Dow Finsterwald, who won 12 times on the PGA Tour, including a historic PGA Championship, and was regarded as one of the late Arnold Palmer’s closest friends and confidantes, died Friday night at his home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was 93.
Finsterwald played the tour for three decades, in the 1950s to 1970s, establishing himself as one of the best golfers of his era. He played on four winning U.S. Ryder Cup teams (1957, ’59, ’61 and ’63), compiling a 9-3-1 match-play record, and captained another victorious American team (1977). He won the 1958 PGA Championship when the PGA of America switched from match play to stroke play, a victory which he said proved to be life-changing.
“It certainly made a big impact on my life, and certain things were made available because of winning that championship,” Finsterwald told Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson in 2008 at Oakland Hills on the 50th anniversary of the victory. “But as important as it was to me – and believe me, it has been very important – it was a major step for the PGA of America to go from match play to stroke play. … It was the logical thing to do and the time to do it.”
The timing coincided with the meteoric rise of Finsterwald’s buddy Palmer in the game and the advent of televised golf.
"He had a wonderful life, and he felt like for sure it was complete.”
Dow Finsterwald Jr.
Finsterwald had met Palmer while they were in college – Finsterwald while competing for Ohio University in his native Athens, Ohio, and Palmer at Wake Forest – and they became lifelong friends and competitors.
Finsterwald was a near-constant presence on the first page of leaderboards at major championships during the peak of his career. From 1957-64, he posted 12 top-10 results in 22 starts in majors. In 1962, he and Gary Player lost an 18-hole playoff to Palmer in the Masters. Finsterwald, like many Americans of that era, never competed in the Open Championship, a trend that his friend Arnie helped change in the early 1960s.
In an era when touring professionals struggled to make a comfortable living – in 474 career starts, Finsterwald made only $402,102 despite being one of the top players of his era – he also served as a club professional. He became the head pro at The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs in 1963 and held the position for 28 years. He lived in Colorado and spent the winter months at Palmer’s Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida.
“He did all he could for the game,” his son, Dow Finsterwald Jr., the head professional at longtime PGA Tour stop Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, told the AP’s Ferguson. “He enjoyed his friends, and they always remembered. He loved the rules, and he cared about the game. He had a wonderful life, and he felt like for sure it was complete.”
Staff and Wire Reports