Golf mourns loss of ‘giant of the game’ Kel Nagle

Australian golfer Kelvin Nagle is met by his wife upon his arrival back in Sydney, after his victory in the British Open, July 1960. Picture: Getty

Australian golfer Kelvin Nagle is met by his wife upon his arrival back in Sydney, after his victory in the British Open, July 1960. Picture: Getty

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KEL Nagle, a former Open winner, US Open runner-up and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, has died. He was 94.

The PGA of Australia said in a statement yesterday that Nagle, who won the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1960, its centenary year, died overnight at a Sydney hospital. It did not give a cause of death.

Australian golfer Kel Nagle on the 12th green during the Open Golf Championship at Troon, Scotland, 13th July 1962. Picture: Getty

Australian golfer Kel Nagle on the 12th green during the Open Golf Championship at Troon, Scotland, 13th July 1962. Picture: Getty

The Australian golfer, who won a tournament every year for 26 years after turning professional in 1946, collected 61 victories on the PGA Tour of Australasia and two on the US tour.

His win at St Andrews came by one stroke over Arnold Palmer, who was attempting to win his third consecutive major that year after taking the Masters and US Open.

Nagle finished second to Gary Player at the 1965 US Open at Bellerive in St Louis, losing an 18-hole play-off to the South African. Player said then that Nagle was “one of the best short-game players” he had seen.

Yesterday, Player took to Twitter to pay tribute to his friend. He wrote: “The great ‘Gentleman of Golf’, Australian Kel Nagle passed away today. My deepest condolences to his family & friends. RIP my friend.”

Nagle also won the Australian PGA championship a record six times and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007. He also played on the PGA Senior Tour (now Champions Tour) in the United States in 102 events from 1981-1989.

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Nagle’s other achievements included wins at the 1954 World Cup in Montreal and 1959 World Cup in Melbourne with partner Peter Thomson, a five-time Open champion.

“It’s a sad day for golf, we’ve lost a champion of our game,” said PGA chief executive Brian Thorburn.

In 1980, Nagle was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the sport of golf and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1986. His legacy to Australian golf lives on through the Kel Nagle Plate, awarded to the best performing rookie at the Australian PGA Championship.

“Kel was a giant of the game,” said Golf Australia chief executive Stephen Pitt. “But much more than that, he was an ambassador for his sport and his country, universally liked and admired by his peers.

“His victory in the 1960 Open Championship was one of the most memorable by any major champion – the way he did that will never be forgotten.”

Nagle was certainly the underdog at St Andrews when he found himself in a final-round battle with Palmer, who had already claimed the US Masters and US Open in the months before and was chasing the first professional grand slam.

Nagle was two strokes in front and sizing up a ten-foot putt for par on the Road Hole 
(No 17) when he heard a roar from ‘Arnie’s Army’ that told him Palmer had birdied the 18th.

Speaking in a 2010 interview, Nagle recalled: “I made the putt and then Don Lawrence [an Australian golf writer] ran up to me and said ‘you know what you need to win, don’t you?’. I told him ‘yeah, I just heard’.”

Nagle kept his cool and safely made par at the last to win by a shot, lifting the Claret Jug and pocketing £1,120 for his efforts.

Yesterday, Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, also paid tribute. “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Kel Nagle,” he said. “Kel was a wonderful golfer and an outstanding ambassador for the sport around the world.

“His victory over Arnold Palmer in the 1960 Open was one of the most dramatic and memorable in the Championship’s history. He was a tremendously engaging person and very modest about his remarkable career. The world of golf has undoubtedly lost one of its leading lights today and our thoughts are with his family.”

Current Open champion Rory McIlroy, who is playing in the Dubai Desert Classic this week, said: “I heard the news this morning before heading out here to the golf course and it’s always very sad when one of the legends of the game passes away.

“When I won the Australian Open in Sydney two years ago I was made aware he wasn’t in the best of health as I was hoping to visit him where he was staying.

“I do know of his Open win at St Andrews in 1960 when he beat Arnold Palmer so it will be a sad occasion this year but then I’m sure there will be a few glasses raised in Mr Nagle’s memory at the Former Champions Dinner.”

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