| An early highlight of Littler's professional playing career was a
second-place finish at the 1954 U.S. Open. He finished one shot behind
Ed Furgol In 1955, he won four times on the tour, but fell into a slump
in the late 1950s after tinkering with his swing. After taking advice
from Paul Runyan and adjusting his grip, he recovered in 1959 to have
his best year with five PGA Tour victories. He finished second on the
money list that year, which was to remain his career best. Only once
from 1954 to 1979 did Littler finish out of the top 60 on the final
money list. He was stricken with melanoma cancer found in a lymph node
under his left arm in 1972, but came back to win five more times on
the PGA Tour. He ended his career with 29 PGA Tour wins, and also won
two tournaments in Japan and one in Australia.
One of Littler's 29 PGA Tour wins was unique. When he won the 1975 Bing
Crosby National Pro-Am, it marked the first and (so far) only time that a
player won that event as a professional after having previously won the
pro-amateur portion, which Littler did as a 23-year-old amateur in
Littler won one major championship — the 1961 U.S. Open. He shot a 68
in the final round to overtake Doug Sanders. He accumulated 17 top-10
finishes in the three U.S.-based majors: seven at The Masters
Tournament, five at the PGA Championship, and five at the U.S. Open. In
addition to his U.S. Open victory, he had one second-place finish in
each of the three U.S. majors, losing playoffs to Billy Casper at the
1970 Masters and to Lanny Wadkins at the 1977 PGA Championship. The
latter was the first ever sudden-death playoff in a major. He was a
member of the U.S. Ryder Cup teams of 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1971
and 1975, and had a 14-5-8 win/loss/tie record including five wins and
three ties in 10 singles matches.
Littler received the Ben Hogan Award in 1973 for a courageous
comeback from injury or illness, after returning to the tour following
treatment for malignant melanoma. Also in 1973, he was given the Bob
Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf
Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. In
the 1980s and 1990s Littler played on the Senior PGA Tour, winning eight
times. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990.
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Gene Littler died in the town of his birth, San Diego, on 15th. February 2019 at the age of 88.