US Open countdown: Little known Sam Parks, Jr. steals spotlight from Hagen, Thomson

39th U.S. Open | June 6-8, 1935

Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pa.


Sam Parks Jr., United States77-73-73-76299
Jimmy Thomson, Scotland73-73-77-78301
Walter Hagen, United States77-76-73-76302
Ray Mangrum, United States76-76-72-79303
Denny Shute, United States78-73-76-76303

Despite Sam Parks Jr. being a western Pennsylvania native, a founder of the men’s golf team at the University of Pittsburgh, and the club professional at South Hills Country Club in downtown Pittsburgh, virtually no gallery member knew of him or followed him during his rain-soaked final round.

No, crowds of 10,000 or more swelled to see Jimmy Thomson and Walter Hagen, two big hitters with great panache, duke it out — all to no avail. They finished second and third, respectively, to the quiet, heavy-set Parks, who picked up the nickname “Methodical Sam” because of his slow backswing.

When it was over, many golf pundits called Parks’ win the biggest upset in tournament history. He registered one other top-10 finish at a professional major championship (the 1935 PGA Championship later that summer) for the rest of his career.

Hagen, a two-time U.S. Open winner, was easily the biggest draw of the contenders. He finished his career with 16 top-10 finishes at the national open. But his inconsistent ball-striking and shaky putting stroke on Oakmont’s severely sloping greens did him in down the stretch.

Thomson, golf’s longest hitter of that era, blasted drives well over 300 yards all over the property. But when it came to hitting little wedge approach shots close, he barely hit any of the putting surfaces.

Case in point: Given on final chance to chase down Parks, Thomson air-mailed a drive up the hill to the front fringe at the 17th hole – a drivable par 4. His second shot was supposed to be a delicate chip shot. Instead, it ended up a line drive than never even touched the green, ending his title-chasing hopes.

Parks diligently prepared for this national open: Before he went to his country club, he drove a half-hour in the morning to Oakmont for daily nine-hole playing sessions to get a feel for the greens.

“I played all the golf I had in me,” Parks told reporters on site. “I was scared to death down the stretch. But I tried to hang on with what I had.”

It was the highest winning U.S. Open score since 1927, when Scotland’s Tommy Armour finished at 301. That tournament, too, was held at Oakmont.

The 1935 U.S. Open field began attracting golfers from other countries, notably Japan and South Africa. In fact, Kanekichi Nakamura was the first man from Japan to make the cut at the national open, placing 58th.

Also, little did anybody know at the time, this U.S. Open inspired a device called the “Stimpmeter,” which is used to measure the speed of greens. It was invented by Massachusetts amateur champion Edward Stimpson Sr., who was in the gallery and watched a Gene Sarazen putt roll off one of the Oakmont greens.