Gene Littler Career Profile

Gene Littler playing on the Champions Tour in 1995.
Jon Cuban/Getty Images

Gene Littler was a winner on the PGA Tour from 1950s into the 1970s, including one major. He was noted as one of the "sweetest-swinging" golfers ever.

Career Profile

Date of birth: Nov. 16, 1930

Place of birth: San Diego, California

Date of death: Feb. 16, 2019, in San Diego, Calif.

Nickname: Gene the Machine

Tour Victories:

  • PGA Tour: 29
  • Champions Tour: 8

Major Championships:

  • Professional:
    • 1961 U.S. Open
  • Amateur:
    • 1953 U.S. Amateur

Awards and Honors:

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Member, U.S. Walker Cup team, 1953
  • Member, U.S. Ryder Cup team, 1961, 1963, 1965, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1975
  • PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year in 1973

Quote, Unquote:

  • Gene Sarazen on Littler's swing: "(It's) a perfect swing like Sam Snead's - only better."
  • Gene Littler: "I just put the ball down and hit."

Gene Littler Biography

"Gene the Machine" spent more than 20 years racking up wins on the PGA Tour, then, for good measure, won eight more times in the early years of the Champions Tour.

Gene Littler was known as a man of few words, but whose few words exhibited quite a wit. His nickname derives from the quality and remarkable consistency of his swing.

He first gained notice by winning the 1953 U.S. Amateur, then he won the 1954 San Diego Open while still an amateur. Littler turned pro in 1955 and won five times on the PGA Tour. But the next few years were slim ones as Littler tinkered with his swing. The great player and instructor Paul Runyan got Littler to adjust his grip, and in 1959 he was back with five more wins.

Littler's only major was the 1961 U.S. Open, but he lost playoffs for two other majors. At the 1970 Masters, Littler lost an 18-hole playoff to his lifelong friend Billy Casper. And in 1977, the 47-year-old Littler took part in the first-ever sudden-death playoff at a major, losing to Lanny Wadkins at the PGA Championship.

Littler was forced to take a break from the Tour early in 1972 after being diagnosed with lymph node cancer. But following successful surgery, he was back on Tour within months and winning the St. Louis Chldren's Hospital Classic.

In 1980, Littler joined the Champions Tour. He would win 8 times in the early years of that tour, and continued making appearances there into the 2000s.

Gene Littler was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990.