Walter Hagen was a legend during the first half of the 20th century. He didn’t just dominate the golfing scene, he made it popular and gave it a level of prestige.
If Hagen was around today, he would still be one of the top 3 players in the FanDuel sports odds. He won 11 professional majors which puts him in third place in professional golfing history.
But Hagen did more than win a lot of medals, he made the sport what it is today – he was the father of professional golf.
How It All Began
Hagen wasn’t born wealthy. He came from a working-class background – the son of a blacksmith and a millwright.
His first opportunity to play golf came when he got a job as a caddie. He applied as a pre-teen so he could support the family, but he loved the sport so much that he begged to play during the off-peak times.
During these times it was considered a perk of the job for caddies to play in a country club – areas normally sectioned off for the wealthy. It was this unusual chance that allowed Hagen to become close to Alfred Ricketts – a professional golfer. Using Ricketts’ tips, Hagen quickly became an expert player.
By the time Hagen reached 16, he was promoted to trainer. He would teach the younger golfers how to improve their game.
Hagen was encouraged to play as a professional, and by the age of 19, he made his debut in the 1912 Canadian Open. He came in 11th place which was a massive triumph for his class and age.
In 1913, his fellow players treated him poorly. Walter said, “they pushed me off the tee and told me I could practice when they were through”. Hagen was determined to win the 1914 games to shut them up and force them into respecting him. And win he did.
Very few players have that kind of turnaround today. If you want to know the latest golf odds, click here.
Hagen’s Impact On Professional Golf
At this point in time, there was a massive divide between amateur wealthy golfers and professionals. Today, see professionals as heroes of talent and give them the highest compliments we can afford. But back then, pros weren’t welcome in clubs and weren’t allowed to enter via the front door.
Players would often get changed and ready at home, and then arrive through the staff entryway to reach their matches.
This all changed because of Hagen.
Hagen grew up poor and was belittled for his lack of wealth throughout the beginning of his golfing career.
In 1920 he had enough. He hired a Pierce-Arrow (the most luxurious car during this time) and a chauffeur. Acting like the wealthy people of the club, he told his driver to park in the clubs’ driveway. This happened in Britain, where the structure of classes was integral to British culture. This deviance may seem small and petty now, but it was an act of resistance and a political protest.
On different occasions, Hagen went on to win a prize but refused to accept the trophy because he was previously not allowed to step foot in the clubhouse. He used their rules to show how professionals should be treated as equals.
During the US Open in 1920, Hagen walked into the club and hung out with the wealthy members. The members enjoyed him so much that the establishment started openly welcoming professionals into their club.
The professionals were so happy with the turn of events, that they all chipped in to donate a grandfather clock, showing their appreciation. That clock can still be found on display in the Inverness Club, where the change began.
Acts like these, both little and large, changed the way people saw professional golf players. It made golf seem like a rebels game, full of potential and skill. It made the sport popular among the wealthy and the poor. Hagen even wore bright colors, ditching the old man stereotype.
Hagen was the first golfer to earn a million dollars throughout his career. His talent is what gave him the platform, but his defiance and resolve are what gave golf the audience it has today.
Even if you don’t care for golf, you should read more about Walter Hagen. We will leave you with his most important quote – “Don’t hurry, don’t worry, you’re only here for a short visit, so be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”