Dow Finsterwald, a longtime PGA TOUR professional who won the PGA Championship in 1958 and captained the 1977 United States Ryder Cup-winning team, died Nov. 4. He was 93 years old.
As a young man growing up in Athens, Ohio, born in 1929, Finsterwald played many sports but gravitated towards golf even though his father, Russ, was the head coach of basketball and football at Ohio University. Young Finsterwald joined his father as a Bobcat but as a member of the golf team. It was at Ohio University that Finsterwald realized he could make a living playing golf.
“Dow was destined for a career in sports because of his father’s influence, and golf was blessed with him as a player, teacher and administrator,” said PGA TOUR commissioner Jay Monahan. “His contributions to our sport were significant, and we take the time today to remember Dow and all of his accomplishments in a life well lived.”
Finsterwald joined the PGA TOUR in 1952 after appearing in eight TOUR tournaments in 1950 and 1951 as an amateur. Finsterwald made his TOUR debut while still an amateur, at the 1950 Northern & Southern Open at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina, where he finished tied for 33rd. He played on TOUR as a professional for the first time at the National Celebrity Open, tied for 35th. The first of Finsterwald’s 12 PGA TOUR victories came at the 1955 Fort Wayne Invitational. Six weeks later he won again – at the British Columbia Open in Canada. He had 10 top 10 finishes in his 28 cuts made this season and finished 14th on the prize list. Those 1955 wins started a six-year streak where he won at least one tournament. Finsterwald’s best season came in 1959. That year he won three times – the Greater Greensboro Open, Carling Open and Kansas City Open – and finished second five more times.
A year earlier, Finsterwald won his only major championship, winning the PGA Championship at Llanerch Country Club in Pennsylvania. In the first year the PGA of America played the tournament in stroke play, Finsterwald shot rounds of 67-72-70-67 to defeat Billy Casper by two strokes. He added the Utah Open title to his resume later in the season and won PGA Player of the Year honors, a year after winning his only Vardon Trophy for stroke average. the lowest on the TOUR.
Of his 28 second-place finishes on TOUR, the most excruciating was his playoff loss – along with Gary Player – to Arnold Palmer in the Masters. The trio finished settlement at Augusta National tied at 8 under 280, with Palmer eventually picking up a three-stroke playoff victory over Player and a nine-stroke win over Finsterwald in the extra 18-hole session. Taking away part of the sting of this loss was the fact that Palmer was Finsterwald’s closest friend on TOUR. Their friendship lasted until Palmer’s death in 2016.
While playing the TOUR, Finsterwald also served as director of golf at Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a position he held for 28 years. He also served a three-year term as Vice President of the PGA of America. At the end of his PGA TOUR career, he had a career highlight when he captained the USA Ryder Cup team against the Great Britain and Ireland team led by captain Brian Huggett. at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club. Led by Ryder Cup veterans Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd and rookie team members Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins, the Americans secured a five-point triumph.
Following his playing career on the PGA TOUR, Finsterwald enjoyed a busy schedule as PGA TOUR champions, appearing in 189 career tournaments, including two in the Tour’s inaugural season in 1980. His best performance came in 1982, when he finished second to Don January at the Michelob. Senior Classic in Tampa, Florida.
Four years after his father was inducted into the Ohio University Athletics Hall of Fame, Finsterwald followed him for his golfing exploits. In 2008, the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame also inducted him.
Finsterwald is survived by three sons and a daughter. His wife, Linda, predeceased him in 2015. The couple’s second son, Dow Finsterwald, Jr., was the longtime head professional at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, before retiring in 2021 .