Golfer Dave Hill: PGA Tour Gadfly and Winner

Golfer Dave Hill Senior Tour trading card
Dave Hill was a star on the PGA Tour in the late 1960s and 1970s, although known as much for his outspokenness and run-ins with fellow golfers and tour officials as for his golf. But he was a Vardon Trophy winner, finished as high as No. 2 on the season-ending money list, and played in three Ryder Cups. Hill also ranks high on the list of golfers who won the most on the PGA Tour without winning a major.

Full name: James David Hill

Date of birth: May 20, 1937

Place of birth: Jackson, Michigan

Date and place of death: September 27, 2011, in Jackson, Michigan

His Biggest Wins

Dave Hill had 13 victories on the PGA Tour: Outside of the PGA Tour, Hill won the 1959 Michigan Open, plus the Colorado Open in 1971, 1976, 1977 and 1981.

Champions Tour

Hill was a 6-time winner on the Champions Tour (which was called the Senior PGA Tour at the time of all of Hill's victories). Hill also won the 1988 Mazda Champions, an unofficial money team tournament in which he partnered with the LPGA's Colleen Walker.

In the Majors

Hill first played in a major in the 1961 U.S. Open, and last in the 1979 Masters. His best finish in the 1960s was a tie for 11th in the 1967 PGA Championship.

All of Hill's six Top 10 finishes in majors happened in the 1970s. His best showing was solo second in the 1970 U.S. Open, the tournament where he lambasted the golf course, the USGA, and threated to ride a tractor to the awards ceremony if he won (more about that in the following section). He was runner-up, but seven strokes behind winner Tony Jacklin.

Hill also tied for third in the 1974 PGA Championship, and tied fifth in the 1970 Masters. He was sixth in the 1971 PGA Championship and had a pair of seventh-place showings in 1975, at The Masters and PGA.

Conflicts and Controversies

Among the words his contemporaries used to describe Dave Hill's personality and demeanor: cantankerous, irascible, a character, lightning rod, fiesty, opinionated, sharp-tongued, blunt, combative, highly strung.

The Colorado Golf Hall of Fame described him as a golfer with a "bad temper, big mouth and colorful ways." Another word that always applied to Hill: honest.

His brother Mike Hill, also a tour player, once said about Dave:

"He was opinionated and stubborn. If he felt he was seeing things that weren't right, he always spoke out. He used to say, 'if you don't like the answer, you shouldn't ask the question'."
Hill was already a controversial figure, one who had offered outspoken criticisms, clashed with fellow tour players, and been fined and suspended by the tour, when, in 1970, he attacked the golf course where the U.S. Open was played that year. It remains the contretemps for which Hill is best-known.

The 1970 U.S. Open was at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota, today a storied major championship course designed by the legend Robert Trent Jones, but then a very young track that hadn't fully grown in. Hill hated it.

When asked by reporters early in the tournament week what he thought of the golf course, Hill replied, "I'm still looking for it," and "they ruined a good farm when they built this course." Asked what he thought the course needed, he replied, "80 acres of corn and four cows." He called Trent Jones an idiot and said the designer must have had his blueprints upside down. He vowed if he won the tournament he would ride a tractor to the trophy presentation.

Even after the tournament ended, Hill kept at it, saying, "What Trent Jones knows about building golf courses George Washington knew about building the Model T Ford."

Those quips sound pretty mild today, and Hill always maintained he was only saying in public the things many of the other pros were saying privately inside the locker room. But at the time, pros lambasting the U.S. Open golf course was highly unusual. It got a huge amount of press.

Hazeltine members mooed at Hill throughout the tournament. Some rang cowbells. (Moos and cowbells followed Hill on the PGA Tour for several years after.) The PGA Tour fined him. And fans flocked to his galleries to see the loudmouthed golfer who also happened to be a great player.

Oh, and Hill finished second that week. (He played Hazeltine again in the 1990s and praised what the course had become.)

There were a whole slew of incidents throughout Hill's PGA Tour career, and they started early. Just a few examples:

  • He was suspended for five tournaments in 1963 after angrily breaking a club during a national TV broadcast — after having been warned by an official on-site not to do it.

  • In 1969, one of his tournament entries was rejected by the PGA after Hill swore at a tournament official.

  • In the 1969 Ryder Cup, things turned chippy during Hill's foursome match after the GB&I side received a favorable ruling. Following the round, Hill was overheard in the players' dining area cursing about the referee and ruling. GB&I captain Eric Brown overheard Hill, complained to the PGA of America and demanded an apology. Hill refused. The PGA threatened to kick him out of the Ryder Cup. Hill reluctantly apologized. Later, he was one of the people there angry over Jack Nicklaus' final-hole concession of a putt to Tony Jacklin that ended the Ryder Cup in a tie. (That concession today is held up as a great act of sportsmanship, but at the time many, including USA captain Sam Snead, were furious with Nicklaus for doing it.)

  • At the 1971 Colonial, Hill, assured of missing the cut, picked up his ball from a greenside bunker and tossed it onto the green. Then he was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. The tour fined him and told Hill he couldn't play the next week's tournament unless he paid the fine.

  • Hill did pay that fine in time to play the next week, but then filed a million-dollar lawsuit against the tour. The tour put him on probation. He increased the lawsuit to $3 million. They eventually settled the lawsuit out of court.

  • At the 1971 Wills Masters in Australia, Hill and Aussie legend Peter Thomson exchanged nasty words throughout the tournament.

  • Even decades later on the Senior PGA Tour, Hill was still getting into trouble. Prior to the 1991 Transamerica Senior Golf Championship, practicing at the opposite end of the driving range from J.C. Snead, Hill was incensed when Snead's shots kept rolling close by. After yelling at Snead a few times, Hill grabbed a club and charged at the much-larger Snead and a real, punches-thrown, rolling-on-the-groud fight broke out. Caddies and other players had to separate them.
Aside from the Hazeltine incident, though, probably the most infamous imbroglio Hill was involved in was called, at the time, "the Chi Chi affair." In the 36-hole final day of the 1970 Kaiser International, Hill and Chi Chi Rodriguez — who were sometimes roommates early in their careers — were paired together. And all through that final day, Hill's resentment of Rodriguez's crowd-pleasing antics and interactions with fans grew. Hill was in contention, and he found Chi Chi's chattering with the gallery, drawing laughs, very distracting.

Hill complained to Rodriguez, who replied that he no longer wanted to play with Hill. According to Hill, Rodriguez called for an official and asked to be separated from Hill. It was all downhill from there. They traded nasty comments for a few holes, including on the 10th. Hill triple bogeyed the next hole, and he wound up missing a playoff by one stroke.

All the tour officials present feared a fight was about to break out. They were waiting by the final hole, and tour officials whisked Hill onto a golf cart and sped away, keeping him away from Rodriguez until he calmed down.

Two years later, Hill, who thought Chi Chi had cost him the tournament, was still mad. Talking to Sports Illustrated about it in 1972, he used what is some of the most vicious language ever directed by one tour pro against another, saying that when Chi Chi called for the official, "Right there, I should have buried my club in his head."

Asked about the tour officials separating them after the completion of the round, Hill told SI, "If I'd had my way, I'da killed Rodriguez. I would've just literally whipped the intestines out of him. What would have been left of Mr. Rodriguez would not have filled a cigar box."

More About Dave Hill

Golfer Dave Hill circa 1970
All of the fights and fines during his career can overshadow just how good a career Dave Hill had. He won 13 times (he is tied for 13th on the list of golfers with the most wins but no majors) and was acknowledged as one of the best players on the tour in the late 1960s, early 1970s. Jack Nicklaus once said Hill had one of the four best swings on tour.

Hill loved fiddling with clubs, trying different specs. He was one of those players who always had lead tape with him on the practice range. He was one of the tour's best ballstrikers and shotmakers, but a mediocre short game cost him.

Always a perfectionist, Hill spent up to eight hours a day practicing and rarely went a day without playing golf. But that perfectionism sometimes made it difficult for him to enjoy the good times. After the 1975 Sahara Invitational — a tournament that he won with four rounds in the 60s — Hill complained, "My game is embarrassing, I haven't hit four good shots all week."

Hill began playing golf at age 11, getting into the game through the caddie ranks. After playing on the University of Detroit team in college, Hill turned pro at age 21 in 1958 to become assistant pro at the Elks Club golf course in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Going out onto the tour in 1959, Hill finished 84th on the money list as a rookie that year. He first finished in the Top 60 (then the cutoff to avoid weekly qualifying) on the PGA Tour money list in 1960, and remained inside the Top 60 for 17 consecutive years.

His first two PGA Tour victories happened in 1961. No. 1 was at the Home of the Sun Open (better-remembered as the Tucson Open), where he won a playoff over Tommy Bolt and Bud Sullivan. No. 2 was at the Denver Open (he later won the Colorado Open, not a tour event, four times), and Hill finished 22nd on the money list that year.

He had another playoff win, this one over Mike Souchak, at the 1963 Hot Springs Invitational. And in 1967 he won the Memphis Open, a title he eventually claimed four times.

Hill thought he should have done better, though, than four wins to that point in his career. And that feeling was bringing out his bad side. He told Sports Illustrated in 1970: "I was very unhappy or very insulting or downright nasty. ... The game did not need my type of personality because I made too many enemies. I knew that."

'The golf swing is like sex. You can't be thinking about the mechanics of the act while you are performing.' — Dave Hill
His wife helped him moderate (somewhat) those feelings by, at the end of 1968, hiding his golf clubs in a neighbor's garage. The enforced two-month break from golf, Hill said, "was the best thing that could have happened to me."

When he returned to competitive play, he cut back his schedule a bit and was usually better-able to hold his nerves in check. (Although, clearly from the section above, Hill's outbursts never went away — the worst ones were yet to come.)

And 1969 turned out to be his best year on the PGA Tour. He won three times in June and July that year: the Memphis Open, Buick Open, and, in another playoff (over Gay Brewer, Tommy Jacobs and R.H. Sikes), the IVB-Phildelphia Open. He also had runner-up finishes in the Greater Hartford Open (losing a playoff to Bob Lunn) and Bob Hope Desert Classic. And he played in his first Ryder Cup (more on that below).

Hill won the Vardon Trophy at the end of 1969, leading the PGA Tour in scoring average at 70.34. And he finished second on the money list, his career best. Hill was incensed when the PGA gave its Player of the Year Award to Orville Moody, who won only once (albeit the 1969 U.S. Open).

Hill won once a year each year from 1970 through 1976, excepting 1971. Win No. 3 in the Memphis Open was in 1970 (becoming the tournament's first back-to-back champ), and his fourth win in that tournament was in 1973.

He finished 10th on the money list for 1970. Hill did not crack the Top 10 in money again, but he had four more Top 20 finishes.

Hill came close to winning the Sahara Invitational three consecutive years. He was runner-up in 1974 (tied with three others including his brother Mike), won it in 1975, then finished second again in 1976.

His last PGA Tour victory was in the 1976 Greater Milwaukee Open. Hill battled knee and back problems in the mid-1970s, and began cutting back his scheduled in 1977. Unhappy with his game and burned out on tour, he announced in 1981 that he was done playing the tour full time. He last appeared in a PGA Tour tournament in 1987.

For his career on the PGA Tour, Hill made 513 starts. In addition to his 13 wins, he was runner-up 12 times and third place 17 times. He had 67 Top 5 finishes and 120 Top 10 finishes.

Along the way, Hill played for Team USA in the Ryder Cup three times. In the 1969 Ryder Cup, Hill split four doubles matches and won two singles matches. In singles, he beat Peter Townsend, 5 and 4, in the morning of Day 3, and beat Brian Barnes, 4 and 2, in the afternoon. Playing the maximum six matches that year, Hill went 4-2-0, earning a team-best four points.

In the 1973 Ryder Cup, Hill played only one match. Hill and partner Arnold Palmer lost a Day 2 foursomes match to Peter Oosterhuis/Tony Jacklin, 2-down.

In the 1977 Ryder Cup, Hill played two matches. He partnered Dave Stockton to a fourball win against Jacklin/Eamonn Darcy, 5 and 3. And in singles, Hill beat Tommy Horton, 5 and 4. That made Hill's overall Ryder Cup record, in nine matches over three appearances, 6-3-0.

Hill turned 50 years old in 1987 and he joined the Senior PGA Tour that year. His first senior win happened late in the year at the Fairfield Barnett Senior Classic, and he wound up 11th on the season-ending money list.

The remaining five of Hill's six Senior Tour victories happened in 1988 (three) and 1989 (two), when he finished third and fifth, respectively, on the money lists.

The fifth of his six senior wins was in the 1989 Bell Atlantic/St. Christopher's Classic, where Hill faced the guy he once said he wanted to kill, Chi Chi Rodriguez, in a playoff. Hill won it on the third extra hole. This time, there was no trouble between them.

He did not win again on the senior circuit after 1989, but Hill still finished 14th on money list in 1990, then gradually slid down the standings. His final appearance on the Senior Tour was in 2002.

For the Senior PGA Tour part of his career, Hill made 226 total starts. He had six wins, nine second-place finishes, seven thirds, 39 Top 5 finishes and 68 Top 10 finishes.

Hill died at age 74 in 2011 after struggling for several years with emphysema.

Hill is a member of the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame, Michigan Golf Hall of Fame and Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.

Hill also appeared in one movie — a Disney movie, surprisingly. In 1972, and the height of his notoriety, Hill played himself in a golf scene in Now You See Him, Now You Don't (affiliate link).

In 1977, Hill, with co-author Nick Seitz, published the book Teed Off (affiliate link). And yes, Hill did tee off on some of his fellow pros and the tour.

Hill's brother Mike Hill was a couple years younger than Dave. Mike Hill won three times on the PGA Tour in the 1970s, then won 18 times on the Senior PGA Tour in the 1990s.

(Book titles are affiliate links; commissions earned)
Achenbach, James. "Dave Hill was unrestrained, true," Golfweek, October 4, 2011,
Alliss, Peter. The Who's Who of Golf, 1983, Orbis Publishing.
Apfelbaum, Jim. The Gigantic Book of Golf Quotations, 2007, Skyhorse Publishing.
Associated Press. "PGA Tour winner Dave Hill dies at 74,",
Brenner, Morgan. The Majors of Golf, Volume 2, 2009, McFarland and Company.
Colorado Golf Hall of Fame. Inductees, "Dave Hill,"
Cope, Myron. "Often Bloody, But Uncowed," Sports Illustrated, May 10, 1971.
Michigan Golf Hall of Fame. Members, "Dave Hill,"
Mulvoy, Mark. "Plain Words At Westchester," Sports Illustrated, August 10, 1970.
PGA Tour. 1995 Senior PGA Tour Official Media Guide.
PGA Tour. Official PGA Tour Media Guide 1981, 1982, Workman Publishing. Players, "Dave Hill,"

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