Italian American Golfers: Part 5

Italian Americans in Golf

Part 5 – Manero, Penna and Ford

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Tony Manero

Some readers will remember the name Tony Manero from years ago. He is one of those golfers whose name is vaguely familiar, but his story of winning the U.S. Open in 1936 is a classic. He was born in New York City as Anthony T. Manero, on April 4, 1905 and was a relatively unknown professional playing out of the Sedgefield Club in Greensboro, North Carolina, when he entered the U.S. Open at Baltusrol in Springfield, New Jersey. The 6,212 yard Upper Course was used for this championship, while the Lower Course has been used for all subsequent majors at Baltusrol. A record 1,278 competed in sectional qualifying for the Open. Manero was fortunate to even be in the championship. During the sectionals, he needed a chip-in on his final hole to qualify. His name was one among many including a young professional named Ben Hogan, who got to Baltusrol, but failed to qualify for the last 36 holes.

He had three strong rounds of 73-69-73 and was one under par, but trailed third round leader Harry Cooper by four strokes. It looked like an insurmountable challenge, especially for Tony, whose nervous temperament was not likely to work in his favor during the fourth and final round. Gene Sarazen was a close friend and he requested to be paired with Manero for the final round. He thought that he could help to keep the notoriously high-strung golfer to stay calm. Tony’s final round was brilliant. He shot a course record five under par 67, ironically breaking Sarazen’s own record for the course. Manero finished six under par with a total of 282, breaking the 20 year-old U.S. Open record by four strokes. He finished two strokes ahead of Cooper, but the victory was not without controversy. After the final round, a complaint was filed with the USGA alleging that Sarazen was actually giving advice to Manero, a violation of the rules. After a meeting, the USGA ruled that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing and Manero was allowed to keep the championship. Manero went on to play on the 1937 Ryder Cup team and won eight times on the PGA Tour. Although he started in 20 U.S. Opens, 1936 was his only top-10 finish. He passed away at the age of 84 in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Toney Penna

Born in Naples, Italy, on January 15, 1908, Toney Penna emigrated with his family to the U.S. and grew up in Harrison, New York. Toney began in golf as a caddy, but became a professional winning four events on the PGA Tour between 1937 and 1947. Penna was known for his personality and individualism as much as for his golfing abilities. He was often a critic of his high-ranking golf contemporaries and published a table illustrating his thoughts about the strengths and weaknesses of each in his autobiography. His sense of humor and work as a golf pro brought him into contact with many celebrities, including Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Perry Como was a long-time friend of Penna’s and when he moved to Florida in 1946, the two often played golf on weekends.

Penna was a longtime employee and representative of the MacGregor Golf Company. After years of working for MacGregor, Penna started his own company and manufactured his own golf clubs. A stretch of road in Jupiter, Florida, where his company was located, is named after him. A holder of four patents, he had a talent for improving golf club performance which led to his success as an equipment representative, a golf pro and also as the producer of his own line of golf clubs. Many of these clubs are considered collectors’ items and some are still in production. He also introduced the use of color to both clubs and accessories, such as golf bags. Penna died in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in 1995 at the age of 87.

Doug Ford

Doug Ford is a perfect example of why the Veterans Category exists for entry into the World Golf Hall of Fame & Museum. Ford may not be the first player remembered from the era of Hogan, Snead and Palmer. Still, when you look at his numbers, entry into the Hall of Fame seems quite natural.

Born Michael Fortunato in West Haven, Connecticut, on August 6, 1922, he did not turn professional until 1949 at the age of 27. Ford collected his first win at the 1952 Jacksonville Open under unusual circumstances. At the end of regulation play, Ford and Sam Snead were tied for the lead. An 18-hole playoff was scheduled for the next day, but rather than play, Snead forfeited. The forfeit stemmed from a ruling Snead received during the tournament’s second round of play. On the 10th hole, Snead’s drive landed behind an out-of-bounds stake. While Chick Harbert, who was playing with Snead, thought the ball was out-of-bounds, an official ruled differently, allowing play, since the starter had failed to inform players that the stakes had been moved from their position in the prior day’s play. Said Snead afterwards, “I want to be fair about it. I don’t want anyone to think I took advantage of the ruling.”

Ford’s first major win was the 1955 PGA Championship. The tournament was still match play at that time and Ford defeated Cary Middlecoff in the final. Ford was that season’s PGA Player of the Year. But it was the 1957 Master’s that was Ford’s shining moment. Going into the final round, Snead was the third round leader, but he had a day of sixes – six birdies, six pars and six bogeys. Ford began the day three strokes back, but played bogey-free on Sunday. On the final hole, Ford holed out from the bunker for a birdie posting a six under par 66. He beat Snead by three strokes. It earned him a green jacket and a lifetime exemption into the event. He put that exemption to good use, becoming a fixture at Augusta. Ford played in the Masters, a then-record 49 times before Arnold Palmer eventually eclipsed the mark.

Doug nearly repeated as Masters Champion in 1958, finishing just a single stroke behind Palmer. That stroke was all that prevented Ford from becoming the first player in Masters’ history to win back-to-back titles. He played on four Ryder Cup teams: 1955, 1957, 1959 and 1961 and the last of his 19 PGA Tour wins came in 1963.

Ford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May 2011. During the induction ceremony, Ford recalled that he showed enough promise as a baseball player to receive a contract offer from the New York Yankees. While he was considering the offer, his father asked how long he might expect to play baseball. He replied “about ten years.” His father responded, “Why don’t you stay with the golf. You’ll last forever.” At the time of the ceremony, the 88-year-old Ford still regularly played casual golf. He turns 95 next month and is the oldest surviving winner of the Masters.

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