Cary Middlecoff: Golf’s quiet great from Memphis

Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports /

As both a player and sports commentator , 2-time U.S. Open champion Cary Middlecoff had a huge impact on professional golf.

Cary Middlecoff was one of the great players of his time. This World Golf Hall of Famer truly was one of the forefathers of the modern PGA TOUR both on and off the course.

Middlecoff was a native of Memphis, TN which happens to be the site of this week’s PGA TOUR stop. Ironically, The FedEx St Jude Classic is typically overshadowed by a tournament the city’s Father of Golf won twice.

The U.S. Open is typically held the week following the tours annual passage through Memphis. For that reason alone the event doesn’t garner a whole lot of attention, as many of the big boys choose to either rest or practice for the U.S. Open the next week.

The legacy of Memphis golf has another icon that has wallered somewhat in relative obscurity.

Quick! Can you name who won the most PGA TOUR events in the 1950s including 3 Majors? While you’re at it, do you know who was the first voice of golf on television?

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The answer to both those questions is Cary Middlecoff.

Middlecoff was a Memphis native and had a huge impact on the game, yet is somewhat unknown to today’s fans. A couple guys named Ben Hogan and Sam Snead had much to do with that. Both of them, particularly Hogan, were in the prime of their careers and dominated the sport, especially the Majors, and overshadowed Middlecoff in the game’s historical memory.

Middlecoff was actually a dentist who quit his practice to play professionally in 1947. He won the first of his 3 Majors at the 1949 U.S. Open followed by The Masters in 1955 and then another U.S. Open in 1956.

He won his U.S. Opens by a shot apiece. The ’49 Open was held at Medinah where he won over co- runner up Sam Snead. The ’56 Open was played at Oak Hill where again he prevailed by one shot over two players, Ben Hogan and Julius Boros.

Middlecoff won the ’55 Masters in dominant fashion, by 7 shots, once again over Hogan. Do you notice a trend?

Middlecoff was a great player in an era of perhaps golf’s greatest players.

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The 1950s laid the foundation for what pro golf is today. It was during this decade that the courses and tournaments that are now considered iconic became that way. The reason was because it was the prime of some of the most legendary careers of some of the greatest to ever play the game.

Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson were golf’s original Big 3 and were absolutely dominant any time they played. There were others as well – Julius Boros and Tommy Bolt among them – who were excellent players and who won plenty of tournaments of their own. Cary Middlecoff won more tournaments during the 1950s than any of them.

Middlecoff stepped away from competition in 1960 and became the first voice of golf on television for CBS Sports. He did so for 18 years.

Next: U.S. Open: The forgotten story of John McDermott

The man won 3 Majors, and was the winningest player on tour for a decade. He also was a pioneer in bringing golf to the masses.