Gene Sarazen was an American professional golfer, one of the world's top players in the 1920s and 1930s, and the winner of seven major championships.
Lesser known facts about Gene Sarazen Early life
Gene Sarazen was born as Eugenio Saraceni in Harrison, New York, to poor Sicilian immigrants’ parents.
He first caddied at the age of ten at local golf clubs. He learned golf all by himself and over a period of time-honed his skills. What was relatively at that time, Gene used the interlocking grip to hold the club.
Gene Sarazen undertook small professional jobs in the clubs of New York and worked hard in his mid-teens.
He won his first major championship when he was only 20- the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in 1922 at age 20.
Gene Sarazen along with Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen were dominating the game of golf during the 1920s. Sarazen was a big rival of Jones who was born in the same year; Sarazen also had many great battles with Walter Hagen, who was nine years older.
These rivalries among the three ace golfers piqued the interest of people in golf. around the world during this period. As a result, the United States earned the reputation of the world’s dominant golf power for the first time and surpassed Great Britain.
The invention of modern sand wedge
Gene Sarazen invented the modern sand wedge, and debuted the club (while keeping it secret during preliminary practice rounds) at The Open Championship at Prince’s Golf Club in 1932 and won it.
Every major golfer has used the wedge design and technique developed by Sarazen.
This same club design and method was increasingly used by novice golf players around the world.
The top players also started using the sand wedge for shots from the grass after Sarazen introduced it. This portended a revolution in short-game techniques, along with lower scoring by players who had the best skills.
Sarazen called it as sand iron, and his original club is no longer on display at Prince’s as the worth is quite a hefty sum for the insurers to cover.
Sarazen had a problem with his sand play especially when there were sand-specific clubs.
However, Bobby Jones’s sand club had a concave face which means the ball would contact it twice during a swing. But this design was later banned.
Sarazen innovated it to weld solder onto the lower back of the club, building up the flange so that it sat lower than the leading edge when soled. As a result, the flange would come in contact with the sand first and not the leading edge. This will bombard the sand as the shot was played.
The additional weight that was there lent punch to power through the thick sand. Sarazen’s new technique with the new club was to make the sand contact a few inches behind the ball rather than actually contacting the ball at all on most sand shots.
In 1935, Gene Sarazen rose to fame for his “the shot heard ’round the world” at Augusta National Golf Club in the Master's Tournament.
It was a final round 235-yard 4-wood on the par-5 fifteenth hole. This provided him a very rare double eagle two on the hole. He was only one of four to ever achieve such a feat on any hole at the Masters. He trailed the leader by three shots at the time and made them up all at once. I
This made him win another tournament with a 36-hole playoff against Craig Wood. At this time, Wood had already been issued a cheque of $1,500 who had finished his round.
The double eagle’s 20th anniversary was celebrated by naming the Sarazen Bridge, on the left side of the fifteenth green in 1955.
This included a contest to duplicate, with the closest just over 4 feet away. The vent happened 82 years ago but it is still one of the most famous shots in the history of golf.
Sarazen received an honorary degree in 1978 from Siena College, in Loudonville, New York.
Sarazen’s last years
During his times, Gene Sarazen was one of the longest hitters despite the fact that he was 5 ft 5 1⁄2 in (1.66 m).
Sarazen promoted the sport of golf and honed his skills by playing hundreds of lengthy exhibition tours around the world and consequently made a huge earning from golf.
Even when his best years had gone, he continued to compete in the world of golf in the 1960s and 1970s. As multiple past champions, he was eligible to play in the top events.
All his life, Sarazen competed by wearing knickers or plus-fours which were the fashion when he was slotted into the top level.
Even after his retirement, Gene Sarazen continued as an honorary starter at the Masters.
Sarazen in tow with Byron Nelson and Sam Snead hit a ceremonial tee shot before each Masters tournament during the period between 1981 and 1999.
He was a commentator on a television show called Wonderful World of Golf and was an early TV broadcaster at important events. In this role, he popularised the sport of golf big time.
When he was 71, he could easily make a hole-in-one at The Open Championship in 1973, at the “Postage Stamp” at Troon in Scotland.
In 1992, Sarazen was voted the Bob Jones Award which is the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association to recognize distinguished sportsmanship in golf.
Sarazen has till date the longest-running endorsement contract in professional sports with Wilson Sporting Goods from 1923 until his death, a total of 75 years.
Before his death, a Sarazen Student Union was named in his honor in 1998.
He created an endowed scholarship fund at the college named as “The Gene and Mary Sarazen Scholarship”. The scholarship is awarded annually to students who show high personal, athletic, and intellectual ideals of Dr. Sarazen.
Sarazen hit the first ball in an annual golf tournament to raise funds for the scholarship.
He died from complicated pneumonia at the age of 97 in 1999 in Naples, Florida.
His wife Mary died thirteen years earlier in 1986, and they both are buried at Marco Island Cemetery in Marco.
The Golf Digest Magazine ranked Gene Sarazen as the 11th greatest golfer of all time in 2000.