PGA TOUR winner and Ryder Cup player Jerry McGee passes away at 77
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Written by Helen Ross @helen_pgatour
Jerry McGee thought he might be in line for some good luck that week.
He had come to the Florida Panhandle in April of 1975 to play in the Pensacola Open. One night before the tournament began, he and his wife Jill had dinner in a local restaurant.
“We ordered oysters and I found a pearl in one of mine,” McGee told the Morning Journal of Lisbon, Ohio last year. “I guess that was a good omen.”
It was, indeed. After opening with a 69 that left him five strokes off Andy North’s lead, McGee steadily climbed the leaderboard. He led by one stroke through 54 holes thanks to consecutive 66s and ended up beating Wally Armstrong by two strokes.
The win was the first of four on the PGA TOUR for McGee, who died Wednesday at the age of 77 just weeks after moving to Florida to be closer to his family. His son Mike, who is married to LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam, posted on Facebook that McGee was admitted to the hospital on Saturday.
“He went downhill quickly,” Mike McGee wrote. “Lots of complications that had been brewing. We were blessed that my parents moved to Orlando and we could all say our goodbyes and be together.
“He had struggled for a while and I really believe that after many years of us wanting them to move closer that he finally acquiesced because he knew this was coming. Once my Mom was settled here he was at peace.”
McGee, who was born July 21, 1943 in New Lexington, Ohio, was a fixture on the PGA TOUR in the 1970s and PGA TOUR Champions from 1993-2004. He started out playing baseball and football but became interested in golf after his parents divorced and his mother later married a club professional.
“When I was 14, some friends of mine took me to Firestone to watch the tournament; it was the Rubber City Open at that time,” McGee told the Tribune Chronicle of Warren, Ohio in 2014. “And from that day on, I wanted to play professional golf.”
McGee played at Ohio State, then turned pro in 1966 and joined the PGA TOUR the following year. He made 404 starts and won four times, including twice in 1979, and played on the victorious U.S. Team at the 1977 Ryder Cup at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
“Outside of my family, playing on that team was the greatest thrill of my life,” McGee told the Morning Journal in 2020. “To be one of 12 golfers picked to represent your country, I still get chills thinking about it.”
The slender 5-foot-9, 160-pound McGee was known on TOUR for his short game. He played in 26 majors and posted a trio of top-10s, including a tie for fifth in his 1972 Masters debut.
“It’s ironic the Masters is next week,” Mike McGee wrote on Facebook. “That was by far his favorite week of the year and during his radiation treatments for cancer years ago, he played Augusta National in his mind.”
McGee was plagued by nagging injuries during his career and eventually sidelined by hypoglycemia, also known as low blood sugar, in 1981. He took a job as director of golf at Oak Tree Country Club in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania, where he go on to work for 12 years.
During the last year of his employment at Oak Tree, McGee had a sign on his desk that said: 1993. It was a reminder that he would be eligible for what is now known as PGA TOUR Champions that year.
“Everybody asked, ‘What’s that,’” McGee recalled in a 2005 interview with the Tampa Tribune. “I just kept it between me and well, me. That was the year I turned 50, when I could join this tour. I gave it a shot. I’ve done well.”
McGee made 318 starts on the Champions Tour and posted five top-three finishes. He earned more than $3.2 million in a dozen seasons, including the 1999 campaign that was interrupted by surgery to remove cancerous tumors on the left side of his neck and the base of his tongue.
After the surgery, McGee had 6 ½ weeks of radiation. He returned to PGA TOUR Champions four months later and ended up playing in 130 more tournaments before retiring after the 2004 season.
“I was so lucky,” McGee told the Tribune Chronicle. “I’ve gone to places, met people, that I would never had the opportunity to without the game of golf.”
In addition to his wife Jill, Jerry is survived by his brother, Don Holden (Joel); his daughter, Roxane Love-McGee; his son, Michael McGee (Annika Sorenstam); and his daughter, Michelle McGee (Mark Riley); along with grandchildren, Dylan Love, Ava McGee, Will McGee, and Liam Riley.
There will be a Celebration of Life at a later date. Memorial contributions can be made to the Youngstown State women’s basketball team.