PGA Life Member Ken Tucker of Seattle, Wash., whose 74-year golf career made him the longest serving Pacific Northwest PGA Section member and the second longest among current PGA Professionals, passed away March 20, following a short illness. He was 99.
Tucker's devotion to golf encompassed the praise of those who witnessed his talent on the course, his skill in mentoring of juniors and his natural ability to make the members of Everett Golf & Country Club in Everett, Wash., feel as if they were part of his family.
Born in the Seattle suburb of Ballard, Tucker picked up golf by caddying at Everett Golf & Country Club and became a member of the Everett High School golf team.
"He was a people's person, exceptionally warm, and truly enjoyed working with juniors," said Tucker's wife of 36 years, Mary. "He taught young and old, juniors, men, and women over the years and said that his joy was getting to enjoy people. He often talked about beginning as a caddie, and making 50 cents a day, and then the rates moved up to 75 cents and then 90!" Tucker turned professional in 1933, working at the former Mountain View Golf Course in Lacey, Wash. In 1936, he began a 42-year tenure as the fifth PGA head professional in the history of the Everett Golf & Country Club. His starting salary was $50 per month.
During the winters of 1937-39, Tucker competed on the PGA Tour. With the outbreak of World War II, Tucker enlisted in the U.S. Navy, and served from 1941-45, attaining the rank of chief petty officer. While spending much of the war in the China Sea and the Philippines, Tucker added to his duties as athletic trainer.
Tucker was one recipient of legendary entertainer Bing Crosby's affection for PGA Professionals, and their role in growing the game. When Tucker and Bud Ward paired up to compete in the first "Crosby Clambake" in 1937, (now the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am), Crosby's uncle, whom Ken had worked with in Olympia, insisted that he and Ward stay at Bing's home during the tournament.
What followed was years of friendship, with numerous golf games involving Crosby and other Hollywood celebrities. With the exception of World War II, Tucker played in the Crosby Pro-Am every year through 1963.
Tucker was one of the finest players in the Pacific Northwest PGA Section, and was one of its most active leaders. He served as Section president from 1952-53. On the course, Tucker displayed how a PGA Professional can be as solid a player as a reputed instructor. He posted a 60 at Hillcrest Country Club, a predecessor to Cedarcrest Country Club, and had a 63 at Everett Golf & Country Club. Tucker won the 1939 Pacific Northwest PGA Championship at Tacoma Country Club; later won in 1947 and 1950.
His lone experience in a major championship came in the 1939 PGA Championship at Pomonok Country Club in Flushing, N.Y., where he was defeated in the second round by Al Watrous.
Tucker also registered the Tucson Open's first hole-in-one in 1947, and shared first in the 1952 Tacoma Open.
He competed in the 1950 Hudson Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition named in honor of Ryder Cup benefactor Robert Hudson of Portland. Tucker also served as Hudson Cup captain in 1952 and '53. In 1956, Tucker was named co-recipient of the Everett Herald Man of the Year in Sports.
"I used to play about four Tour events a year – just for the experience and the vacation," Tucker told the Everett Herald in 1976. "The members come first."
"The members loved him, and I felt honored to have known him when I joined Everett Golf & Country Club," said Everett PGA head professional Brent Webber. "Ken would help guide member trips to Hawaii and Alaska. I was a 20-year-old professional when I met Ken in 1984, and he helped me out right away. He was a mentor to me and to many others over the years. He was very proud to be a PGA Professional.
"I just keep paying my dues every year," Tucker once said once to Webber, at the time well into his 90s.
The Pacific Northwest PGA Section named Tucker its 1960 PGA Golf Professional of the Year, and the honors continued to flow over the years. The Everett Golf & Country Club membership honored him during his 40th anniversary in 1976, by hosting a golf event in his honor, bestowing honorary lifetime membership, and giving him the keys to a new Oldsmobile.
In 1982, Tucker was inducted into the Pacific Northwest PGA Hall of Fame. In 1984, he was honored for his 48 years of dedication to junior golf with a special award that preceded the national PGA Junior Golf Leader award by four years.
"Ken's joy and commitment to teaching juniors will be one of the great parts of his legacy," said Webber. "And, it was his joy of serving his club members that left a lasting impression for young and old. He was not just a pro that left the club after work and called it a day. I remember him last playing golf at the club about two years ago. Every Thursday, he would gather with a threesome and play about three to four holes."
Tucker is survived by his wife, Mary, of Seattle; and daughters Mary Helbach of Seattle and Kathleen Brooks of Evanston, Ill. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Rita, in 1971; and by a daughter, Barbara, who died in 2010.
The Tucker family planned a private funeral and graveside service on March 28, followed by a public reception on March 30, at Everett Golf & Country Club. The family requested that donations be made to the Pacific Northwest PGA Junior Golf Fund.