With the world’s best teeing it up this week in the PGA Championship at one of golf’s most storied venues, Baltusrol Golf Club, it’s worth recalling a player who notched a notable mark at the New Jersey club – and on the game’s early history in this country.
Jerry Travers was a son of privilege who burst onto the American golf scene at age 17 when he upset Walter J. Travis, the 42-year-old reigning British Amateur champion, at the 1904 Nassau Invitational on the youngster’s native Long Island. The victory spurred Travers’ rise in the amateur game; he went on to capture four U.S. Amateurs (1907, ’08, ’12 and ’13), twice defeating Travis – the Australian immigrant who also was a noted course designer and golf journalist – on the way to the title.
In 1915, Travers entered the U.S. Open at Baltusrol, a championship in which he had never contended because of his penchant for erratic driving. The tournament was contested over the original Baltusrol layout that predated the club’s current Upper and Lower courses designed by A.W. Tillinghast. It included what is believed to be golf’s first island green, a putting surface on the par-4 10th hole surrounded by a moat.
On that very hole in the final round, Travers engineered a spectacular, 175-yard recovery shot from deep rough that set up a critical par save, and he went on to win the title by a stroke.
Following his triumph, Travers stepped away from competition to pursue a career on Wall Street. Although he attained early prosperity, the 1929 stock market crash changed his fortunes. He turned pro in 1932 in an attempt to earn a living during the Depression but lived hand to mouth for several years.
Travers eventually became an inspector for Pratt Whitney Aircraft in East Hartford, Conn., after America entered World War II. A heavy smoker, he died of a heart attack at 63 in 1951. He is buried in Meriden, Conn., a little more than two hours northeast of Baltusrol.