World Golf Hall of Fame member Ford dies at 95
Legendary champion instrumental in creation of PGA TOUR and PGA TOUR Champions
May 15, 2018
By Jim McCabe, PGATOUR.COM
- May 15, 2018
- Doug Ford won 19 events on the PGA TOUR, including The Masters and the PGA Championship. (Chris Condon/PGA TOUR)
It had been an awful day, so far as Bob Goalby was concerned, so he took it out on the doors, the walls, the medicine cabinet. Anything that wouldn’t hit back was a target.
“I was angry, so I was slamming everything,” said Goalby, whose first-round 75 at the 1958 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach left him well off the lead. There was a lot of golf to be played, but he was a 29-year-old PGA TOUR rookie – and a rather precocious one, at that.
“I never paid attention to Doug (Ford), who I was rooming with. He had played earlier, and he just sat there watching me make an ass of myself. Finally, he looked at me and said, ‘Who do you think you are that you don’t think you can shoot 75?’ ”
Then 35, Ford was a PGA TOUR veteran who had already won the 1955 PGA Championship and 1957 Masters, but these were the days when money was tight, and roommates a necessity.
“We went out to eat that night and finally I said, ‘Doug, what did you shoot?’ He said, ’77,’ and so I felt even worse. Here I was, acting like a jerk having shot 75. But that’s the way Doug was. He was always there for the guys who needed a little help.”
The story personified Ford, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame who died Monday evening at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. He was 95 and to former “touring professionals” of the 1960s, Ford will always be remembered for the roles he played in forming the PGA TOUR as we know it and later the PGA TOUR Champions.
“We cherish the rich history of our PGA TOUR, of which Doug Ford was an integral part,” said PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan in a statement. “In an era when giants of the game were building the PGA TOUR, Doug achieved remarkable success and never lost his unmatched love of the game. All of us owe a debt of gratitude to this great player.”
Added former PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem: “Doug Ford was a gifted athlete who chose golf as his sport. It was my privilege to be in attendance and spend considerable time with him in 2011 when the World Golf Hall of Fame inducted him. His PGA Championship and Masters wins are a testament to the kind of player and competitor he was. Doug was a great champion and today we celebrate his life.”
A winner of 19 PGA TOUR tournaments, “Doug was under-appreciated, perhaps, but not by those of us who played against him,” said Goalby.
Ford won his PGA TOUR tournaments in a 12-year period (1952-63) when fame was difficult to come by. “But it didn’t matter,” said Goalby, “because Doug just loved to play. I think he played more golf than anyone. He’d leave a tournament on Sunday night, go home and play in a pro-am, then get to the next tournament to start practicing by Tuesday. I mean, he was always playing golf.”
To Goalby’s point, from 1950 to 1963, Ford played in 429 tournaments, an average of nearly 31 per season. When in 2011 Ford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, Goalby enthusiastically accepted the offer to introduce him.
“He was a great competitor, one of the toughest I ever played with,” Goalby said at the ceremony. “Sam (Snead) would call him Otis. I said, ‘What are you calling him Otis for?’ and Sam said, ‘because he’s like the Otis elevator, he’s up and down at every green.’ ”
If Snead’s assessment was true, Ford said it was owed to the way he spent much of his childhood in Manhattan where he acknowledged that he got his education in pool halls and ran with wannabe mobsters. “You had to be street smart,” he told Golf Digest’s Guy Yocom in 2007. “In that neighborhood, to survive you had to have guts.”
Born Douglas Michael Fortunato on August 6, 1922, in West Hartford, Connecticut, Ford grew up in Manhattan where his father, Mike, a golf professional, operated a nearby indoor driving range. Mike and his three brothers – Frank, Jack and Joe, all of them golfers – finally changed the family name, reasoning that most jobs in golf were going to Scottish and British immigrants. “Ford” sounded better than “Fortunato.” They weren’t alone, either; Gene Sarazen had been born “Saraceni.”
So different, these days. For proof, consider that Ford – who considered a professional baseball career before choosing golf – was like a lot of young men of the World War II era and put military service first. After a stint with the Coast Guard Air Division, Ford returned to playing competitive golf, but didn’t decide to turn pro until 1949, when he was 26.
Why the delay? Ford said it was because he made a better living by playing money games. “In fact, he told me that (former USGA Executive Director) Joe Dey walked up to him at a tournament and said, ‘We know you play for money, so you can’t enter as an amateur,’ ” said grandson Scott Ford, a teaching professional on Long Island. “My grandfather told me that’s pretty much the day he decided he was a professional golfer.”
It wasn’t until his third PGA TOUR season, 1952, that Ford broke through for a win, one that came in a most unusual way. At the Jacksonville Open, Ford defeated Snead in a playoff – without hitting a shot. Instead, Snead forfeited. Seems Snead had hit it out-of-bounds in Round 2, only a generous official told him that because players hadn’t known that the white stakes had been moved, he didn’t have to take the penalty. Reportedly, some competitors were upset, so Snead, after finishing tied with Ford, refused to take part in the playoff. “I want to be fair about it. I don’t want anyone to think I took advantage of the ruling,” said Snead.
With that, Ford accepted the $2,000 first-place prize and was off on a career that saw him win at least once each season from 1952 to 1963, save for 1956.
Most memorable, of course, were his major championships, the first of which came by a 4 and 3 decision over Cary Middlecoff in the 36-hole, match-play final of the 1955 PGA Championship at Meadowbrook CC in Northville, Michigan. Renowned as a fast player, Ford later talked about his strategy against the notoriously slow Middlecoff.
“The secret to my winning was a chair. I had my son (Doug Ford Jr.) carry a chair for me to sit in when it was Doc’s turn to play,” said Ford. “That chair saved my legs. You couldn’t rush Doc. But I didn’t care. I just sat in that chair.”
Doug Ford Jr. was 10 at the time and vividly remembers the day. “I walked every hole, but it was my mother’s idea to carry one of those little folding chairs for the second round,” said the oldest of Doug and Marilyn’s three children. “It was a good strategy. It helped.”
Two years later, Ford’s win at the Masters came with an exclamation point: He holed a bunker shot from a buried lie to birdie 18. “That was the greatest shot I ever played,” said Ford, whose closing 6-under 66 for 5-under 283 was three clear of Snead, the 54-hole leader.
“I remember feeling real bad for Sam,” Ford said years later. “I thought it was kind of sad that he started with a three-shot lead, shot 72, and got beat.”
But Ford always opined that “Sam was the greatest player I ever saw,” and the two of them played countless times, usually for money.
“When you beat him, you got paid off in the locker room,” Ford once laughed. “But if he beat you, he wanted to get paid on the green.”
Ford made his debut in the Masters in 1952 and won it five years later. He last entered as a competitor in 2001 when he was 78. The club that year revised its policy and told past winners they couldn’t played beyond the age of 65. There were plenty of controversy, but Ford took it in stride.
“It wasn’t a big deal to me, I was finished anyway,” Ford told Yocom. But in a fashion that was vintage Ford, he added, that there was a lesson to be learned. “Think twice before you put the words ‘lifetime exemption’ next to something.”
Said Goalby: “He was a straight-shooter. Yeah, he could be kind of curt, but he was always good to guys who needed help.”
“I think his fellow players respected him,” said Ford’s son Mike, “because they always elected him to their boards. He was low-key, never seeking out praise.”
As a former Masters champ, Ford made the pilgrimage every April through 2017 for the Champions Dinner. His death leaves Jack Burke Jr. (1956) as the oldest living member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Ford had three-win seasons in 1953, ’55 and ’57; was second on the money list twice; and Player of the Year in ’55. He played on four Ryder Cup teams, compiling a 4-4-1 record in 1955, ‘57, ‘59, and ‘61, and he was also inducted into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame and National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame.
Ford is also a member of the Metropolitan Section Hall of Fame, a testament to his long association with that heralded chapter of the PGA of America. He won the Met Open once and the Met Section PGA four times and had associations with four different clubs in the area – Putnam CC, Tam O’Shanter, Vernon Hills and Spook Rock GC, where he and his son, Doug Jr., had stints as head professional.
But to Goalby and other players of that era, Ford will always be fondly remembered for how he helped shape what is the PGA TOUR and the PGA TOUR Champions. “He was a tower of strength when (The Tournament Players Division) split from the PGA of America. We owe Doug thanks for that,” Goalby said at Ford’s Hall of Fame induction.
Years after leaving the PGA TOUR, Ford got a charge out of his win over Snead in the 1981 Merrill Lynch/Golf Digest Commemorative Pro-Am at Newport CC. He was instrumental in the formation of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, playing in the debut in 1978 and annually through 2013. He teamed with Jerry Barber (1987) and Art Wall (1996) for Liberty victories.
His wife, Marilyn, with whom he traveled the PGA TOUR circuit with their three children – Doug Jr., Mike, and Pam – died in 1988. Both Doug Jr. and Mike played in some PGA TOUR tournaments after graduating from Wake Forest and Rollins College, respectively. They are both PGA of America professionals – Doug Jr. still teaches at Deer Creek Golf Club in Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Mike owns Jack O’Lantern Resort in New Hampshire which features an 18-hole golf course.
But to show that golf continues to run deep with the Fords, Mike said he’s about to finish a deal to purchase Silver Creek Plantation in Morganton, N.C., where his brother Doug will be the director of golf.
Doug Ford is also survived by his daughter, Pam, an Assistant State Attorney in West Palm Beach, Fla., seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“He had a great life,” said Mike. “You can’t ask for anything more than that.”