Height: 5 ft 9 in
Born: July 21, 1930
Birthplace: San Diego, CA
College: San Diego State University
Turned Pro: 1954
Gene Littler’s greatest strengths as a player were things not found in his golf bag – even temperament, excellent course management and a rhythmic swing that held up under pressure led his peers to nickname him “Gene the Machine.”
The San Diego native took to the game early. After attending San Diego State University and serving a stint in the U.S. Navy, he focused on golf. He made a name for himself playing on the 1953 Walker Cup team. He won the California State Amateur and the U.S. Amateur that same year. The next year, he won a PGA professional event as an amateur and turned professional shortly after that victory.
Gene immediately contended for a Major Championship in his first attempt, the 1954 U.S. Open. That year’s championship was contested at Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey. Littler was the 36-hole leader. Were it not for a third round six over par score of 76, Littler would have won the title. He fired an even round 70 on the final day, losing by a single shot to Ed Furgol. The second place prize money paid Littler $3,600 for his effort.
The U.S. Open performance fueled Littler’s confidence. He took the tour by storm the following season. One of his four wins in 1955 was the Los Angeles Open at famed Riviera Country Club. He won three more times the next season. Littler fell into a slump in the late 1950’s as he tinkered with various swing adjustments.
Littler recovered his form by 1959 and went on to have one of his best seasons on tour, finishing second on the money list.
In 1961, Littler won his only Major championship – the U.S. Open. He shot a final round 68 to overtake Doug Sanders. Gene lost play-offs for two other Majors – the 1970 Masters where he lost to Billy Casper and the 1977 PGA, where he was defeated by Lanny Wadkins.
Littler now resides in Rancho Santa Fe, California.