Dow Finsterwald, 1st PGA stroke play champion, dies at 93

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Dow Finsterwald earned a place in golfing history as the first player to win the PGA Championship in stroke play and the last American Ryder Cup captain before mainland Europe was invited to join.

More than a great champion and Ryder Cup player, he has dedicated his life to golf as a lifelong professional at The Broadmoor in Colorado.

Finsterwald, a 12-time PGA Tour winner, died Friday night at his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was 93 years old. His son, Dow Finsterwald Jr., said he died peacefully in his sleep.

“He did everything he could for the game,” said his son, the head professional at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. “He loved his friends and they always remembered that. He loved the rules and he cared about the game. He had a wonderful life and he felt like it was complete.”

Finsterwald was born in Athens, Ohio, and played college golf at Ohio University. One of his first matches was against Arnold Palmer at Wake Forest, and they became best friends until Palmer’s death in 2016. Finsterwald spent his winters at Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge.

“He (shot) 29 in the first round we played together, so I didn’t have much luck there,” Finsterwald said.

Palmer arrived while golf was airing on television. This was one of the main reasons the PGA Championship decided to switch from match play to stroke play in 1958.

Finsterwald lost in the championship game in 1957 against Lionel Hebert. The following year at Llanerch Country Club in Pennsylvania, Finsterwald was 2 strokes behind Sam Snead heading into the final round when he closed with a 67 and won by 2 over Billy Casper.

“It definitely had a big impact on my life, and some things were made available by winning this championship,” Finsterwald said in Oakland Hills in 2008 on the 50th anniversary of his victory. “But as important as it was for me – and believe me, it was very important – it was a major step for the PGA of America to move from match play to stroke play.”

“It was definitely a little plus there as I was second in the final of the last match play. So I guess I have a bit of a bias on stroke play,” he said. he declares. “But it was the logical thing to do and the time to do it.”

Finsterwald was the PGA Player of the Year in 1958, and he won the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average in 1957. He also played on four Ryder Cup teams, going 9-3- 1. He was the captain of the 1977 USA team which included Ryder Cup rookies like Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins.

The United States won easily, and it was at that Ryder Cup at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Jack Nicklaus suggested tougher competition because the Americans were winning with consistency. The Great Britain and Ireland team was later expanded to include mainland Europe.

Finsterwald’s last victory was the 500 Festival Open Invitation in Indianapolis. He also made 72 consecutive cuts, a remarkable feat of his day as he was not measured on a 36-hole cut but was among the top 25 finishers who were paid out of the prize fund.

Finsterwald became the Broadmoor’s head pro in 1963 and held that position for 28 years.

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