In 1959, 43-year-old Marty Furgol won the San Diego Open for his fourth PGA Tour title. As he accepted the $2,800 winner’s check, he addressed the crowd of 10,000 surrounding the 18th green at Mission Valley Country Club, giving credit to his caddie. “We conferred a lot, and he helped me. I’m going to pay Mr. Riggs the usual $7 per round, plus 5 percent of the purse, which amounts to another $140,” Furgol said, adding, “He needs a new set of teeth.”
In “A Golfer’s Life,” Arnold Palmer wrote Furgol had a “host of eccentricities.” Lack of a social filter was only one of them. Furgol was a nervous ball of energy who fidgeted constantly. He talked incessantly during rounds, either muttering to himself or bantering with the gallery. He often spaced out and wandered into players’ shot paths. Fans enjoyed Furgol’s goofiness when he wasn’t ordering them to stand still, which he did regularly. However, pros didn’t relish playing with him because of his erratic, often annoying behavior.
Despite his idiosyncrasies, Furgol won five times on the PGA Tour and was a member of the 1955 U.S. Ryder Cup team.
“They called him ‘Crazy Marty’ because he talked to himself all the time,” former tour pro Bob Zimmerman recalled recently. Because of a rainout at the 1961 Baton Rouge Open, Zimmerman got to go 36 holes with Furgol and Sam Snead. “So here I am, 19 years old, playing with Sam Snead, one of the greatest players of all time, who’s not talking at all, and the other person is Furgol and he’s talking to himself, and I’m in the middle of them for 36 holes. He was quite a character, no doubt about that.”
Martin A. Furgol was born January 5, 1916 in New York Mills, a small town of about 3,000 in central New York near Utica, not a place one would expect to be a spawning ground for pro golfers. Yet, there were two successful PGA Tour pros from New York Mills. They were both named Furgol. The other was Ed Furgol, who was a year younger than Marty, and who would become the better known of the two because of his win at the 1954 U.S. Open.
According to an online source, there are about 250 people worldwide named Furgol, 35 of whom reside in the United States. Thus, perhaps the weirdest part of this story is that two successful PGA Tour players with a rare surname, born one year apart in the same small town, were not at all related, a fact the two surely grew tired of explaining.
Marty Furgol started caddying and playing golf at age 9. He developed a smooth swing and became skilled enough to drop out of high school after 10th grade and embark on a life as an itinerant club professional, knocking around New York, New Hampshire and Florida. In September 1938, Furgol paid $10 to enter the Glens Falls Open in upstate New York, which was won by 1936 U.S. Open champion Tony Manero. Furgol finished 21st, behind future Hall of Famers Snead, Gene Sarazen, Craig Wood, Ben Hogan and Paul Runyan, to earn $25.
In March 1941, Furgol enlisted in the military and served stateside during World War II. In 1943, he made national news for the first time. The Associated Press reported that Corporal Martin Furgol entered the Greater New York Army and Navy tournament at Bethpage Park on Long Island after hitchhiking from Fort Hancock on the Jersey shore, a distance of 90 miles, with borrowed clubs, shoes and a ball. Carrying the clubs himself, he won the tournament.
After the war, Furgol resumed working as a club professional, moving around Illinois, Florida and California. In “Golf Beats Us All (And so We Love It),” Joseph A. Amato wrote that at a pro-am tournament in 1948 or 1949, Furgol faded an iron shot into a greenside bunker and angrily flung his club into the rough. “Go get the club, caddie,” Furgol snapped. “Go get it yourself,” the caddie replied. “You threw the f***ing thing.” Furgol was not small, at 6-foot-1 and about 175 pounds. However, the caddie was a tough-looking former Golden Gloves boxer. “Furgol did what he was told,” Amato wrote.
Furgol qualified for the 1948 U.S. Open at Riviera Country Club and tied for 28th, 17 shots behind winner Hogan. In 1949, when he was 33 years old, Furgol became a regular tour pro. He struggled in his first two years on the circuit. In February 1951, after finishing out of the money at the Texas Open, he decided to pack it in for lack of funds. However, a Long Beach, California, restaurant owner staked him some cash. Furgol went on to the Rio Grande Valley Open the next week and finished second. He then proceeded to the Houston Open. After three rounds, he was one stroke behind the leader, 1947 U.S. Open champion Lew Worsham. Although it was just two weeks after Furgol was on the verge of quitting, he brashly predicted victory. True to his word, the next day he won, beating Jack Burke Jr. by a stroke for his first PGA Tour victory.
That summer, at the 1951 PGA Championship at Oakmont (then a match-play event), Furgol made an enemy of Snead when they played in the second round. On the 14th hole, with the match all square, Snead stooped over and blew at an insect perched on his ball. Furgol cried foul. An official sided with Snead, ruling that because the ball did not move there was no infraction.
Furgol did not let the matter drop. After 18 holes, the match was still tied. He asked the rules committee to overrule the on-course official. Snead waited on the first tee for half an hour while Furgol retired to the clubhouse. Sarazen, who had just lost his match to Burke, approached. “You wouldn’t want to win by a fly, would you, Marty?” Sarazen asked. Furgol withdrew his protest and the match resumed. Snead won on the 21st hole, and went on to win the championship.
Two weeks later, at the Western Open (then widely considered a major), Furgol exacted revenge on Snead. After three rounds, he trailed Snead and George Fazio by three shots. In the final round, Furgol, Snead and Cary Middlecoff were neck and neck until Snead drove into a creek on 16 and made double bogey. On the 72nd hole, tied for the lead with Middlecoff, Furgol hit a splendid 7-iron shot to within 3½ feet.
“Excitable to the point of being eccentric,” is how Bill Kinney of The Rock Island Argus described Furgol, with “ham theatrics” thrown in. Furgol did his best to emulate the notoriously deliberate Middlecoff as he surveyed the short putt. “He walked in back of the ball, in front of it, walked along the path he hoped it would follow,” Kinney wrote. “Then he took off his visor, wiped the perspiration off his face and neck, sighted the situation again and took his putting stance.” Upon sinking the winning putt for a final round of 65, Furgol “kicked up a foot, jerked off his visor and bowed low to the simultaneous roar of the crowd.” He then fought his way through the crowd to go to the parking lot to make sure his car engine hadn’t been running all day before returning to the clubhouse to talk to the press.
Furgol finished 11th on the money list in 1951, 21st in 1952 and 12th in 1953. He tried to supplement his income in other ways. After a round at the 1953 Insurance City Open, he was disgusted with his putting and sold his putter to a fan for $5. At the 1957 Greater Greensboro Open, he was penalized two strokes for playing the wrong ball and took out his resentment on his caddie for failing to notice. “I paid you $7 yesterday,” Furgol told the caddie. “The least you can do is give me back $5 today.”
He was a grinder, playing nearly every week. His domestic life suffered as a result. In 1954, it was reported that his wife, Theresa – whom he married in 1941 and with whom he had four children; the youngest, and only son, is named Byron Nelson Furgol – filed for divorce, stating she was tired of being a golf widow. She claimed her husband “spent all his time on the golf course and didn’t have time for her.”
The tumult in his personal life did not affect his golf. In 1954, Furgol had his best year. He won the National Celebrities Open at Congressional Country Club by one stroke over Bo Wininger. At the time, the event had the tour’s second-largest purse. That week, Furgol was described as a “wisecracking veteran” who “kept up a continuous line of chatter with the gallery.”
He also lost a playoff to Doug Ford at the Greater Greensboro Open. Furgol finished third on the PGA Tour money. As a result, he was named to the 1955 Ryder Cup team, which beat Great Britain & Ireland, 8-4, at the Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. Furgol lost his only match, in singles play, to Arthur Lees of England, 3 and 2.
“We were all staying at the Ramada Inn. Marty opened the window of his room, and he started hollering ‘Trees! Trees! Trees! They make me crazy!’ He hollered that for about 15 minutes, then he went back to sleep.” – Chi Chi Rodriguez
The 1955 Western Open in Portland, Oregon, was the site of an ugly incident involving Furgol and Palmer, related by Palmer in “A Golfer’s Life.” Then a rookie, Palmer was paired with Furgol. At one point, Furgol was standing down the fairway as Palmer prepared to hit a shot. Twice, Palmer asked him to move. Furgol appeared oblivious and remained in the fairway, and Palmer played on. After completing the hole, Palmer grabbed the larger Furgol by the collar. “If you ever pull a stunt like that again, I’ll take my fists and beat the hell out of you,” Palmer said to Furgol. “And if I can’t do it with my fists, I’ll use a golf club.” The tour admonished Furgol for his inattentiveness, and Palmer vowed never to lose his temper again.
With his banter and strange antics, Furgol was a fan favorite. At the 1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills (won by Tommy Bolt), there were many complaints about the conditions of the greens. On the 72nd hole, Furgol was not in contention but had a sizable putt worth about $200. He addressed his caddie and the gallery in the vicinity. “Hundreds of golfers have walked across this green this week,” he said. “They each had two feet, and each foot had a shoe with 12 spikes on it. Why, there’s at least 150,000 spike marks on the green. Now, how do they expect me to sink this putt?” As the gallery laughed, he holed the putt to finish in a tie for 13th. Another time, he and his caddie had a vigorous argument about how to hit the next shot, to the delight of the spectators. It ended when Furgol handed his club to the caddie. “OK, you know so much, you hit the ball,” Furgol said.
Not counting his win at the Western Open, Furgol never came close in a major championship. His best finish at the U.S. Open was a tie for ninth in 1953, and his Masters best was a tie for 11th in 1957. However, in the second round of the 1961 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, he salvaged one of the greatest pars in golf history, a scene that could have been re-created in Happy Gilmore. On the long par-4 18th hole, he failed to cut a 4-wood on his approach, with the result that his ball sailed long and far left of the green, over a hotdog stand, and came to rest against the diving board of the club’s swimming pool, in bounds. After a free drop, Furgol pitched onto the back of the green, which sloped down to the hole. The ball miraculously trickled to within 5 feet. He sank the putt for par, made the cut and finished tied for 38th.
Furgol recorded his last tour win at the 1959 El Paso Open, where he rallied with rounds of 66 and 65 on the weekend. He credited his doctor for prescribing iron pills to restore his “tired blood.” The El Paso Herald-Post described him as “fidgety and fussy on the greens,” noting he repeatedly asked spectators to stand still. “I think to play golf well, one must be strong, feel strong and have plenty of nervous energy,” Furgol said after the win.
The win at El Paso later resulted in a fistfight between Lee Trevino and the mayor of El Paso. To be fair to Furgol, he had nothing to do with it.
In a Golf Digest interview, Trevino said back in 1978 he had a $200 bet with the mayor on who won the final El Paso Open. Trevino knew Furgol was the winner. The mayor said it was either Jay or Lionel Hebert. When Trevino went to collect, the mayor poured a $100 bag of pennies on his head. Trevino was not amused and warned him not to do it with the other bag. The mayor laughed and poured more pennies on Trevino, who said he then “cold-cocked him.”
Furgol missed most of 1960 with a bad back. His last year as a full-time tour pro was 1961, when he was 45 years old. A new generation of players learned of his quirkiness, including Chi Chi Rodriguez, who told a possibly apocryphal story during a 2021 interview. “At Tucson, they only have one tree on the whole golf course. One time, (Furgol) drove it against that tree four straight days,” Rodriguez said. “We were all staying at the Ramada Inn. Marty opened the window of his room, and he started hollering ‘Trees! Trees! Trees! They make me crazy!’ He hollered that for about 15 minutes, then he went back to sleep. One time he threw all his balls in the water. He said, ‘Lippers! Lippers! Lippers!’ ”
As a young pro, 1973 Masters champion Tommy Aaron played a memorable round with Furgol, during which Aaron said Furgol talked to his ball before hitting shots. After a putt lipped out, Furgol looked at Aaron and gestured toward the gallery. “ ‘Those people are wishing the ball out of the hole!’ I heard him say,” Aaron recalled recently. “I told him, ‘Marty, that’s not true. They pay to see us put the ball in the hole.’ ”
After his tour career wound down, Furgol settled in Florida but still competed occasionally. In 1970, when he was 54 years old, he won the 1970 Philadelphia PGA Championship, a prestigious sectional event. When the PGA Senior Tour started in 1980, Furgol was 64, too advanced in years to be competitive, but he played when he could. At the 2001 Legends tournament, 85-year-old Furgol played for the final time.
Marty Furgol, the PGA Tour’s oddest duck, died November 23, 2005, in New Port Richey, Florida, six weeks shy of his 90th birthday.
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