The golf world lost some prominent figures in 2020, individuals who made lasting contributions to the game and its community. From tour pros to business leaders and international golf ambassadors, each could boast a unique and important impact on the sport.
The deaths of two World Golf Hall of Fame members resonated loudest given the monumental impact each had in their respective field. Pete Dye who passed away on Jan. 9 at age 94 after being treated for dementia, helped create some of America’s most famous golf courses. The mad scientist of golf course architecture, along with his wife Alice, who died at 91 in 2019, most famously designed the “island green” on the 17th hole at the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass, and he had a hand in many of the other most famous golf holes in the world. Dye never stopped designing golf courses. Even in his 80s, the Indiana native and Purdue graduate helped put together a new course in French Lick, which Golf Digest named the best new public course in 2009.
As Dye was to architecture, Mickey Wright, who died at 85 on Feb. 15, was synonymous with women’s golf. Between 1958 and 1966, she won 13 majors and during her storied career dominated the LPGA Tour with 82 wins. With one of the most celebrated swings in the history of the sport, male or female, Wright won 13 tournaments in 1963, an LPGA single-season record that remains in place more than a half century later. Her love for golf and connection to the game will go on well into the future, thanks to the fact that she bequeathed her entire estate, including all her golf memorabilia, to the USGA.
Like Dye and Wright, those mentioned below cared about golf and tried to better the game that we love through hard work, stellar play and thoughtful analysis.
Other deaths of notable golf figures in 2020 include:
Earned the title Pac-12 men’s college golf “coach of the (20th) century” after working at USC (1984-1992) and Arizona State (1993-2011). ASU teams won eight Pac-10 titles under his watch, and 44 tournaments overall including the 1996 NCAA Championship. Inducted into the Golf Coaches Association of America Hall of Fame in 2009.
A two-time PGA Tour winner: John Deere Classic (1999) and 84 Lumber Classic (2003). Played in 626 tournaments from 1990-2012 across the Korn Ferry Tour, PGA Tour, and PGA Tour Champions in addition to publishing a book on tips from the tour focused on golf instruction.
Cincinnati sports marketing entrepreneur who brought pro golf tournaments on three different tours (PGA, LPGA, PGA Tour Champions) to the area. Tournament director of the LPGA Championship 1987-1989.
Accomplished amateur who won the 1952 NCAA individual title while at Oklahoma (beating LSU’s Eddie Merrins in the finals). Helped create the Modified Stableford scoring system used on the PGA Tour at The International at Colorado’s Castle Pines, the club his brother founded. Inducted into the Kansas and Colorado Golf Halls of Fame.
Face of the Press Thornton Future Masters golf tournament, which has featured golf greats like U.S. Open champs Hubert Green and Jerry Pate and Masters winner Larry Mize. “An icon in the junior golf world.”
An iconic American golf course designer who became the sixth recipient of the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Guru and mentor to some of the best architects in golf history and Dye’s designs have been credited with returning short & medium length par fours to golf.
A pioneer in the equipment industry who founded Cobra Golf and its innovative Baffler utility club. An Australian, he won his country’s Amateur Championship in 1981 and more than 20 club championships at Kingston Heath, Royal Melbourne and Royal Sydney
Legendary University of Texas women’s golf coach who began the program in 1969. Won seven Southwest Conference titles among 34 team victories during a career that spanned four decades.
Golf legend who won 82 LPGA events including 13 major championships. Member of the World Golf Hall of Fame and is still the only player in LPGA Tour history to hold four major titles at the same time. Ben Hogan said that her swing was the best he had ever seen.
Famed one-armed golfer who won two international championships and numerous national crowns. Time Magazine once called him the “Arnold Palmer of the one-armed-golf world.” Started the Don Fightmaster Foundation for Exceptional Children to help local children with special needs.
Charlotte nini-tour pro and former college player at Wake Forest whose battle with cancer went viral after an inspirational video from Tiger Woods saying to “never give up hope.”
Golf pioneer who in 1992 became the first Black member to serve on the USGA’s Executive Committee. Served as the first executive director of the National Minority Golf Foundation in 1995. A long-time local lawyer and civil rights activist, along with being a former unpaid counsel to Tiger Woods.
Founder of the Carl’s Golfland shops and “one of the original pioneers in golf retail.” The company evolved from a small driving range in Pontiac, Mich., to two metro Detroit golf complexes that became among the most successful golf retail stores in the country.
Former Ryder Cup player and Irish Open champ (1982) described by Padraig Harrington as a “larger than life” character. Served as a director on European Tour for 34 years and contributed hugely to the growth of the tour.
A fan favorite and colorful dresser known as the “Peacock of the Fairways” who won 20 times on the PGA Tour with four runner-up finishes at major championships, including a playoff loss to Jack Nicklaus at the 1970 Open Championship after missing a three-footer to win on the 72nd hole. A member of the dominant U.S. 1967 Ryder Cup team.
One of the most successful female golfers in the Pacific Northwest, winning five Pacific Northwest titles and the Washington state crown four times. Brought the U.S. Women’s Amateur to Seattle and founded the women’s golf program at the University of Washington.
Longtime PGA professional and one of the founding fathers of the Sun Country PGA section. Nicknamed “Mr. New Mexico Golf” and was inducted into the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 2011.
PGA Tour journeyman who played in 70 events. Spent 37 years as the head professional at Connecticut’s Stanwich Club. Son of Johnny Farrell, the 1928 U.S. Open champion.
PGA Tour winner (1986 Pensacola Open) who at the time was only the third left-handed golfer to win a tour event.
Philadelphia-area golf pro and director of golf at Philmont Country Club killed when a tree crashed into the club’s pro shop and cart barn during a storm.
Golf course architect and associate of Rees Jones for 32 years. Member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and was made a fellow in 2014.
Golf professional at Oswego Lake Country Club outside Portland, Ore., and president of the Pacific Northwest Section PGA who died in a plane crash.
Renowned golf artist best known for creating the “18 Infamous Golf Holes,” a series of wild and mythical golf holes. Competed in the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Senior Open.
Infant daughter of PGA Tour pro Camilo Villegas who inspired Mia’s Miracles, a charity foundation to help families fighting childhood cancer.
Past USGA president who confronted the issue of segregation at golf clubs in the 1990s and helped prohibit clubs with exclusionary practices from hosting USGA championships. A member of the 1953 Stanford NCAA title and was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Northern California Golf Association Hall of Fame.
University of Kentucky golfer named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team. Made cut after receiving sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour’s 2019 Barbasol Championship in Kentucky. State champion at Lyon County High.
European Tour pro for 20 years who finished runner-up to Greg Norman at the 1986 Open Championship. Played in more than 450 events but lone European Tour win came at the 1989 Belgian Open by four shots. Became a Euro Tour tournament referee and then eventually won five times on the European Senior Tour.
Legendary Detroit News golf writer who covered 168 major championships. Held a two-year term as president of the Golf Writers Association of America. Elected to the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 2014.
Made history at Tennessee State in 1986 when she became the first Black woman to coach a men’s NCAA Division I golf team. Led TSU to the National Minority Golf Championship in her final year as the coach in 2005.
Longtime western Massachusetts head golf professional, working at Wyantenuck Country Club and board member of the Northeast New York (NENY) PGA Association.
Visionary land developer and builder of Sugarmill Woods and World Woods Golf Club, which was designed by renowned architect, Tom Fazio.
Scottish Oscar-winning actor best known for his role as James Bond in the first seven Bond films. Played golf “almost every morning” and helped Jack Nicklaus open the new design for the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles in Scotland. Nicklaus even called the member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews “a pretty darn good golfer.”
Indiana native and former past president of the PGA of America (1985-’86) who helped bring the PGA Championship to Crooked Stick in 1991. Oversaw a period of rapid growth during his term in office. Helped build the Golf Club of Indiana.
Considered the Dean of Golf Photographers. The groundbreaking photojournalist, who contributed numerous golf publications including Golf Digest, became the inaugural winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award in Photojournalism award from the PGA of America in 2020.
Brother of actor Bill Murray and inspiration for the Danny Noonan character in the 1980 cult comedy Caddyshack. A former Evans Scholar who started caddieing at age 10, he eventually became a member of Caddie Hall of Fame.
Renowned English professional golfer who won more than 30 pro titles and played in eight Ryder Cups. After his playing career, became even more well known for his television commentary on the BBC and in the U.S. on ABC. Regarded by many as the “voice of golf” for his 50-plus years of work for the BBC. Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.