The 1933 Tri-State tournament had a strong field of competitors. Herman Keiser of Springfield and Hill Walker of Columbus were listed as the favorites for the annual Tri-State Golf Association championship.
The 19-year-old Keiser arrived at the tournament on a hot streak. Earlier in the year he won the Mid-Ozarks, All-Ozarks, Heart of the Ozarks and the West Plains championship.
After the first day Keiser shot a 38-34—72. Dale Maxwell from Columbus had the low first round with a 70. In the 36-hole match play finals Keiser played Maxwell for the championship. Keiser won 7 and 6.
To win the Tri-State Open, Keiser had to outlast six former Tri-State champions. His competition would only intensify as Keiser turned pro and began playing regularly on the PGA Tour.
In 1946 he won three times and finished second twice. His most memorable win was a major championship, the 1946 Masters. Due to WWII this was the first Masters played in four years. The total purse was $10,000 with $2,500 going to the winner.
Keiser shot an opening day round of 69 and followed up with second round 68. He was seven under par after two rounds. Keiser shot a 74 in the third round. On the final day he finished the tournament at six under par. His closest pursuer was Ben Hogan. Keiser outplayed Hogan by one stroke.
Ky Laffoon tied for fourth and took home a check for $683.33. Keiser was now a member of an exclusive club and had a green jacket to prove it. The Tri-State Open (Ozark Amateur) tournament pedigree was enhanced as well with one of its former champions winning the 1946 Masters.
In the 1933 Tri-State Open Woman’s division, defending champion Susie Larson of Baxter Springs, Kansas played Maurine Barnett of Joplin in the 18-hole match play championship. Barnett won 5 and 4.
Barnett was a multiple winner of the Tri-State Open. Interestingly, the Globe reported in May 1935 that she was going to be the pro at Hatten Farms Golf Club in Webb City.
A few weeks later the Globe had a follow up story stating she would not be hired as the pro. The story revealed that members of the Hatten Farms’ governing body decided “not to have a pro there this year.”
In September 1933 Joplin golf fans were treated to an exhibition match involving Joe Kirkwood and Gene Sarazen. Both PGA Tour pros played at Schifferdecker in a match with local pro Leonard Ott, and Joplin amateur Bob Andrew. Spectator admission to the match was $1.
Sarazen finished the round shooting a 72, and Kirkwood rallied to a 74. However, it was the 130-pound Ott who was the low man of the day shooting a solid 70.
Sarazen was well known to those that followed golf. Earlier in 1933 he won the PGA Championship for a third time. Sarazen played in six consecutive Ryder Cups. He was a winner of seven majors and the Holy Grail of golf, the “Career Grand Slam.”
Joseph (Joe) Henry Kirkwood, Sr. was the first Australian to win a PGA tournament with a victory at the 1923 California Open. He went on a winning streak with three consecutive wins in 1924. That year he won the Corpus Christi Open by an astounding record 16 strokes. In 1932 he played 18 holes using only his putter. He finished with an 83.
Joe Kirkwood Sr., at the age of 51, and his son Joe Jr., made golfing history as the first father and son to play in the 1948 U. S. Open. The Kirkwoods were part of an elite class of professional golfers to each win a tournament on the PGA Tour. Joe Jr. won the 1951 Blue Ribbon Open in Milwaukee.
Joe Kirkwood, Sr. was best known for his trick shot exhibitions. He also knew how to hit the perfect shot- his resume listed 29 holes-in-one, astonishingly two on the same day. In addition, he was one of the first pros to use a wooden tee known at the time as the “Reddy Tee.”
The wooden golf tee is an American innovation. The wooden tee (or peg) was invented and first patented in 1899 by an African American dentist, George Grant. Dr. Grant was the second black graduate from the Harvard dental school. He did not pursue his wooden tee experiment.
However, another dentist, William Lowell, obtained a patent in the early 1920s. He named his new product the “Reddy Tee.” Dr. Lowell paid Hagen and Kirkwood Sr. $1,500 to promote the Reddy Tee during their exhibitions in the early 1920s.
As a teenager, Horton Smith and his brother, Ren, once caddied for Hagen and Kirkwood Sr. in an exhibition match. At the conclusion of the match, Hagen asked Horton what he would like as a gift. Smith selected a few balls and some Reddy Tees.
During the summer of 1934 six Joplin caddies defeated six Springfield caddies at Schifferdecker Golf Course. Schifferdecker caddy Bob Speck Riggs shot the low score for the day with a 68. In 1952, Riggs won the Tri-State Open championship and would later become pro at the Joplin municipal course.
In other local golf news, Herman Keiser scorched the Aurora golf course in a 54-hole tournament with a record-breaking score including three rounds of 63, 62 and 62. The Aurora Golf Course was laid out by Horton Smith.
The big news of 1934 concerned a tournament held in Augusta, Georgia. Author David Owen, in his book The Making of the Masters, refers to the early perception of the tournament as a “small tournament at a small club in an out-of-the-way city at an inconvenient time of the year.”
Not a glamorous beginning for a championship that would become the ultimate fantasy golf tournament and define a professional golfer’s career for life.
The Globe’s sports page was covering the Augusta National Invitational by closely following the three former Oak Hill pros Horton Smith, Ed Dudley and Ky Laffoon. During the first two rounds Dudley and Laffoon played together.
Springfield, Missouri, native and Joplin’s adopted son, Horton Smith won. He received $1,500 and more importantly the first Augusta Invitational. Two former Joplin residents, Ky Laffoon and Ed Dudley, played in the inaugural event at Augusta, Georgia. Laffoon finished in fourth place with a paycheck for $400. Dudley failed to place in the money.
In the final round Dudley shot a 74. He finished in fourth place, good for $400. Laffoon shot a 73 and was out of the money.
The Augusta Invitational later known as simply the Masters, would become a monumental event that the entire golfing world would tune in to watch. Three former Oak Hill pros played in the first tournament with Horton Smith (a.k.a. The Joplin Ghost) taking home the championship prize.
For Smith, his name would be forever etched in golf history by winning one of the four majors.
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