NALG President received an inquiry from Jon in the UK regarding who the first lefty was that played on the PGA Tour as well as who was the first to play in the United States Open. Jon indicated that the earliest player he could find was Loddie Kempa.
Below is my response back to Jon following a few hours of internet research. I learned some interesting things going back in history.
Regarding your first question about the first lefty on tour. I guess it depends on when you say the PGA Tour started.
National Association of Left-Handed Golfer (NALG) founder Ben Richter was a very good left-handed professional. Prior to founding the NALG, he played in PGA events. In 1932 he was runner up in the St. Louis Spring Open. This LINK shows all the 1932 PGA events that year. Richter also finished 2nd in the PGA Senior Championship in 1947 and 1948 and 4th in 1946. This LINK indicates that Richter played in the 1936 and 1937 PGA Championship - qualifying and losing in the first match-play round in each - as well as the 1929 and 1933 United States Opens. He shot an 80 in the first round of the US Open in 1929 and withdrew in 1933. I could not find how many other tournaments he might have played. In any case, he would have played earlier and more than Loddie Kempa. Obviously the most successful early lefty was Bob Charles who turned professional in 1960 and played on the PGA Tour shortly thereafter.
Here is an interesting anecdote from Anecdotage Online about how Richter got his first professional job.
“When Ben Richter, one of the country's leading left-hand golfers, decided to turn professional he took advantage of his peculiarity. Hearing that the Triple-A Club of St Louis needed a pro he wrote to its president, Sidney Maestre, and applied for the job. 'But a left-handed pro!' exclaimed Maestre. 'I'll show you in two minutes why a left-handed instructor is better than a right-handed one,' Richter said. 'Face me and I'll show you something.' Richter took his left-handed stance; Maestre, facing him, took his right-handed position. As Richter swung correctly, Maestre copied him easily. 'It's like looking into a mirror,' he admitted, and Richter was appointed club professional.”
As far as the United States Open is concerned, there was a reference in an Al Barkow book (Golf’s All Time Firsts, Mosts, Leasts, and a Few Nevers), about Loddie Kempa being the first lefty to play in the US Open in 1948. My research indicated he did not play in 1948 but did in 1950, 1951, 1953 and 1954. He made the cut in 1950 and 1954. But Kempa did not play the PGA Tour. Barkow must not have been familiar with Ben Richter's earlier play.
Here are a few quotes I found in “Miracle at Merion” that you might like. 1950 was the year that Ben Hogan came back from his near fatal car crash to win the United States Open.
Barkow’s book may have confused Kempa’s win in the 1948 National Left-handed Championship held at French Lick here in Indiana. See the picture below I found.
If you are interested in the Masters, the Barkow book had another error. It stated that Gene Ferrell was the first lefty to play in the Masters in 1956. My research indicates that Bob Charles played in 1958 and missed the cut. Ferrell played as an amateur in 1965 and interestingly was disqualified after the first round. I did not find out why. So Ferrell was the first amateur lefty to play in the Masters but Charles was the first lefty. Interestingly, I found a Golf Digest article from this March about 15 Masters firsts that continued the “1956 error”. Even the a Masters Media guide I found on the internet showed it incorrectly as 1956. Ferrell later played on the PGA Tour from 1968-1971 and died only last year. You can find a TV interview with him HERE.
In another bit of lefty trivia, the NALG created an Lefty Open championship (including professionals) that ran from 1961 to 1965. Sid is going to like this next part - There was a $10,000 sponsorship by the founder and owner of DeSoto Lakes Golf and Country Club in Sarasota, Florida. This is now Palm-Aire where Sid lives and plays! Bob Charles won the event in 1962 over defending champion Loddie Kempa by 21 strokes!! The NALG History publication incorrectly calls it DeSota Lakes.
I hope you find this information helpful and interesting.
I confess! I am an avid golfer. I also play left-handed. Since I now manage the National Association of Left-handed Golfers website, I thought I would start a Blog...this blog! What will I have to say? Stay tuned and find out.