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9 Famous Golfers Who Served in the Military

Arnold Palmer felt a higher calling to serve when his best friend at Wake Forest suddenly passed away. Credit: Golf Digest.

The modern game of golf can be tied back to 15th-century Scotland, though historians say it first originated in the Roman game of paganica, where players used a bent stick to hit a leather ball.

Either way, it has taken the world by storm; approximately 13 million viewers tuned in to CBS for the final round of the 2018 Masters Tournament, jumping 18% from the previous year. This year, excited golf fans will be watching the defending champion Patrick Reed (60-1) take on Augusta, along with favorites Rory McIlroy (7-1), Dustin Johnson (10-1), Justin Rose (12-1), Tiger Woods (14-1) and Jordan Spieth (16-1).

With Masters weekend now underway, we’re celebrating nine incredible and influential golfers who served in our Armed Forces.

Honor, commitment and sacrifice are things that these men displayed both on and off the course.


9. Herman Keiser

Keiser is best known for pulling off a huge upset in the 1946 Masters by defeating favorite Ben Hogan. That tournament would end up being his only major title, though he was victorious in five PGA Tour events.

The Missouri native served as a storekeeper in World War II aboard the USS Cincinnati.


8. Orville Moody

Moody, called “Sarge” on the PGA Tour, was in the Army for 14 years, and a true golfer at heart. The 1969 U.S. Open winner oversaw the development and maintenance of military golf courses around the world.

The retired sergeant continued to play in charity and other golf events until 2007. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 74, and is survived by his wife, their four children, and eight grandchildren.


7. Billy Hurley III

Billy Hurley III accepts his PGA trophy. Credit: USA Today.

A current pro, Hurley graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2004. He served five years and completed a tour in the Persian Gulf, rising to the rank of lieutenant.

Hurley competed as one of the top amateurs in the country until 2011, when he began his professional career. He has one win on the PGA Tour and seven career top 10s.


6. Larry Nelson

While in Vietnam, Nelson discovered his interest in golf through a fellow soldier. He picked up the game after returning stateside at the (ripe old) age of 22, and went on to win three majors. He now plays on the Champions Tour at 71.

The Alabama native has won 10 times on the PGA Tour, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006, and received the PGA Distinguished Service Award for “leadership, humanitarianism, integrity, sportsmanship and enthusiasm for the game of golf.”

Nelson also helps design golf courses, and created the LagRx Swing Trainer to help golfers improve their muscle memory.


5. Ben Hogan

A shot of Ben Hogan’s “perfect swing”. Credit: Pixels.

Noted for his groundbreaking golf swing theory and ball-striking ability, Hogan is one of the most famous names in golf. He has nine major championships, tying him with Gary Player for fourth all-time, behind Jack Nickaus (18), Tiger Woods (14) and Walter Hagen (11).

Hogan was the PGA Tour’s leading money winner from 1940 to 1942. He was drafted in ‘43 and served as a physical trainer and flight instructor. When he returned to the course, he became the top money man yet again.

He is one of only five golfers to have won all four majors (the Masters, Open, U.S. Open and PGA Championship).


4. Arnold Palmer

“I have to say that my three years in the Coast Guard was three years that I value very highly.”

Perhaps the most famous here, Palmer decided to leave college and enlist in the Coast Guard following the death of his best friend. He served three years before returning to school.

Nicknamed “The King”, Palmer was a golf superstar of his time, winning 62 PGA Tour titles, seven major titles, and being one of the 13 original golfers inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were “The Big Three” during the ‘60s, known for commercializing golf around the world.

With his humble background and plain way of speaking, Palmer is credited for popularizing the sport at a time where it was known only as an elite or upper-class game.


3. Lee Trevino

Lee Trevino is widely known for his unique sense of humor on the course. Credit: Golfweek.

Trevino has taken a very impressive six major championships, as well as 29 PGA Tour events in his career. He is an iconic figure for many Mexican-Americans, who refer to him as “The Merry Mex” and “Supermex”.

Once, after he was struck by lightning at the 1975 Western Open, Trevino claimed that he would go back out with his 1 iron and point it to the sky, “because not even God can hit a 1-iron.”

When he turned 17, Trevino enlisted in the Marine Corps and served four years as a machine gunner. He played golf actively with Marine officers, and competed in Armed Forces golf events in Asia — one in which his rival was Orville Moody. He left active duty in 1950 as a corporal.

“The Marine Corps was the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” Trevino said in 2009. “If they told me I had to go back in the Marines now, hell, I’d love it.”


2. Lloyd Mangrum

Lloyd Mangrum smiles as he’s awarded at the 1946 U.S. Open. Credit: Golf Digest.

This Texas native is called “Mr. Icicle” due to his relaxed nature on the course. He was known for his smooth swing during his 36 PGA event wins.

Mangrum was already a three-time winner on the Tour when he started serving in World War II. He refused to take the “safe” position as a club professional on a military base, and instead he made a difference on the battlefield.

Coming away from service with two Purple Hearts — one from the Battle of the Bulge, and one from Normandy — Mangrum won the 1946 U.S. Open, and was a two-time Vardon Trophy winner. He is also decorated with two Silver and two Bronze Stars from serving in Gen. Patton’s Third Army.

Mangrum’s legacy was cut short when he died of a heart attack at the age of 59. He has a reputation as “the forgotten man of golf”; while he was overshadowed by other golfers of his era, only 12 men have won more PGA Tour events than him, and very few have served as honorably.


1. Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones stands with the Claret Jug, 1927. Credit: ThoughtCo.

Jones began golfing as a young boy, in order to strengthen him and combat his chronic health issues. He soon developed into a child prodigy who won his first tournament at the age of six.

One of the most influential golfers in history, Jones helped design the Augusta National Club, and co-founded the Masters Tournament. He is known for his “Grand Slam”, where he won all four major golf tournaments of 1930 (pre-Masters): The Amateur Championship, The Open Championship, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur.

Jones enlisted in World War II when he was already in his forties. He started work in aerial map analysis, but was insistent on being put in the action. He specialized in prisoner interrogation and was on the front lines in Normandy.

Jones’s career was ended in 1948 when he was diagnosed with syringomyelia, a fluid-filled cavity in the spinal cord that paralyzed him. He passed away in December 1971 at the age of 69.

“Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears.”


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