24 Jun 2020 | Professional golf | Feature stories |

Great Australian Moments 17: Ferrier wins first major

by Martin Blake

Jim Ferrier 1947 image
Jim Ferrier was Australia's first major winner. Photo: Getty

Australians like to think they have punched out of their weight division for years in golf, and big Jim Ferrier was the man who started it all.

Ferrier’s victory in the 1947 United States PGA Championship at Plum Hollow in Detroit was Australia’s first in a major championship – by either a male or female.

Ironically the first Aussie major winner was actually a US citizen at the time he won the title, having dominated the Australian golf scene in the 1930s so comprehensively that he took his game to America in 1940 and took up an American passport.

Ferrier even fought in the American army in World War II, but he never lost his Australian character. Even press reports of his win in Detroit in 1947 made reference to the fact that he was antipodean-born.

Ferrier won the 36-hole matchplay final of the PGA, 2 and 1 over American Chick Harbert, despite the hometown player grabbing the early lead with two consecutive birdies. The man from Sydney’s north shore, who grew up near Manly Golf Club and won a club championship at 15, made a long bomb for birdie at the 23rd hole to take the lead, and was never headed after that.

Press reports recorded that in the first 34 holes, he had not been required to putt twice on a single occasion, such was the precision of his work with the short stick. He either made the first putt, or his opponent conceded.

The field included the great Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead, all of whom perished in the earlier rounds.

The 32-year-old Ferrier picked up $US3500 for the win, but he was no surprise packet. He had previously won four Australian Amateur titles and two Australian Opens in the 1930s, and was tied-fourth at the Masters tournament at Augusta National the year before, the first of three straight top-five finishes in Georgia.

In fact, he ought to have beaten Adam Scott and others to the honor of being the first Australian to win the green jacket at Augusta; in 1950, he led the Masters by three shots with six holes to play but imploded with a string of dropped shots and left the door open for Jimmy Demaret to win.

In the same year, he was second on the US tour money list.

Standing 190 centimetres tall, he had a distinctive dip in his swing and was renowned as a great putter. Dabbling as a writer, he was once banned from a big amateur tournament in America because his contribution to a coaching manual was deemed to have breached the amateur rules.

He was a force in the game for many years, runner-up in PGA 13 years later, in 1960, and the longtime club professional at Lakeside Golf Club in Los Angeles.

Eleven Australians have won men’s majors – Ferrier, Peter Thomson, Kel Nagle, Wayne Grady, David Graham, Ian Baker-Finch, Greg Norman, Jason Day, Steve Elkington, Geoff Ogilvy and Adam Scott. Three women – Karrie Webb, Jan Stephenson and Hannah Green -- have won majors.

It’s an exclusive club inaugurated by James Bennett Elliott Ferrier, who is a member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

Ferrier playing in the 1939 NSW Amateur

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