by Rob Joyce
Professional golf is returning to Connecticut once again this week with the annual Travelers Championship. Because of the Olympics the tournament was moved from its normal June slot to now. Though only a few players currently on tour hail from the Nutmeg State (2006 champion JJ Henry is from Fairfield, while Brett Stegmaier is a Madison native), there is a history of successful golfers from Connecticut throughout golf’s history, including major winners.
As we prepare for golf’s best to come to Cromwell, here are the six best to hail from the state:
6) Ken Green:
He got his start playing golf in Honduras, but Green was born in Danbury. A five-time Tour winner during the 1980s, he was known more for his personality on the course than his playing ability. He was a “bad boy” by golf standards. In 2009 he had his lower right leg amputated after a motor vehicle crash, but made a vow to try and return to golf.
5) Dick Mayer:
A seven-time winner on Tour, Mayer’s best year on Tour came in 1957, when he won the U.S. Open (defeating Cary Middlecoff in an 18-hole playoff), took home the World Championship of Golf and played in the Ryder Cup. The Stamford native nearly won the U.S. Open in 1954, but triple-bogeyed the 72nd hole on Sunday and lost by two strokes.
4) Billy Burke:
Burke (center in the above photo) is most famous for two reasons. First, he lost two fingers on his left hand, so he had to make due with an unusual grip, to say the least. Secondly, his lone major victory came in the 1931 U.S. Open, in which he and George Von Elm were all square through 72 holes, and then tied again after a 36-hole playoff. Finally the next day, after 36 more holes, Burke escaped with a one-stroke victory. The Naugatuck product would go on to win 13 times on Tour, and tied for third in three other majors.
3) Doug Ford:
Born in West Haven, Ford (far right in the above photo) was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2010 and has a pair of major victories to his name. The first came at the 1955 PGA Championship, the same year he was named the PGA Player of the Year. Then in 1957 he holed out from a bunker on 18 on championship Sunday to shock Sam Snead and steal a victory at the Masters. In all Ford won 19 times on Tour and finished in the top-10 of a major 14 times.
2) Julius Boros:
Hailing from Fairfield, Boros is a World Golf Hall of Famer, boasting three career major victories. His first-ever PGA Tour victory was at the 1952 U.S. Open, a tournament he would win again 11 years later in 1963 (despite finishing nine-over par, the worst score ever by a major winner). The two-time PGA Player of the Year would cap off his career with a PGA Championship in 1968 at age 48, becoming the oldest player to ever win a major (a record that still stands today). Boros also played on four Ryder Cup teams and helped start the Senior PGA Tour.
1) Glenna Collett-Vare:
Long before the LPGA came into existence, Collett-Vare (centered in the above photo) was dominating women’s amateur golf. The New Haven native was considered the “female Bobby Jones” during the 1920s. In 1924 she won 59 of the 60 matches in which she played, and she won the U.S. Women’s Amateur a record six times. She was named to the Hall of Fame of Women’s Golf, and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Today, the player with the lowest scoring average on the LPGA receives the Vare Trophy in her honor.