As a competitor and innovator, Gene Sarazen spanned golf history like no other great American player. From pugnacious whiz kid to equipment innovator to mature champion to senior statesman, Sarazen, who died May 13, 1999, remained a presence well into his 90s. When he was not hitting the opening drive at the Masters each year, his ageless wit was a living bridge to the memories of Vardon, Hagen and Jones.
He was born Eugenio Saraceni, the son of an Italian carpenter from Rome, Feb. 27, 1902, in Harrison, N.Y. He dropped out of school in sixth grade and turned pro at 19. It was then that he changed his name to Sarazen because, he once said, “It sounded like a golfer.”
At 5-5 and 145 pounds, Sarazen was the shortest of golf’s great champions. But he was solidly built and possessed a tremendous competitive heart. In 1922, at the age of 20, he arrived at Skokie C.C. for his first U.S. Open and won, birdieing the final hole and becoming, with a closing 68, the first player to shoot under 70 in the final round to win.