MacDonald Smith (Best Player without a Major?)

1890 - 1949

Macdonald "Mac" Smith (March 18, 1890 – August 31, 1949) was one of the top professional golfers in the world from about 1910 into the mid-1930s. He was a member of a famous Scottish golfing family. Smith is regarded, based on his results, as one of the best golfers of all time who never won a major championship.

Born in CarnoustieScotland, the son of John D. Smith and Joann Smith (née Robinson),[2] Smith learned his golf on the famous and very difficult Carnoustie Golf Links.

He emigrated to the United States on March 8, 1908 at age 17 to seek better golfing opportunities which he eventually found in America. He applied for, and was granted, American citizenship on July 31, 1918 from the Superior Court of San Diego county, California.[3]

At the time, Smith was serving in the U.S. Army at Camp Kearny in San Diego during World War I.[3] In December 1922 he was married to Louise A. Cahill (1876–1952), a woman 14 years his senior who was widowed in 1907 when her first husband, Joseph Harvey, died.


Smith was the club professional at the country club in Del Monte, California, where future two-time major champion Olin Dutra and his brother Mortie started as caddies.[4] Two of Smith's older brothers won the U.S. OpenWillie in 1899 and Alex in both 1906 and 1910. Brothers George and Jim also played golf at a very high standard. Early in his career, he was in a three-man playoff at the U.S. Open in 1910 won by his brother Alex; John McDermott finished second and Smith finished 3rd.[5]

Smith won 24 times on the early PGA Tour, with his five wins in 1926 marking his peak season. But he never won a major championship,[6]trailing only Harry Cooper for most wins without a major. His 24 Tour wins are also the most by any eligible player not inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Smith finished in the top ten at majors 17 times, including three second-place finishes: at the U.S. Open in 1930 and the British Open in 1930 and 1932, both in England. His runner-up finishes at both Opens in 1930 were to noted amateur Bobby Jones, the winner of the grand slam that year. Gene Sarazen won the 1932 Open Championship.[7] Smith scored five more wins in significant U.S. tournaments, all of which came in events later classified as PGA Tour events.

Smith suffered a heartbreaking near-miss in the British Open at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland in 1925, when he was the 54-hole leader. He shot a disappointing 82 in the final round and finished three strokes back. Crowd control broke down (with too few marshals and no gallery roping), with the numerous spectators, many of whom had travelled to watch him, invading the playing areas, causing delays, chaotic conditions, and deflected shots.[8] His majors were primarily the two Opens; he never entered the PGA Championship, then a match play competition, and played in just one Masters, the first in 1934. His final major was the U.S. Open in 1937, where he finished in a tie for 40th place. The previous year was his last top ten, in fourth place.[7]

Smith won the Western Open three times, in 1912, 1925, and 1933, when it was a prestigious tournament rivaling the majors in stature.[6] His four wins in the Los Angeles Open, another top event which featured strong fields, were also significant, as was his title in the 1926 Canadian Open, a national championship. Smith had a decade-long dry spell, between 1914 and 1924, without winning a tournament.

Smith's full-swing technique was much admired as one of the best of the hickory shaft era. Bing Crosby, himself an excellent player who followed golf closely, said that Smith's swing was better than any he had ever seen. Ben Hogan studied Smith's swing intently to improve his own.[9] Smith employed a strong grip, with both hands turned more to the right on the club, which induced a draw on the majority of his full shots.

Smith became the resident golf professional at Oakmont Country Club in Glendale, California, in 1934, continuing in that capacity for fifteen years until his death at age 59 on August 31, 1949.[10]He was playing with Babe Didrikson at Oakmont when she scored her first hole in one in 1936.[11] Smith was inducted into the PGA Hall of Fame in 1954.[6]

Smith died of a heart attack[10] on August 31, 1949 in Glendale, California.[6][8] He is widely regarded as one of the best players of all time who never won a major championship. His total of 24 PGA Tour wins are the most by any eligible player not already inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.