Doug Ford, Masters Champion in Golf Hall of Fame, Dies at 95

(Bloomberg) -- Doug Ford, a World Golf Hall of Fame player whose 1957 Masters Tournament win ended with one of the most spectacular shots in the event’s history, has died. He was 95.

Ford, who was the oldest living Masters winner, died Monday at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, the PGA Tour announced on its website. No cause was given.

Doug Ford, Masters Champion in Golf Hall of Fame, Dies at 95

Ford’s victory in Augusta, Georgia, was one of two major championships among 19 titles he won since joining the U.S. PGA Tour in 1949 at age 27. A member of three winning U.S. Ryder Cup teams, Ford also won the 1955 U.S. PGA Championship.

“I would play golf for pleasure if I wasn’t a professional,” he wrote in “Getting Started in Golf,” his 1964 book. “Once you have hit a golf ball just right, and feel that warm urge of pleasure creep from your toes right up the back of your neck, you probably won’t be able to resist the temptation to get out on a golf course at every opportunity.”

Ford was “an aggressive and fast-playing golfer,” according to a New York Times profile following his Masters win. He “goes for broke when many of his colleagues are satisfied with getting their scores the safe way.”

On the 18th hole of the final round, after Ford hooked his second shot into a sand trap, “he stepped up to the ball and let it fly,” the Times reported. The blast pitched the ball up onto the green where it rolled into the cup.

Beating Snead

Ford called it “the greatest shot I ever hit.” The birdie gave him a 66 and three-shot win over Sam Snead, another future Hall of Famer. He began the day three strokes behind Snead, who shot par 72 over the final 18 holes.

Ford continued to play in the Masters, which gives a lifetime qualifying exemption to champions, until 2001. His 49 appearances stood as a tournament record until Arnold Palmer played in his 50th in 2004.

In 2001, Augusta National Golf Club, the Masters host, sent letters to Ford and a few other older past champions asking them to stop playing in the event. The previous year Ford shot 94 in the first round before withdrawing, finishing in last place for his seventh straight outing.

“The letter wasn’t very diplomatic and it hurt some feelings,” he told Golf Digest in 2007. “It wasn’t a big deal to me; I was finished anyway. Hell, that course was a tough walk in my prime.”

In April 2012, Ford sold the green Masters jacket he won in 1957 at an auction for $62,967.

‘Rough Neighborhood’

Douglas Michael Fortunato was born Aug. 6, 1922, in West Haven, Connecticut. The family name was later shortened.

Ford grew up in “sort of a rough neighborhood” of New York in upper Manhattan, he told Golf Digest. Ford said six of his friends became FBI agents; four others joined the mob. “I was the only one who didn’t end up carrying a gun,” he said.

With the help of his father, Mike Ford, a professional instructor, Doug developed a “fundamentally sound golf swing” as a youth playing on public courses in the Bronx, Doug Ford told Golfweek in 2011.

He served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II, stationed in Florida, and remained in the Miami area after discharge, earning a living betting against opponents on the golf course.

“I made as much money in gambling matches as a lot of the guys made on the tour,” Ford told Golf Digest.

Money Ranking

His first professional victory came at the 1952 Jacksonville Open and his final win was at the 1963 Canadian Open. He twice finished second on the PGA Tour’s annual money list and was named PGA of America’s Player of the Year in 1955.

In his first major victory, Ford defeated future World Golf Hall of Famer Cary Middlecoff in the 36-hole PGA Championship match-play final. The tournament at Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville, Michigan, took so long to complete, Ford’s son, Doug Jr., carried a chair for his father to sit in during play.

Ford was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

He and his wife, Marilyn, had three children. Ford had homes in Lake Worth, Florida, and New Hampshire.

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