Springfield sports enthusiasts know the name of Horton Smith from a golf course named in his honor, but many of those who play the course probably don’t realize how important Smith is to the history of the game. He started playing golf in the Ozarks and turned his passion for the game and his skills with a putter into a Hall of Fame career. He forever cemented his legacy when he became the first person to win the Masters Tournament.
THE EARLY YEARS
Horton Smith was born on May 22, 1908, and grew up in Springfield. It didn’t take long for the young man to show an interest in sports. He was already playing golf by the time he was twelve, and he worked as the assistant pro at the Old Springfield Country Club when he was just a teenager. He also played in his first state tournament when he was only 16. He was already one of the best golfers in the Midwest by that time and turned pro at an age when most of his peers were still in high school.
RISE TO FAME
In 1926, at the age of eighteen, Smith turned professional. In his first pro tournament, he proved that he was a player to watch by winning the Oklahoma Open. At age 19, he became the youngest player on the United States Ryder Cup team. Two years later, he had one of the greatest seasons ever for a player on the PGA Tour. At age 21, he won eight tournaments and finished second in six others. That season may have been the best of his career, but his real claim to fame was still to come.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
In 1934, Horton Smith entered a new tournament known as the “Augusta National Invitational,” which would later become known as the Masters. He won the very first Masters title, and then won it again two years later in 1936. That means a Missourian owned the Masters crown for two of the tournament’s first three years.
Smith also had a great deal of success in other tournaments during his 30-year pro career. In addition to the Masters, he also won the U.S. Open three times and finished his career with thirty-two professional golf titles. He won the money title in 1929 and again in 1936 thanks in part to his win at Augusta. Amazingly, in his five appearances on Ryder Cup teams, he never lost a single match.
His amazing accomplishments helped him gain entrance into the Pro Golf Hall of Fame in 1958 and the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990. He is not only a great Missouri golfer but also one of the greatest golfers to ever play the game.
*Smith is recognized by many golf historians as one of the best putters in history.
*Horton Smith Golf Course in Springfield is named in his honor.
*He is believed to be the first pro to use a sand wedge in competition.