How Many Amateurs Have Won Professional Tour Events?

From Shane Lowry to Phil Mickelson, there have been some big names who won before they were professionals

Shane Lowry after winning the Irish Open as an amateur in 2010
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Most of us know by now that no amateur has ever won the Masters. Ken Venturi's second place finish to Jack Burke Jr. in 1956 was the closest any non-pro has come to winning since the inaugural edition in 1934 at Augusta National

But have amateurs won any events on the two major professional tours in North America and in Europe?

The answer is yes, of course. At least seven players have done it on the PGA Tour, and three on the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour). 

Phil Mickelson – Northern Telecom Open 1991

Phil Mickelson winning as an amateur in 1991

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The most well-known example in the United States was Phil Mickelson's victory in 1991 in Tucson when he won the Northern Telecom Open, an event that is no longer played on the PGA Tour. He was just 20 years old, a junior on the Arizona State University golf team, when he made the drive down to play in the event at the TPC at Starpass. It came with plenty of drama at the end. And who will forget Mickelson, wearing his collar up and donning the conquistador hat trophy after his victory?

Mickelson had a one-shot lead in the final round but a triple-bogey eight on the 14th turned that into a three-stroke deficit. Mickelson, however, rallied with birdies on two of the final three holes (helped by a double-bogey from Tom Purtzer on the 18th) to win by a single stroke over Bob Tway and Purtzer. 

"I'm having a lot of fun," Mickelson said during the week. "There's really no money at stake for me, just pride. I feel like I'm ready, but I'm scared because I never been here before."

Mickelson would win the event two more times as a professional, in 1995 and 1996.

Shane Lowry – Irish Open 2009

Shane Lowry celebrates with the trophy after winning the 2009 Irish Open

(Image credit: Getty Images)

More recently, on the other side of the pond, Shane Lowry won the 2009 Irish Open as an amateur at Baltray. In dreadful conditions, Lowry emerged victorious over Robert Rock on the the third playoff hole. Lowry, 22 at the time, missed a four-footer on the last that would have clinched it for him, but with some encouragement from fellow Irishman Rory McIlroy, he tapped in for par on the third playoff hole to emerge victorious over Rock, who could only manage a bogey.

“I can’t describe how I feel,” Lowry, who would win The Open 10 years later at Royal Portrush, said at the time. “I had an invite to play here and just wanted to make the cut. But after I shot 62 Friday, I felt I could win.”

Here, then, are some other notable amateurs who won professional tour events:

Dr. Cary Middlecoff (1945 North-South Open)

A dentist in the Army at the time, Middlecoff took leave to compete in the North-South Open at Pinehurst in 1945. It was a good decision. He became the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event, and the victory convinced Middlecoff to take up golf as his professional vocation. He would go on to win US Open in 1949 and 1956 as well as the 1955 Masters.

Fred Haas (1945 Memphis Invitational, 1945 Durham War Bond Tournament)

Also in 1945, Haas would win a PGA Tour event twice as an amateur. He won both the Memphis Invitational and the Durham War Bond Tournament. What's interesting about this is that the Arkansas native and LSU grad's first win in Memphis broke Byron Nelson's 11-tournament win streak. He turned pro the next year.

Frank Stranahan (1946 Kansas City Invitational, 1946 Fort Worth Invitational, 1948 Miami Open)

Nobody won more PGA Tour events as an amateur than Frank Stranahan. He did it thrice. His first came at the Kansas City Invitational in 1946, then later that year he also won the Fort Worth Invitational. Two years later, he would record a win at the Miami Open. Known as the "Toledo Strongman" because he was also a powerlifting champion, Stranahan was a three-time member of the US Walker Cup team. In 1954 he joined the PGA Tour, where he won nine times.

Gene Littler (1954 San Diego Open)

An amateur victory at the 1954 San Diego Open would become a prelude to a great professional career by Littler. The World Golf Hall of Fame member, nicknamed "Gene the Machine," won the 1953 US Amateur and 1961 US Open and was victorious on the PGA Tour 29 times. The San Diego native and Navy veteran also survived cancer in 1972 and came back to win four more times on the PGA Tour. 

Doug Sanders (1956 Canadian Open)

The man who infamously missed a two-foot putt that would have given him victory at the The Open in 1970 at St. Andrews, won his first PGA Tour event as an amateur in the 1956 Canadian Open. Known for his flamboyant dress and extensive shoe collection, he would become the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event until Scott Verplank in 1985.

Scott Verplank (1985 Western Open)

In the 1985 Western Open conducted at Butler National in Oak Brook, Ill., Verplank, an Oklahoma State senior, won in a playoff over Jim Thorpe. The Dallas native was also the low amateur at the 1985 US Open, and he also won the Western Amateur that year. He would go on to win five times on the PGA Tour.

Pablo Martin-Benavides (2007 Open de Portugal)

In 2007, Martin-Benavides became the first amateur player to win a DP Tour event when he carded a bogey-free final round 68 to edge out Raphael Jacquelin in Portugal. The Spaniard came close to accomplishing that feat nearly four years earlier as a 17 year old when he led the Canaries Open de Espana through three rounds but couldn't close the deal. He would later be ranked as the no. 1 player in college golf as a member of the team at Oklahoma State University. 

Danny Lee (2009 Johnny Walker Classic)

Not only did Lee win the 2009 Johnny Walker Classic as amateur, but the New Zealander also became the youngest winner in DP World Tour history at 18 years and 213 days old with that victory. The year before, Lee became the youngest player ever to win the U.S. Amateur at The Vines Resort & Country Club. A member of the PGA Tour since 2012, Lee has one win, the 2014 Greenbriar Classic, and 28 top-ten finishes. 

Mike Bailey
Contributing writer

Mike has worked in the golf industry for nearly 30 years with full-time staff positions at publications and websites that include PGA Magazine, the Golfweek Group, and He is currently writing for several different sites and magazines and serves as a contributing equipment writer for Golf Monthly, focusing on irons, shoes and the occasional training aid or piece of technical equipment. 

Mike has experienced a number of highlights in his career, including covering several Ryder Cups, PGA Championships and the Masters, writing instruction pieces and documenting the best places for golf travel for more than a decade.

Mike carries a 7.6 handicap index and has two hole-in-ones, the most recent coming in February 2022. A resident of Texas for more than 40 years, Mike plays out of Memorial Park Golf Course (home of the Houston Open on the PGA Tour).