The ongoing turmoil between the PGA Tour and the upstart LIV series provides a backdrop for revisiting the pivotal role played by one of the most famous entertainers of the 20th century, Frank Sinatra, and 11-time PGA Tour winner Frank Beard in the split between the PGA Tour and the PGA of America. At the time, Sinatra, who was one of the most famous people on the planet in the 1950s and ’60s, had little in common with the tour stalwart other than having the same first name. However, the two men share an interesting link that culminated in the resolution of golf’s first major schism in 1968, which ultimately led to an amicable divorce and 54 years of peaceful coexistence within the ecosystem of the game – a balance that has since been disrupted by LIV’s launch earlier this year.
A good place to start this tale is 1959, when the Laurel Valley Golf Club opened in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. Local resident Arnold Palmer was one of the founders. By then, Palmer had won 10 pro tournaments, including the 1958 Masters. He was the tour’s leading money winner in 1958 with earnings of $42,608. Adjusted to present-day dollars, that comes to about $436,732, which is exactly what Paul Barjon earned in 2021-2022 to finish 168th on the PGA Tour money list. When Palmer, then a 29-year-old with a young family, was offered the full-time job as head professional at Laurel Valley, he seriously considered it.
Such was the status of a top touring pro in the late 1950s. Since the PGA Tour’s inception in the 1930s, it was an offshoot of the PGA of America, an organization run by and for club pros whose main jobs were to give lessons and sell merchandise. Almost all of the great pro golfers from the early days – including Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and Sam Snead – needed club jobs to make a decent living. The last club pro to win a major was Claude Harmon, the Winged Foot pro who captured the 1948 Masters. In the late 1950s, most upper-echelon tour pros still affiliated themselves with a club. If they didn’t ring up sales in the pro shop or teach on the driving range, they at least dropped in occasionally to hobnob with members.
Then, in 1960, Palmer won the Masters and the U.S. Open in dramatic fashion on television. All of a sudden, professional golf was a sexy business. Within two years, Palmer was earning $500,000 a year from prize money, endorsements, and exhibitions.
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