George Von Elm

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
George Von Elm
— Golfer —
Personal information
Nickname Gix
Born (1901-03-20)March 20, 1901
Salt Lake City, Utah
Died May 1, 1961(1961-05-01) (aged 60)
Pocatello, Idaho
Height 6 ft 0 in (1.83 m)
Weight 170 lb (77 kg; 12 st)
Nationality  United States
Career
College University of Utah
Turned professional 1930
Former tour(s) PGA Tour
Professional wins 7
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour 5
Other 2
Best results in major championships
(Wins: 1)
Masters Tournament T50: 1951
U.S. Open 2nd: 1931
The Open Championship T3: 1926
PGA Championship DNP
U.S. Amateur Won: 1926
British Amateur T17: 1930
Achievements and awards
Southern California
Golf Hall of Fame
2007

George "Gix" Von Elm (March 20, 1901 – May 1, 1961) was an American professional golfer most noted for his amateur career. He was selected by Golf Digest as Utah's greatest amateur golfer, and in the early 1960s was named Utah Golfer of the Century. During the period 1924 to 1931, Von Elm was one of the best players in the world. In the 1920s, Von Elm worked primarily in the financial and insurance industries, and later designed several golf courses.

Early years[edit]

Von Elm was born in Salt Lake City[1] on March 20, 1901, to Jacob H. and Marie Demmer Von Elm. He began his golf career as a caddy on the old Salt Lake Country Club course, where he was coached by professionals Louis Berrien and Willie Lock.[2] He later refined his game at the Forest Dale Golf Course. He attended West High School, where he was an outstanding athlete; he played quarterback on the football team. While a 16-year-old high school senior, he won the first of many tournaments, the 1917 Utah Amateur. He won the Utah Amateur again in 1920 and 1921. His golf skills developed quickly, and soon he was seeking competition outside the state. Von Elm attended the University of Utah, studying business, and developed his career in insurance and investments.[3]

First significant titles[edit]

In 1921, Von Elm won the Pacific Northwest Men's Amateur in a final round that pitted the young Utahn against veteran Chandler Egan in what was described by the Salt Lake Tribune as "one of the most sensational matches in the history of northwest golf." He repeated as winner of that tournament the following year. He captured the 1920 Trans-Mississippi Amateur title, and lost in the finals of that event the next year.

Suspended[edit]

Von Elm settled in the Los Angeles area in the early 1920s, but moved back to Utah shortly afterwards, taking a job in a bank. He was suspended by the United States Golf Association from amateur competition for one year, in late 1921, for accepting golf tournament expense money from friends who were Utah golf club members; this was against the rules.[2] Another element of this suspension was his association with the golf manufacturer Spalding, which was against the rules at that time; Von Elm worked as an assistant mining engineer in Colorado for a time.[4]

Returns to form[edit]

After serving his suspension, and returning to the Los Angeles area, he joined the Rancho Golf Club, at that time a private facility, and was coached there by pro Arthur Clarkson. He successfully represented Rancho in interclub matches, leading to several team titles in southern California, and won many of the prestigious club invitational titles in the region. Von Elm often played exhibitions and team matches with 1921 British Amateur champion Willie Hunter, also a Rancho member and the club secretary. As his fame grew, he was invited to join such legends as Walter Hagen and Tommy Armour for exhibition and challenge matches, raising significant sums for charity; as an amateur, Von Elm could not accept prize money from these events.[2]

He won the Southern California Amateur three times: 1922, 1925, and 1927. This is a prestigious event which always attracts a strong field. Von Elm won the 1925 Northern California Amateur title, and the 1925 California State Amateur (played at Pebble Beach Golf Links). In 1925 he became the first to win all three major California amateur titles in the same year; this feat has not been repeated since. He finished runner-up in the first Los Angeles Open, held in 1926; this famous tournament is one of the PGA Tour's longest-running events.[2]

Duels with Bobby Jones in U.S. Amateur[edit]

In the 1920s amateur golf was in its heyday, with famous players such as Bobby Jones, Chick Evans, and Francis Ouimet. Von Elm's duels with Jones became legendary. In 1923 Von Elm advanced to the quarter-finals of the U.S. Amateur, but lost to former champion Ouimet.[2] In 1924 Von Elm surprised the top golfers by finishing the U.S. Amateur as runner-up to Jones, though Jones won the final match at the Merion Golf Club by a resounding 9 and 8 margin. Von Elm became the first player from west of the Mississippi River to reach the final.[5] The following year Jones eliminated Von Elm in the semifinals, at the Oakmont Country Club. But Von Elm persisted, and in 1926 succeeded in defeating Jones, who had already won the British Open and the U.S. Open that year, to collect the U.S. Amateur title in September at the Baltusrol Golf Club in northeastern New Jersey. A record-breaking crowd of 10,000 erupted with cheers as, in the words of an Associated Press reporter, "The monarch of golf was toppled from his amateur throne...by flaxen-haired George Von Elm...in one of the most stunning upsets of links history." Von Elm, who became the first champion from west of the Mississippi River, was presented with a new car by members of the Rancho Park Golf Course, his home club, upon his return to Los Angeles following the Amateur victory;[6] Jones received a similar gift from Sarasota, Florida golfers that same year, following his wins in the two major Opens.[7]

The win in the national championship capped a superb golf year for Von Elm. Earlier he had played a key role in the American defeat of the British in Walker Cup competition, by halving the final and decisive match over the Old Course at St Andrews, and had tied for third place in the British Open with the famous professional Walter Hagen at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club.[1] Von Elm made two more appearances for his country in the Walker Cup, in 1928 (Chicago Golf Club) and 1930 (Royal St George's Golf Club);[1] he was on the winning U.S. team all three times.

Von Elm lost the longest playoff in the history of the U.S. Amateur when in 1930, he went 10 sudden-death, extra holes with Maurice McCarthy Jr. (son of the golf architect and professional of the same name (Metropolitan Amateur champion 1929–30 and 1928 NCAA champion) at Merion Golf Club, before eventually losing. Von Elm and McCarthy had tied at the end of their regulation 18-hole match.[8]

Golf's longest playoff[edit]

Von Elm's most sensational result was as runner-up to pro Billy Burke in the 1931 U.S. Open at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. After tying Burke with a birdie on the 72nd and final hole of regulation, he competed the next day in a 36-hole playoff, again tying with a birdie on the last hole. This set up a second 36-hole playoff the next day, which Burke won by a stroke.[1] The 72 total holes remains the longest playoff in the history of golf. Burke's victory was the first achieved in a major championship using steel-shafted clubs.[9] Steel shafts had been legalized in the U.S. beginning in 1924. Von Elm had used his normal hickory-shafted clubs in this championship, and complained afterwards that the true essence of the sport of golf was being diminished by the new shaft technology, which took away from traditional shotmaking talent, and made missed shots significantly less penalizing. However, steel shafts were much cheaper and were easier to replace, making the sport much more accessible for a greater range of the population.

Business success[edit]

Von Elm ran a successful non-golf business, selling insurance and investments, which generated enough income to fund his amateur golf career during the 1920s.[10] Von Elm stated in 1930, when he turned professional immediately following the U.S. Amateur, that it had cost him an average of $10,000 per year to play his extensive amateur golf schedule; being based in California raised his expenses significantly, since most important American events were held in the East during this era.[11] Von Elm stated that the 1929 stock market crash hurt his business success, and led to his decision to become a businessman golfer the next year, thereby leaving amateur competition, but he retained his business interests.[2]

Enmity with Jones[edit]

Although some published sources have indicated a firm friendship between Von Elm and Jones, Von Elm (along with another rival, Chick Evans), had no more than grudging respect for Jones, and in fact resented Jones (for his apparent use of plentiful family money for tournament golf), and questioned his amateur status. Von Elm claimed, without providing proof, that Jones had accepted money for golf films before winning the 1930 U.S. Amateur title in September 1930; Jones did sign a lucrative contract with Warner Brothers to make the films in Hollywood, but this came in November 1930 at the same time that he renounced his amateur status.[12] One letter, from after Von Elm's death in 1961, indicated the depth of Von Elm's hatred.[13]

Turns professional[edit]

In September 1930, Von Elm turned professional,[1] calling himself a 'businessman golfer', and made a career out of his athletic prowess. This was an unusual designation, not followed by any other top amateur players. This declaration made him ineligible for amateur events, including the U.S. Amateur Championship, from that point forward, since accepting money from tournament results ends a player's amateur status.[14]

As a pro, he played out of the Los Angeles area, and won some big-money tournaments, including the 1936 Southern California Open and the 1938 California State Open. The latter event was classified as an official PGA Tour event during the 1920s and 1930s.

PGA Tour record[edit]

For his record in PGA Tour events, Von Elm is officially credited with five victories, eight second-place finishes, and five third-place finishes, along with 37 finishes in the top ten and 55 finishes in the top 25.[15]

Architect, club professional[edit]

Von Elm moved to the Lakeside Golf Club in the late 1930s, after the Internal Revenue Service shut down the original Rancho club. He oversaw the reconstruction of five holes at Lakeside following damage caused by flooding in 1939. In the late 1940s, he consulted to the City of Los Angeles, in the development of an entirely new Rancho club—this time called Rancho Park Golf Course—which became a municipal facility; it was designed and built from scratch by William P. Bell and William Johnson.[2][16]

From 1950 to 1953 he was the head professional, as well as the head greenskeeper, at the Hacienda CC in California. From 1957 to 1960 he was the professional at the Blackfoot, Idaho, golf course, which he designed and helped to construct during this period.[17] Later he moved to Pocatello, Idaho, where he directed the design and construction of golf courses in suburban Alameda and at the Sun Valley, Idaho resort. According to the important golf course design reference The Golf Course, written by Geoffrey Cornish and Ronald Whitten in 1981, Von Elm is credited with designing the Airport GC in Idaho (1957) and the Mount Ogden municipal course in Utah, and with remodeling the Hacienda Country Club in California and the Sun Valley Country Club in Idaho.[18] He is credited with developing the Shadow Mountain club in Palm Springs, California, as well as the Juniper Hills and Highland courses in Idaho.[2]

Family, death, honors, legacy[edit]

Von Elm was married twice, first to Marcella Rodgers, and after her death, to Billie Dunn. He suffered a severe illness due to an ulcer in 1953, but recovered; he moved back to Utah after this, leaving his job at the Hacienda Club. He died in Pocatello on May 1, 1961.[1]

Von Elm was invited to the Masters Tournament by his great rival Bobby Jones in 1951; this came well past his playing peak, but was a significant honor nonetheless. In 1952, Von Elm was named the 10th most important amateur golfer in U.S. history, by a panel of PGA members and sportswriters, marking the half-century list.[2]

Von Elm was inducted in 2007 in the inaugural class to the Southern California Golf Hall of Fame.[19]

Two George Von Elm Memorial golf tournaments are played in his honor. From 1962 the Memorial event at the Blackfoot GC in Idaho has been played annually, while the Rancho Park Golf Course, now a municipal facility, in Los Angeles also holds an annual Memorial event named for him.[6][17]

Amateur wins[edit]

this list may be incomplete

Professional wins[edit]

this list may be incomplete

Major championships[edit]

Amateur wins (1)[edit]

Year Championship Winning Score Runner-up
1926 U.S. Amateur 2 & 1 United States Bobby Jones

Results timeline[edit]

Amateur

Tournament 1921 1922 1923 1924 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929 1930
U.S. Open DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP CUT DNP T4 T5 T11
British Open DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP T3 DNP DNP T45 CUT
U.S. Amateur R32 DNP QF 2 SF 1 R16 R32 R32 R16
British Amateur DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP R128 DNP DNP DNP R32

Professional

Tournament 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939
Masters Tournament NYF NYF NYF DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
U.S. Open 2 T27 CUT T28 T55 DNP DNP T11 T59
Tournament 1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951
Masters Tournament DNP DNP DNP NT NT NT DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP T50
U.S. Open DNP WD NT NT NT NT DNP DNP CUT DNP DNP DNP

Note: Von Elm did not play the British Open (as a professional) or the PGA Championship.
NYF = Tournament not yet founded
NT = No tournament
DNP = Did not play
CUT = missed the half-way cut
R128, R64, R32, R16, QF, SF = Round in which player lost in match play
"T" indicates a tie for a place
Green background for wins. Yellow background for top-10

U.S. national team appearances[edit]

Amateur

  • Walker Cup: 1926 (winners), 1928 (winners), 1930 (winners)

General references[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Elliott, Len; Kelly, Barbara (1976). Who's Who in Golf. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House. p. 193. ISBN 0-87000-225-2. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jones, John. "The George Von Elm Story". Retrieved January 12, 2012. 
  3. ^ Utah Golf Association - George Von Elm profile
  4. ^ Golf Illustrated, January 1922
  5. ^ Lowe, Stephen R. (September 2000). Sir Walter and Mr. Jones: Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones, and the Rise of American Golf. Chelsea, Michigan: Sleeping Bear Press. pp. 164–5. ISBN 978-1-58536-009-3. 
  6. ^ a b Rancho Park Golf Club - Photos
  7. ^ Lowe, p. 171
  8. ^ Barkow, Al (1986). Gettin' to the Dance Floor: The Oral History of American Golf. Atheneum. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-689-11517-2. 
  9. ^ Feherty, David; Frank, James A. (2004). David Feherty's Totally Subjective History of the Ryder Cup. New York: Rugged Land. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-59071-032-6. 
  10. ^ Frost, Mark (2004). The Grand Slam: Bobby Jones, America, and the Story of Golf. New York: Hyperion Books. ISBN 978-1-4013-0751-6. 
  11. ^ Lowe, p. 268
  12. ^ Lowe, pp. 264–5
  13. ^ Lowe, pp. 196–7, notes contain reference to sportswriter Lester Rice's 1962 letter to Jones on Von Elm's attitude to Jones, which is preserved in the Jones letters and memorabilia collection held in Atlanta
  14. ^ The Rules of Golf, 2012 edition, published by the United States Golf Association, 2011, Far Hills, New Jersey
  15. ^ Barkow, Al (November 1989). The History of the PGA TOUR. Doubleday. p. 254. ISBN 0-385-26145-4. 
  16. ^ Cornish, Geoffrey S.; Whitten, Ronald E. (1981). The Golf Course. New York: The Rutledge Press. ISBN 0-8317-3947-9.  Gazette index of golf courses; gazette section on golf architects
  17. ^ a b Blackfoot Golf Course - Course History
  18. ^ Cornish, p. 220
  19. ^ SCGA Hall of Fame - Class of 2007
  20. ^ a b PNGA - Men's Amateur Championship
  21. ^ a b c The SCGA Amateur Championship
  22. ^ NCGA Amateur Championship
  23. ^ California State Amateur - Past Champions