PGA Championship 2015: How Jim Barnes won the very first PGAAugust, 2015
We remember the Cornish giant who conquered America
At the start of the 20th century, Cornwall was in an economic slump. The region’s mining industry was slowly dying and many Cornish families were taking the long, treacherous journey across the Atlantic, to the New World, where their trade was still booming.
The 20-year-old assistant club professional at West Cornwall was a tall, slender man named James Barnes. He too decided to seek his fortune in America, sailing from Liverpool in 1906 aboard the Cunard Line steamship Carmania.
A decade later, and Barnes would write his name into the annals of American golf, with victory at the inaugural PGA Championship.
Barnes discovered his talent for golf at an early age, turning professional aged just 15. Travelling to America, he first joined other Cornish migrants in San Francisco, before taking up a role in Tacoma, Washington.
He dominated the Northwest Open between 1909 and 1914, winning five times, before adding the Western Open, considered one of America’s most prestigious tournaments, to his trophy haul.
Barnes could play the game of golf as well as any other man" – Bernard Darwin
Measuring 6’4” and with a length of drive surpassing that of his compatriots, it was inevitable that Barnes would earn the nickname ’Long Jim’, and in 1916 history beckoned.
On January 17 a meeting was held at the Taplow Club in the Martinique Hotel on Broadway and West 32nd Street, where department store magnate Rodman Wanamaker outlined his vision for an association which the professionals could use to boost equipment sales.
The meeting was attended by 35 dignitaries, including Walter Hagen and a number of other top golfers, and saw the formation of the PGA of America.
A decision was also made to hold the inaugural edition of its new flagship tournament in October of that year. Wanamaker put up a purse of $2,580, a diamond-studded medal and the three-foot trophy, named in his honour.
Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, New York, was chosen as the host. A Donald Ross design built just two years before, it was a rolling hillside of golden green terrain – ideal for the birth of a new Major.
Barnes had an angular, serious face and a ’brusque’ demeanor that Gene Sarazen would take aversion to – the pair developing a long-standing feud. He was an intense, quiet competitor who wore trousers rather than the traditional short ’knickers’ and often kept a sprig of clover or grass clamped between his teeth. Bernard Darwin noted that his unruly hair reminded onlookers of the Wild West.
“More than anything, he could play this game of golf as well as any man,” added Darwin.
The PGA Championship was a matchplay event until 1958, and Barnes kicked off his challenge with dominant 8&7 victories over George Fotheringham and Alex Smith.
He then came up against Siwanoy club professional Tom Kerrigan, who had the distinction of striking the first ball in PGA Championship history.
Barnes dispatched Kerrigan 3&1 then took down future US Open champion Willie Macfarlane 6&5, while Walter Hagen succumbed to a two-hole loss against Jock Hutchinson. The stage was set for an epic finale.
In the final, Barnes met Scotsman Jock Hutchison, then residing in Pittsburgh. Hutchinson, a St Andrews native who would go on to win the Open on home turf in 1921, was four up after eight holes, including a three-putt from Barnes on the 8th. Hutchinson was in top form and Barnes could do no better than plod along steadily.
Then the tide turned on the 9th and he failed to win any of the next 20 holes.
After 18, Barnes had reduced the deficit to one hole and told the crowd before his drive on the 1st: “I always do better after lunch.”
He squared the match on the 21st and took the lead on the 25th with an 18-foot putt. They were level again with five to play, then Hutchison went ahead once more before Barnes tied the match on the 35th when Hutchinson overshot the green with his mashie, coming to rest in a trap.
At the last, both faced birdie putts of five feet. The distances were measured to discover who was to play first, and Hutchinson’s ball was found to be an inch-and-a-quarter further from the hole. He went first and missed.
The nerveless Barnes rolled his ball into the hole to claim the match and victory in the first ever PGA of America Championship.
MORE MAJOR SUCCESS
Barnes would retain the PGA Championship trophy the next time it was held, in 1919. He went on to win the Open in 1925 and took the 1921 US Open by nine shots – a record margin until Tiger Woods’ Pebble Beach performance at the turn of the century.
Despite living in America his entire adult life, Barnes didn’t ever consider citizenship and often returned to his native country. His final visit was in 1955, at the age of 69, when he shot level par at West Cornwall, the course where his journey began more than half a century before.