Walter Hagen at the USPGA Championship

How the flamboyant Hagen won a record number of USPGA Championships

Walter Hagen
Walter Hagen in 1920. Credit: Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images)

No-one has won more USPGA Championships than the flamboyant Hagen, although his record was later equalled by Jack Nicklaus

The record number of wins in the USPGA is held by two men - Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus, with five each.

Walter Hagen won all his five titles when the USPGA Championship was played a matchplay tournament.

Hagen’s first USPGA title came in 1921, in the fourth running of the USPGA.  It was Hagen’s second appearance in the event, having been a semi-finalist in the inaugural event in 1916.

By then he had already won two Majors - the US Open of 1914 and 1919.

The USPGA field in 1921 was of 32, and the competition was played as a series of 36-hole matches. Hagen made it to the final easily, with victories by 6&4, 6&5, 8&7 and 5&4.

Then in the final he beat the USPGA champion of 1916 and 19119, Jim Barnes, by 3&2, to win the Wanamaker Trophy.

Hagen did not defend his title the following year preferring to play in exhibition matches. He played in hundreds of these during his career. He was a popular draw not only for the quality of his play, but for his debonair character and dashing appearance for the times with his expensive, brightly coloured tailored outfits.

This sense of priorities may seem an odd decision for someone who wrote in his autobiography that “My game was my business and as a business it demanded constant playing in the championship bracket, for a current title was my selling commodity”. But at that period the USPGA was not considered as a ‘Major‘ championship.

In 1923 Hagen lost the 36-hole final to the defending champion, Gene Sarazen, at the second extra hole.

Then in1924 he started a four-year winning run, defeating in the respective finals Jim Barnes, 2 up; Bill Mehlhorn, 6&5; Leo Diegel 5&3 and Joe Turnesa, 1 up.

The winning run came to an end when he fell 2&1 to eventual champion Leo Diegel in the quarter-final of 1928. This brought to end a winning run of 22 consecutive matches by Walter Hagen at the USPGA Championship.

He had lost the trophy literally and figuratively. He had. it seems, lost it back in 1925 when, it is said that he paid a cabbie $5 to return the Wannamaker Trophy to his hotel while he stopped off at a nightclub to celebrate

The following year Hagen was again vanquished by Diegel, this time in the semi-final, 3&2.

After that he faded as a force in the tournament. Only once did he even get as far at the last 16, and that was in 1940.

Roderick Easdale

Contributing Writer Roderick is the author of the critically acclaimed comic golf novel, Summer At Tangents. Golf courses and travel are Roderick’s particular interests. He writes travel articles and general features for the magazine, travel supplement and website. He also compiles the magazine's crossword. He is a member of Trevose Golf & Country Club and has played golf in around two dozen countries. Cricket is his other main sporting love. He is also the author of five non-fiction books, four of which are still in print: The Novel Life of PG Wodehouse; The Don: Beyond Boundaries; Wally Hammond: Gentleman & Player and England’s Greatest Post-War All Rounder.