RIP Gene Littler, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur Winner and Member of World Golf Hall of Fame

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I had the pleasure of watching Gene play with other golf legends when he was in his late 70s and spoke to him on a couple of occasions. He was a man of few words. He let his sticks do the talking. His golf swing was simple, effective and beautiful. They called him “Gene the Machine” in his heyday.

Littler is prominently featured in both of my golf books, so I had good reasons to attempt conversations with him, once in a locker room in Savannah, Georgia, and a few years later in a hotel lobby in Hickory, North Carolina.

One thing I learned while I was writing THE LONGEST SHOT: In 1955 golf luminaries like Gene Sarazen said Gene Littler would be the next Ben Hogan. Why? He was winning a lot of tournaments and THAT swing.

From the obituary in the New York Times:

In his prime, though self-taught, he had  a “perfect swing,” said Gene Sarazen, a winner of seven major championships. “Like Sam Snead’s, only better.”

Littler was typically self-effacing in assessing his form. “I just put the ball down and hit,” he once said.

Unassuming and devoid of glamour in an era dominated by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, and relatively unimposing at 5 foot 9 and 160 pounds or so, Littler simply went about winning tournaments: 29 on the PGA Tour and another eight on what was then the Senior PGA Tour.

Littler, who lost two other majors in playoffs and another by one stroke, was a seven-time Ryder Cup player and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990.

Littler’s Hall-of-Fame career included 29 PGA Tour wins, one of which was the 1961 U.S. Open. As mentioned, he also excelled on several U.S. Ryder Cup squads.

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Neil Sagebiel

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