In the first of a series of PGA Flashbacks detailing the five Australians to have won the US PGA Championship we unveil the dramatic finale to Jim Ferrier’s triumph in 1947 and thus becoming Australia’s first Major champion.
Walter Hagen described him as the “greatest golfer of all time”.
Byron Nelson, who refereed the 36-hole final, declared he “is the greatest I ever saw at getting down with a chip and single putt”.
Although a naturalised US citizen at the time of winning, Jim Ferrier’s 1947 US PGA Championship broke down the barrier to Major championship glory for Australian golfers and cemented his stature as one of the greatest players of his time.
The son of Manly Golf Club secretary Ben Ferrier, Jim Ferrier was destined for the golf course yet his brazen approach to both his play and sense of style caused angst within the Australian golf hierarchy.
Winner of the NSW Amateur Championship in 1931 at just 16 years of age, Ferrier’s mix of bright pullovers and powerful yet at times erratic play was unlike anything the genteel golf aristocracy had previously witnessed.
He added to his 1931 victory with further NSW Amateur titles in 1934, 1937 and 1938 and was the Australian Amateur champion four times between 1935 and 1939. In 1938 and 1939 he also won the Australian Open.
Yet the publication of a book titled How I Play Golf and his unwillingness to serve two years in a pro shop before turning professional convinced Ferrier to move to America at 25 years of age.
Unable to play in the 1940 US Amateur due to having published a book, Ferrier turned professional in 1941 based out of the Elmhurst Country Club near Chicago.
The first of his 17 PGA TOUR wins didn’t come until the Oakland Open in 1944 but top-10 finishes in both the Masters and US Open had Ferrier well fancied for the 1947 US PGA Championship.
Having set the qualifying record of 134 strokes the year prior and a leading contender in the early majors of 1947, Ferrier was regarded as one of the tournament favourites as players gathered at Plum Hollow Country Club in Southfield, Michigan.
Announcing he would only continue to play the Masters annually, Byron Nelson was a notable absentee but when the strokeplay section began defending champion Ben Hogan was considered the man to beat, the Daily Oklahoman describing the Plum Hollow layout as “made to order for his game”.
Opening with a 2-under par 70, Ferrier qualified for the matchplay section comfortably with a second round of even par 72 to finish five shots back of medallist Jimmy Demaret with Claude Harmon, Bobby Locke and Sam Snead also prominent.
It took until the 19th hole for Ferrier to edge Willie Goggin in the first round and when he moved past Herman Barron 3&2 in the second round set up a showdown with Harmon in the round of 16.
Ferrier’s defeat of Harmon at the 37th hole was considered an upset in the local Detroit press and set up a quarter-final against 1946 US Open champion Lloyd Mangrum.
He accounted for Mangrum 4&3 and when he eagled the first hole in his 36-hole semi-final match with Art Bell to take a lead he would never relinquish, Ferrier ensured his place in the final against Melvin ‘Chick’ Harbert.
The record books show that Ferrier triumphed 2&1 yet the drama that unfolded remains etched in American golf folklore.
In front of a crowd of some 6,000 spectators, Ferrier was said to have seven times benefited from his ball bouncing back into the fairway after hitting a member of the gallery while Harbert’s hopes faded after he hit a lady spectator on the sixth hole of the afternoon round and caromed out of bounds, the resulting penalty stroke allowing Ferrier to win the hole and take the lead.
But the final is perhaps best remembered for the daring and somewhat fortunate shot that Ferrier played on the third hole of the afternoon round when a wayward tee shot seemed destined to result in a penalty stroke of his own. Instead, Ferrier was granted a free drop after his ball landed on top of a tarpaulin spread over a hedge.
He would have to play a sweeping hook around trees and from a maintenance yard littered with garden tools in order to reach the green with his 5-iron and he did so in spectacular fashion.
Ferrier subsequently made the putt from 15 feet and proceeded to use his putter as a magic wand the remainder of the round, requiring just 54 putts for the 35 holes and only once being required to putt twice by Harbert; the 35th and final hole of the championship.
“When I saw this fellow in 1930 I thought he was the greatest golfer of all time, and I still think so,” Hagen declared in the locker room that evening.
Ferrier’s Major victory signalled the start of an extraordinary period of success on the PGA TOUR.
Less than two months later he shot 66 in the final round to win the St Paul Open and between 1948 and 1952 would add a further 14 PGA TOUR wins to his tally.
He won the Canadian Open on two occasions and twice partnered with Sam Snead to win the Inverness Invitational Four-ball.
He was 46 years of age when he won his 18th and final PGA TOUR title – the 1961 Almaden Open Invitational – and was runner-up at the 1950 Masters and 1960 US PGA championships.
Ferrier’s five wins on the PGA TOUR in 1951 was the most by an Australian in one season until it was matched by Jason Day in 2015, who claimed the US PGA Championship that same year.
He was made a member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame with its inaugural class in 1985 and died a year later in Burbank, California at the age of 71.