The Class of 1912
It is a matter of record – and also curiosity – that the three dominant golfers of the war-marked 1940s were all born in the same year, 1912. But because their games matured at differing paces, the performance overlap of Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, and Ben Hogan is slim, really amounting to only one year.
That year, 1946, saw Nelson enjoying a career swan song while Snead dominated in his prime and Hogan began his rise to a level of greatness equaling any of the game’s immortals.
When we try to assess the 1940s, however, data availability becomes a serious problem. As a practical matter, we are limited to the Majors, and even that reality is complicated by the fact that until 1958 the PGA Championship was contested as match play, meaning its participants did not record a stroke average.
For purposes of this exercise, we can substitute a first-rate event of the era, the highly respected Western Open, to at least give us the potential for four data points. But even then we’ll only get three data points because Snead did not take part in the 1946 Western while neither Nelson nor Hogan traveled to that year’s British Open.
Based on the three available 1946 data points for each member of the 1940s Triumvirate, here’s how the numbers work out.
Hogan had the better of it among the three. His runner-up finish at the Masters and fourth at the U.S. Open, supplemented by his four-stroke victory at the Western Open, came on a collective scoring average for the three events of 279.67.
That was against a field average of 297.64 for the stroke-play Majors plus the Western, giving Hogan an estimated Relative Stroke Average of .940 for the season.
Nelson tied for seventh at the Masters, was runner-up to Lloyd Mangrum at the U.S. Open, and placed sixth at the Western. He did so on a collective scoring average of 284.67 which works out to an estimated .956 Relative Stroke Average.
Snead, the one player who made the trip to the British Open, won it. He was seventh at Augusta, but finished an out-of-contention tie for 19th at the U.S. Open. That put his scoring average for his three events at 290.67, an estimated Relative Stroke Average of .977.
That sets the 1940s Triumvirate at a Relative Stroke Average of .958 for the 1946 season. It’s a far lower number than any of the latter groups but it’s also founded on far less sufficient data.