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Bob Rosburg
Bob Rosburg came from six shots back on the final day in 1959 to claim the Rodman Wanamaker Trophy. (Photo: The PGA of America)

A Tribute to Rossie

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Bob Rosburg's PGA Championship triumph at Minneapolis Golf Club.

By Roger Graves, Contributor

The table was set, and Bob Rosburg had the dates circled on his calendar. Fifty years after "Rossie" won the 1959 PGA Championship at Minneapolis Golf Club, he was planning to commemorate his Minnesota milestone at Hazeltine National Golf Club during the 91st PGA Championship at the age of 82.

However, the articulate Rosburg passed away on May 14 from injuries sustained in a fall two days prior outside a restaurant in Indio, Calif. But Rossie's victory half a century ago, in the first stroke-play PGA Championship conducted in Minnesota, will be remembered, celebrated and commemorated at Hazeltine National when the world of golf converges this week.

Rosburg, a native of San Francisco who resided in La Quinta, Calif., in recent years, chuckled earlier this year when recounting his 1959 PGA Championship triumph. He certainly earned his major title with closing rounds of 68 and 66 to finish a single swing superior to Jerry Barber and Doug Sanders. But when reviewing his '59 victory during a taped interview, Rossie acknowledged that he was "very fortunate" to win the 1959 PGA Championship after coming from six shots back on the final day.

"I've always said timing is everything in golf, and I was on the good side of timing at the PGA Championship in 1959 after being on the other side of timing at the U.S. Open earlier that year (at Winged Foot Golf Club)," recalled Rosburg, who didn't hit a single practice shot all week due to the scorching heat. "Looking back, I probably should have won the Open and not the PGA (Championship). I had a good final day at the PGA (his 66 was the low round), but Jerry Barber bogeyed the last two holes and kind of gave it to me. I had finished a little earlier, and Jerry looked like he was going to win it. I was surprised when he bogeyed the final two holes."

Rosburg used a similar, late-charging strategy to nearly win the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. In those days, the final 36 holes of the U.S Open were played on Saturday, but a rainstorm pushed the fourth round to Sunday. On another blustery day, Rosburg's 71 matched the low round of the day by host PGA Professional Claude Harmon and longhitting Mike Souchak, but third-round leader Billy Casper posted a final-round 74 to edge Rosburg by one shot at 282. Ten years later, Rosburg missed a three-footer on the 72nd hole and finished in a three-way tie for second at the 1969 U.S. Open, one stroke behind Orville Moody.

Casper remembers Rossie as a superb putter and a supreme competitor. He also recalls Rosburg's sense of humor and sense of golf history, which served Rossie well during a 30-year career as a roving on-course reporter during ABC-TV golf telecasts.

"Rossie and I were both considered pretty good putters and we were both from California, so we had some things in common," notes the 78-year-old Casper. "During those years, the greens on most courses we played were scraggly and slow, so we were always figuring out a way to punch the ball with our putters. After Bob finished second at Winged Foot, I was happy to see him win a few weeks later in Minnesota at the PGA Championship (where Casper tied for 17th)."

At Winged Foot, Casper made headlines with the unique strategy of laying up short of the deep bunkers on the par-3, 216-yard third hole each day. Rosburg never let him forget the ploy.

"Bob was mad at me. He says, 'You beat me by one shot and laid up on the third hole every day.' Every time he saw me, he mentioned it," says Casper. "It was a 2-iron or 4-wood to the green, and I hit a 5-iron or a 6-iron short of the green and pitched up every day. Fortunately, I pitched close enough to hole four putts and make par every day.

"Rossie thought that was crazy, but he mentioned it on television several times years later when he would be part of the U.S. Open telecast for ABC. He never forgot that."

At the age of 12, Rossie earned local acclaim when he defeated retired baseball Hall of Famer Ty Cobb in a club championship match at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. After losing to the 12-year-old prodigy, Cobb was seldom seen playing at Olympic. The son of a doctor, Rosburg went to Stanford and earned a degree in humanities after leading the Cardinal to the 1946 NCAA Golf Championship.

Rosburg was always proud to call himself a PGA Professional, a member of The PGA of America, but because money was scarce for touring professionals, Rosburg was in no hurry to turn his attention to professional golf. But he wandered over to the Bing Crosby Clambake in 1953 to watch the professionals and ran into Jackson Bradley, a PGA Professional at Edgewater Country Club in Chicago.

Bradley offered Rosburg a job as an assistant professional, and Rossie eventually decided to accept the offer. Then, after moving to Chicago, Rosburg qualified for the 1953 U.S. Open at Oakmont. He tied for 21st behind champion Ben Hogan, which qualified Rosburg to play on the Tour for a year.

Rosburg, who collected six victories on the PGA Tour, became one of only two players (Sam Snead is the other) to win the PGA Championship and the PGA Professional National Championship when he won the 1969 competition for PGA Professionals in Scottsdale, Ariz. Rossie's last victory on the PGA Tour came in 1972, when he won the Bob Hope Desert Classic by one shot over Lanny Wadkins.

The 1959 PGA Champion turned his talents to television in 1974, joining the ABC Sports team as the first full-time on-course reporter. While walking the fairways with golf's stars of a new generation, Rosburg became famous for his quick appraisals of a player’s lie. At the time of his death, Rossie was the longest serving active golf announcer on television with more than 30 years behind the microphone.

Rosburg also convinced ABC Sports to hire Judy Rankin, the first full-time female golf commentator to cover men's events, including the major championships. "Bob Rosburg was the most helpful, patient, understanding individual you could imagine when I was trying to break into golf television," says Rankin. "He took me under his wing. He would take me right out onto the golf course and show me where to stand and what to look for in certain situations.

"His knowledge of the game made him uniquely qualified to serve as an on-course analyst, and the other players really respected what he had to say. Bob is someone who will be sorely missed throughout the golf community."

Indeed, Rosburg will not be at Hazeltine National Golf Club to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his 1959 PGA Championship, but he will be watching from a fairway on high. This week, golf will toast the '59 PGA Champion and remember fondly his triumph half a century ago at Minneapolis Golf Club.

Editor's Note: This story appears courtesy of The 91st PGA Championship Journal.

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