer and Littler played the final hole. Furgol drove it into the trees from the 18th tee and then intentionally hit is second stroke onto the wrong golf course. The tournament was on Baltusrol's Lower Course, Furgol played out of the trees onto the 18th fairway of the club's Upper Course. From there, he knocked his third stroke onto the green and parred out.

Littler reached the last hole needing a birdie to tie Furgol's 284, but hit into a greenside bunker, then missed an 8-foot birdie attempt. Mayer needed par to force a playoff, but double-bogeyed that final hole. Furgol wound up beating Littler by one, and Mayer plus Lloyd Mangrum by two.

Furgol's first appearance in a major was at the 1946 U.S. Open, and his last in the 1966 PGA Championship. He made 51 starts in majors and posted the one win with eight Top 10 finishes.

His best other showings were both in 1956. At the U.S. Open, he tied for fourth place. In the 1956 PGA Championship, Furgol reached the semifinals before falling to the eventual champ, Jack Burke Jr. His other Top 10 finishes were tied for sixth in the 1948 Masters, solo sixth in the 1957 Masters, tied fifth in the 1963 Masters, plus Round of 16 (tied ninth) showings in the PGA Championship in 1953 and 1955.

More About Ed Furgol

Ed Furgol was a golfer whose fame came partly from the phsyical limitations he overcame to be successful. Peter Alliss, writing in his 1983 reference book The Who's Who of Golf (commissions earned from affiliate links), said that Furgol "came (to the PGA Tour) with one of the most severe physical handicaps that has been seen in a major golfer."

What was that physical handicap? In childhood, Furgol suffered a fall from playground equipment that shattered his left elbow. Surgery to try to repair the damage didn't work. His left arm withered and became set on an angle at the elbow. That arm was 10 inches shorter than his right arm.

Throughout his golf career, Furgol was routinely referred to in print as "crooked-arm Ed Furgol." The Associated Press even called him that in the very first sentence of its report on his 1954 U.S. Open victory.

But Furgol got serious about golf as a direct result of the accident, after doctors suggested the game as a way to exercise the damaged arm.

"Furgol did special exercises to build strength in his hands and worked tirelessly to develop a swing that would overcome his lack of power," the New York Times said in its obituary of Furgol.

As Furgol moved into his 20s, he also moved from New York to Michigan and went to work for Ford. He also started playing more tournament golf. In the 1940 U.S. Public Links Championship, Furgol was the medalist in qualifying and reached the semifinals of the match-play bracket. His biggest win as an amateur was in the 1945 North and South Championship.

Many observers, as Furgol's results improved and throughout his career, expressed surprise he could play as well as he did, given his physical impairment. How did he compensate for that left arm?

The editors of the 1975 reference The Encyclopedia of Golf (affiliate link) explained that Furgol's left arm "became virtually useless (in the golf swing) except to guide the club, but the fact that it was rigid may have helped him to groove his swing, ungainly though it was." They continued:

"Furgol compensated for his left arm by bending over at the address and employing a rather lunging swing. The backswing was of necessity short but his position at the top was compact and sound, and his power came from a powerful uncoiling of his body."
Furgol turned pro later in 1945, and by 1947 he was gaining notice on the PGA Tour. That year he posted his first victory, tying (no playoff) with George Fazio at the Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Furgol also had one second-place finish, one third and 19 Top 10s in 1947.

He became a prolific player, entering high numbers of tournaments. In fact, according to the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame, Furgol played more PGA Tour rounds than any other golfer on the PGA Tour during the 1945-52 period.

But he did not win again for seven years. He was a consistent performer during much of that time, though. For example, although he had no wins in 1948, Furgol did post 13 Top 10s and was in the Top 25 in 27 starts that year. He finished in the Top 25 in 27 tournaments in 1950 and 25 more in 1951, but had no wins in either year. (He did win off the tour in 1951 at the Michigan PGA Championship.)

Furgol's second PGA Tour win finally happened at the 1954 Phoenix Open, where he defeated the estimable Cary Middlecoff in a playoff. Later that year, he won the U.S. Open. At the end of the year, Furgol was named the PGA Player of the Year. (Off the tour, Furgol won the Havana Invitational in 1954.)

In February 1955, Furgol was presented the Ben Hogan Award by Hogan himself at a ceremony in New York. The award was (and is) given "to an individual who has continued to be active in golf despite a physical handicap or serious illness."

Furgol didn't win on the PGA Tour in 1955, but he but represented Team USA at the Canada Cup (later called the World Golf). With partner Chick Harbert, he led Team USA to the victory, and Furgol won the individual title after beating Peter Thomson and Flory Van Donck in a playoff.

He had two more tour wins in 1956, first at the Miller High Life Open by four strokes over Gene Littler, who had also been runner-up in Furgol's U.S. Open victory two years earlier. His second victory that year was by one stroke over runner-up Arnold Palmer at the Rubber City Open. Furgol lost in a playoff at the 1956 Motor City Open to Bob Rosburg. At the end of the year, Furgol was a career-best seventh on the PGA Tour money list.

He won for the last time on the PGA Tour at the 1957 Agua Caliente Open in Mexico, winning a playoff against Al Besselink.

Furgol's performances in 1956-57 landed him a spot on Team USA in the 1957 Ryder Cup. He played only in singles and lost 7 and 6 to Dai Rees, but Team USA won.

Furgol left the tour after 1957 (focusing on his club pro job — like most golfers still did in this era, Furgol held club positions throughout his years playing the PGA Tour), then came back briefly without much success in the early 1960s.

According to Al Barkow's 1989 The History of the PGA Tour (affiliate link), in addition to his six victories, Furgol had seven second-place finishes on the tour, 14 third-place showings, and 123 career Top 10 finishes.

He played on the Champions Tour for several years in the early to mid-1980s. But Furgol was already in his 60s when the senior tour was founded in 1980.

Furgol is a member of the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame and of the Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame. He was 79 years old when he died in 1997.

Ed Furgol is sometimes confused with another PGA Tour golfer, Marty Furgol, or they are mistaken as brothers. It's not just the same last name that can lead them to be mistaken for each other. Ed Furgol and Marty Furgol were both born in the small town of New York Mills, New York, growing up near each other. Ed was born in 1917, one year after Marty. Ed won six PGA Tour tournaments, Marty won five. Yet, despite sharing the same surname and small hometown and vocation, Ed and Marty not only weren't brothers, they weren't related at all.

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