US Open countdown: Lawson Little survives in playoff against aging Gene Sarazen at crazy 1940 Open

44th U.S. Open | June 6-9, 1940

Canterbury Golf Club, Beachwood, Ohio.


x-Lawson Little, United States 72 - 69 - 73 - 73 287
Gene Sarazen, United States 71 - 74 - 70 - 72 287
Horton Smith, United States 69 - 72 - 78 - 69 288
Craig Wood, United States 72 - 73 - 72 - 72 289
x-won in a playoff

Lawson Little was a professional by name but an amateur at heart — and he pounced at any opportunity to compete in match play.

And that is what the 18-hole playoff with the aging Gene Sarazen, a two-time U.S. Open winner, most resembled.

There is a reason Little is the only man in history to win the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur in the same year twice (1934-35). He hit it long. He had a look. And he made putts at the biggest time.

The Stanford graduate turned professional in 1936. Because of his match-play record and sterling amateur career, much was expected from Little.

But first came the craziness of the 1940 U.S. Open over tee times. Walter Hagen was disqualified for arriving late for his third-round tee time, but played the round anyway. And six others were disqualified for starting their fourth rounds early, rushing to get out of the way of a thunderstorm.

Among them was Ed “Porky” Oliver, who also finished at 287 and would have joined Little and Sarazen in the playoff.

Once in the playoff, even the pro-Sarazen gallery saw that Little was the more powerful golfer. And on a rainy day when tee shots stuck where they landed, Sarazen could not keep up — especially after Little jumped out to a four-shot lead after the first five holes.

As a nice gesture, Little gave $200 of his $1,000 champion’s purse to his caddie Henry Eickhoff, which paid for the teenager’s tuition the following year at Fenn College.

Little was also the golfer who carried 26 clubs in his bag, which prompted the USGA to pass the current maximum 14-club rule.