Golf Without Majors

By Bob Denney, PGA Historian
Published on

Sam Snead of the United States practises his swing on 1st September 1962 at The Walton Heath Golf Club in Walton on the Hill, United Kingdom. Photo by Don Morley/Getty Images

Since the Open Championship was first played in 1860, less than six months before the start of the U.S. Civil War, golf’s benchmark championships have reflected the successes and travails of human history.
Two World Wars shut down competition. But this year marks the first time in golf history that a worldwide health crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic – was the sole reason to disrupt golf’s major tradition.
Here is how golf’s majors navigated through previous uncertain times:
  • 1943 was the last year no major golf championship was played.
  • The PGA Championship has been cancelled twice: from 1917-18, because of World War I, and in 1943, during World War II.
  • The U.S. Open was not played from 1917-18, because of World War I, and from 1942-45 due to World War II.
  • The PGA Championship and the Masters were the only majors conducted during the time of U.S. involvement in World War II.
    • The Masters - Byron Nelson won in 1942, defeating Ben Hogan in an 18-hole playoff by one stroke. The tournament was cancelled from 1943-45.
    • The PGA Championship – Then a limited-field match-play event, the PGA Championship was conducted three times during World War II.
    • May 1942 - Sam Snead defeated Jim Turnesa, 2 and 1, at Seaview Country Club in Galloway Township, New Jersey, a day before reporting to service in the U.S. Navy.
    • August 1944 – Bob Hamilton, a PGA Head Professional at Fort Lewis, a U.S. Army base near Tacoma, Washington, was victorious. Hamilton was given permission to compete, as he was stationed 300 miles from the Championship site at Manito Golf and Country Club in Spokane. Hamilton defeated Byron Nelson in the final match, 1 up.
    • July 1945 – Nelson, who was exempt from military service due to displaying hemophiliac tendencies and suffered blood clotting, won the Championship at Moraine Country Club in Kettering, Ohio. The win was among Nelson’s record 11 consecutive and 18 overall PGA Tour season victories.
  • Including this year, the Open Championship has been cancelled 13 times. The first was in 1871, when no trophy was available because Tom Morris Jr. had retired the famed Challenge Belt – made of red Moroccan leather and considered today golf’s most prized piece of memorabilia. Under Open rules, the belt was Morris’s property having won three consecutive titles. The claret jug was introduced in 1872, when Young Tom won again. From 1915-19, the Open was cancelled because of World War I; and from 1940-45, due to World War II.
  • PGA of America Charter Member Walter Hagen and PGA Member Jim Barnes – both survivors of the “Spanish Flu” pandemic in 1918, became the first major champions following World War I. Hagen, then 26, won the 1919 U.S. Open Championship in June at Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton Massachusetts; Barnes, 33, and a native of England, captured his second PGA Championship in September at Engineers Country Club in Roslyn Harbor, New York.