He was known as the “Blond Bomber” because of his rugged good looks and his ability to drive the golf ball prodigious distances, but he is being inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame because of his 21 wins on the Tour between 1928 and 1944, including back-to-back majors. Significantly, he was selected on the regular PGA TOUR ballot 40 years after his passing and 67 years after his most notable achievement, winning The Masters and the U.S. Open in 1941, the first person to do so.
Born in 1901 in Lake Placid, New York, Wood’s father was a timber company foreman and outdoorsman who taught his son how to wield an ax. It is said that this is where a young Craig developed keen eye-hand coordination and significant upper body and hand strength, which later translated into his exceptional skill on the golf course.
“In most states, these types of arrangements are clearly there to avoid a number of hurdles.”
But, in the early days of his career, Wood seemed “snake-bit,” as he lost in a playoff in each of the professional Grand Slam events.
In the 1933 Open Championship at St. Andrews Wood drove into the Swilcan Burn on the first hole of a playoff, ultimately losing to rival Denny Shute by five strokes in the only Open Championship Wood played. (The Wood reputation for long driving was burnished at St. Andrews when Wood drove the ball a measured 430 yards into a bunker!)
In the 1934 PGA Championship at the Park Club of Buffalo inWilliamsville, N.Y.,Wood lost to his former student and assistant pro Paul Runyan in a “sudden death” playoff after the regulation 36-holes in the final round of match play.
In the 1935 Masters, the second ever played, Gene Sarazen tied with Wood, after Sarazen miraculously holed-out for a double eagle on the par-5 fifteenth hole of the final round, making up a three-stroke deficit to Wood in the blink of an eye. Sarazen went on to win the 36-hole playoff the next day by five strokes.
Tied with Byron Nelson and Denny Shute after the regulation 72 holes in the 1939 U.S. Open at Philadelphia Country Club, the ensuing 18-hole playoff quickly settled into a match between Nelson and Wood after nine holes. One stroke ahead of Nelson playing the 18th hole, Wood parred as Nelson birdied, forcing a second 18-hole playoff the next day. Nelson edged out Wood, as Lord Byron shot a one-over-par 70 to Wood’s 73, to capture the U.S. National Championship.
With America’s entry in WorldWar II looming, Wood had his finest year in 1941, becoming the first person to capture The Masters and the U.S. Open in the same year.
In the 1941 Masters he became the first wire-to-wire winner, beating Byron Nelson by three strokes and Ben Hogan by six.
Then, in the 1941 U.S. Open at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, Wood bested his old friend and rival Denny Shute by three and Johnny Bulla and hometown favorite Ben Hogan by five.
Craig Wood was more than just a fine tour professional; he was widely recognized as a salt-of-the-earth man who regularly helped younger players with their game and remained true to his everyman roots in upstate New York. In fact, in his six years as the head professional at famed Winged Foot Golf Club, he would often go into the men’s locker room and call out, “Anyone looking for a game?” Not bad for a man with two majors and 21 wins on the Tour.
But perhaps it was Sam Snead who best summed-up Wood when he said, ” he’s the nicest guy I think I’ve ever seen.”
For all these reasons, Craig Wood richly deserves enshrinement into the World Golf Hall of Fame.