Ralph Guldahl: Bio of the 3-Time Major Winner

American golfer Ralph Guldahl adds his score of 279 stokes for 72 holes at the 1939 Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia.
Ralph Guldahl adds up his scores after completing the 1939 Masters, which he won. Bettman/Getty Images

Ralph Guldahl was, for a brief time in the 1930s, arguably the best golfer in the game. But the multiple major championship winner suffered a swift decline. He later joined the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Date of birth: Nov. 22, 1911
Place of birth: Dallas, Texas
Died: June 11, 1987
Nickname: Goldie

Guldahl's Victories

PGA Tour: 16 (wins are listed following Guldahl's bio below)
Major Championships: 3

  • 1937 U.S. Open
  • 1938 U.S. Open
  • 1939 Masters

Awards and Honors for Guldahl

  • Member, World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Member, Team USA, 1937 Ryder Cup

Quote, Unquote

  • Sam Snead: "When Ralph was at his peak, his clubhead came back on the line and went through on the line as near perfect as anyone I've ever seen."
  • Sam Snead: "If Guldahl gave someone a blood transfusion, the patient would freeze to death."
  • Ralph Guldahl: "Behind my so called poker face, I'm burning up."

Ralph Guldahl Trivia

  • Guldahl was director of golf and professional emeritus at Braemar Country Club in Tarzana, Calif., at the time of his death in 1987. He had been at the club since it opened in 1961, and among the students he taught there as a golf instructor was billionaire Howard Hughes.
  • As he approached the final green at the 1937 U.S. Open, knowing he was going to win, Guldahl stopped in the fairway, took out a comb and combed his hair. "I was always proud of my head of hair," he said, explaining he wanted to look good for the photographers waiting on the green.

Biography of Ralph Guldahl

Ralph Guldahl was born within a year of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, and he was another Texan like Hogan and Nelson. And he was just as talented as those three legends. Heck, he was on his way to becoming a legend himself.

From 1937 to 1939, Guldahl won 3 majors: Two U.S. Opens ('37 and '38) and the 1939 Masters. He won three straight Western Opens (1936-38) at a time when the Western Open was considered by tour players to be a major. In his brief PGA Tour career, Guldahl won 16 tournaments and finished second 19 times.

After his 1939 Masters victory, he won several more times into 1940, but then ... nothing. Guldahl never won again after 1940. He quit the Tour in 1942, returning only briefly in 1949, but essentially his career was over after the 1940 season.

What happened? Nobody really knows. Guldahl's game just disappeared. The World Golf Hall of Fame's profile of Guldahl cites one theory as being "paralysis by analysis." Guldahl - who was no technician and had never paid much attention to swing theories - wrote an instructional book, the Hall of Fame states, and some believe it caused him to overnalyze, and lose, his swing.

And here's something else interesting about Guldahl: When he quit the Tour in 1942, it was actually the second time he walked away from golf. He joined the PGA Tour in 1932, won a tournament that year, and nearly won the 1933 U.S. Open. He was nine strokes behind eventual winner Johnny Goodman with 11 holes to play, but reached the 18th green needing only to sink a 4-foot putt to force a playoff.

Guldahl missed. And he left the Tour for three years. Of that first break from golf, The USGA said of Guldahl (in its recap of the 1937 U.S. Open):

"... Guldahl became so frustrated with the game that he gave it up and moved to Los Angeles, where he picked up odd jobs as a carpenter in the movie studios. A year later, he hocked his clubs for meal money, but he eventually got his old clubs back and worked on his game with Olin Dutra."

"Though his fast and quirky swing produced only marginal power," the profile of Guldahl at the World Golf Hall of Fame says, "Guldahl was straight and uncanny in controlling the distance of his approaches." The profile notes that Guldahl was an exceptional lag putter, and was stoic on the course.

After golf, Guldahl went on to work as a club pro. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1981.

In 2016, a new biography of Guldahl was published titled Ralph Guldahl: The Rise and Fall of the World's Greatest Golfer.

Ralph Guldahl's PGA Tour Wins

  • 1931 Santa Monica Open
  • 1932 Arizona Open
  • 1934 Westwood Golf Club Open Championship
  • 1936 Western Open
  • 1936 Augusta Open
  • 1936 Miami Biltmore Open
  • 1937 U.S. Open
  • 1937 Western Open
  • 1938 U.S. Open
  • 1938 Western Open
  • 1939 Greater Greensboro Open
  • 1939 Masters Tournament
  • 1939 Dapper Dan Open
  • 1939 Miami Biltmore International Four-Ball (team tournament, partnered by Sam Snead)
  • 1940 Milwaukee Open
  • 1940 Inverness Invitational Four-Ball (team tournament, partnered by Sam Snead)