Ralph Guldahl

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Ralph Guldahl
Ralph Guldahl Sr.jpg
Personal information
Full nameRalph J. Guldahl
Born(1911-11-22)November 22, 1911
Dallas, Texas
DiedJune 11, 1987(1987-06-11) (aged 75)
Sherman Oaks, California
Height6 ft 2 in (1.88 m)
Weight175 lb (79 kg; 12.5 st)
NationalityFlag of the United States.svg  United States
ChildrenRalph Jr.
Turned professional1931
Former tour(s) PGA Tour
Professional wins16
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour16
Best results in major championships
(wins: 3)
Masters Tournament Won: 1939
PGA Championship T3: 1940
U.S. Open Won: 1937, 1938
The Open Championship T11: 1937
Achievements and awards
World Golf Hall of Fame 1981 (member page)

Ralph J. Guldahl (November 22, 1911 – June 11, 1987) was an American professional golfer, one of the top five players in the sport from 1936 to 1940. [1] [2] He won sixteen PGA Tour-sanctioned tournaments, including three majors (two U.S. Opens and one Masters).


Early life and education

Born in Dallas, Texas, Guhldahl was a 1930 graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School. [3]

Professional tournament career

Initial success, slump

Guldahl started playing on the professional tournament circuit in 1931, and won an event in his rookie season before turning 20 years of age, setting a record that would not be matched until 2013, when Jordan Spieth won the John Deere Classic. In 1933, at the age of 21, Guldahl went into the last hole of the U.S. Open tied for the lead with Johnny Goodman. A par would have taken him into a playoff, but he made bogey and finished second. After further frustrating failures, Guldahl quit the sport temporarily in 1935 and became a car salesman.


Guldahl made a comeback part way through the next PGA Tour season in 1936, won the prestigious Western Open and finished second on the money list. He won the Western Open in 1937 and 1938 as well. That tournament was recognized as one of the world's most important events at the time, on the level of a major championship or close to it.

Guldahl's manner of play was relaxed: "He paused to comb his hair before every hole, and would forestall any suspense by announcing exactly where he intended to plant the ball." [4]

Breakthrough at major level

Guldahl won three major championships. He claimed the U.S. Open title in 1937, with a then-record score of 281. He successfully defended the national title with his win in 1938, and was the last to win the U.S. Open while wearing a necktie during play in 1938. [5] Guldahl was runner-up at the Masters in both 1937 and 1938, before taking that title in 1939. He played on his only Ryder Cup team in 1937, the last before a decade hiatus due to World War II.

Guldahl reached the top in golf ahead of more famous players of his generation, including Sam Snead and fellow Texans Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and Jimmy Demaret, who all went on to build much longer and more productive pro careers. Guldahl's 16 PGA Tour wins all came in a ten-year span between 1931 and 1940. Guldahl put together five straight seasons -- from 1936 to 1940 -- with multiple PGA Tour titles.

Book contract and decision to retire

Guldahl was offered a book contract for a guide to golf, taking two months to complete Groove Your Golf, a book that used high-speed photographs of Guldahl on each page to create "flip-book" movies. After completing the book in 1939, he returned to the PGA Tour. His last two wins came in 1940. Two-time PGA champion Paul Runyan commented, "It's the most ridiculous thing, really. Guldahl went from being temporarily the best player in the world to one who couldn't play at all." [4] His son, Ralph, claimed that his father over-analyzed his swing and it fell apart. According to his wife, Laverne: "When he sat down to write that book, that's when he lost his game." [4]

In an interview with the New York Times in 1979, Guldahl himself offered a different explanation for the slump in his game. When asked about destroying his talent by practicing in front of a mirror while writing the book, he responded: "Nonsense. No such thing ever happened." [4] During the interview, he offered several reasons for retiring: he was tired of life on the road; he wanted more time with his family; and the wartime slowdown in tournaments caused his game to grow rusty and he had little inclination to train. "I never did have a tremendous desire to win." [4]

Paul Collins summed up Guldahl's decision to retire with these words: "Guldahl's fate had little to do with overthinking his game, and much to do with the untutored Dallas boy who once loved to play abandoned courses and baseball diamonds alone. Far more than fame, what Ralph Guldahl wanted was a nice, quiet game of golf." [4] Guldahl played occasionally in the 1940s but then quit tournament golf for good, except for several seasons in the 1960s, when he played in the Masters, as an eligible past champion, without notable success.

Club professional

He spent the rest of his working life as a club professional. In 1961, he became the club pro at the new Braemar Country Club in Tarzana, California, where he was an instructor until his death. [2] Among his students was billionaire Howard Hughes.


Guldahl was inducted into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame in 1980. [6] Guldahl was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1981. He died in Sherman Oaks, California, in 1987 at age 75.

In 1989, Guldahl was inducted into the Woodrow Wilson High School Hall of Fame when it was created during the celebration of the school's 60th Anniversary. He is a member of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. [7]

PGA Tour wins (16)

Major championships are shown in bold.

Major championships

Wins (3)

YearChampionship54 holesWinning scoreMarginRunner-up
1937 U.S. Open 1 shot deficit−7 (71-69-72-69=281)2 strokes Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Sam Snead
1938 U.S. Open (2)4 shot deficitE (74-70-71-69=284)6 strokes Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Dick Metz
1939 Masters Tournament 1 shot lead−9 (72-68-70-69=279)1 stroke Flag of the United States (1912-1959).svg Sam Snead

Results timeline

Masters Tournament NYFNYFNYFNYF2T21
U.S. Open T39T32T582T8T40T811T7
The Open Championship T11
PGA Championship R32R32R32
Masters Tournament T14T1421NTNTNT48T35
The Open Championship NTNTNTNTNTNT
PGA Championship SFR16NT
Masters Tournament
U.S. Open
The Open Championship
PGA Championship
Masters Tournament CUTCUTCUTCUTCUT
U.S. Open
The Open Championship
PGA Championship
Masters Tournament CUTCUTCUTCUT
U.S. Open
The Open Championship
PGA Championship
  Top 10
  Did not play

NYF = tournament not yet founded
NT = no tournament
CUT = missed the half-way cut
R64, R32, R16, QF, SF = Round in which player lost in PGA Championship match play
"T" indicates a tie for a place


TournamentWins2nd3rdTop-5Top-10Top-25EventsCuts made
Masters Tournament 120336178
U.S. Open 2104791615
The Open Championship 00000111
PGA Championship 00112555

See also

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  1. Thomas, Robert McG., Jr. (June 14, 1987). "Ralph Guldahl dies at 75; golfer dominated tour, then quit". New York Times. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  2. 1 2 Glick, Shav (June 18, 1987). "A gentle man praised: Ralph Guldahl". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 17, 2014.
  3. "Wildcat Alumni Hall of Fame" . Retrieved December 20, 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Collins, Paul (June 13, 2009). "How the world's greatest golfer lost his game" (PDF). New Scientist . No. 2712. pp. 44–5. Retrieved May 6, 2011.
  5. "The Year in Golf, 1938" . Retrieved November 23, 2007.
  6. "Ralph Guldahl: Class of 1980". Texas Golf Hall of Fame. Retrieved July 25, 2017.
  7. "Hall of Famers". Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved July 25, 2017.