Guldahl, Ralph (1911–1987)

By: James A. Wilson

Type: Biography

Published: September 1, 1995

Updated: June 18, 2021

Ralph Guldahl, professional tournament golfer, was born on November 22, 1911, in Dallas, Texas, the second of three sons of Olaf Guldahl and Anna Nordly, Norwegian immigrants. He began caddying at Lakewood Country Club at age eleven and then started playing regularly at the Randall Park city course and was captain of the 1927 state champion Woodrow Wilson High School team. He honed his competitive skills at the Tenison and Stevens Park municipal courses against the likes of Harry Cooper and Gus Moreland, as well as Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan of nearby Fort Worth. He turned professional in January 1930, at the Texas Open in San Antonio, and was the youngest qualifier for that year's United States Open. Working as a Dallas club professional, he saved enough to attempt the California winter tournaments in 1931 and there won his first money title. During that year he married La Verne Fields, of San Angelo, his lifelong wife and mother of their only child, Ralph, Jr. After finishing second by one stroke at the 1933 United States Open, Guldahl entered a slump, during which both his game and confidence went to pieces. Financially strapped, he worked in Hollywood as a carpenter on the Warner Brothers studio lot, where from several actors and directors he secured the necessary backing to rejoin the Professional Golfers Association tour. In 1936, with additional loans, he reemerged triumphantly, and for four years (1936–40) was the nation's preeminent, and perhaps most underrated, major-tournament golfer. Blessed with superb concentration, his deliberate style did not attract galleries and sportswriters as he compiled an unexcelled record. In addition to seven tour titles, he won the Radix Trophy for the lowest per-round average (1936), three consecutive Western Opens (1936–37–38), back-to-back U. S. Opens (1937–38), the exclusive Masters Tournament (1939), and all his matches for the American team against the British in his only Ryder Cup appearance (1937). He established, said Bobby Jones, the enduring reality that "four good rounds, not just three," were necessary to win a major championship. Because of this remarkable run, he is the thirteenth-ranked PGA tournament player for the period 1930–45. In 1940, following a strong U.S. Open and the last of his sixteen PGA victories, Guldahl left the tour, a widely discussed decision. Did his swing, which he analyzed on film and in a self-written instructional book, Groove Your Golf (1939), desert him? Did the effects of an earlier hip injury take their toll? Did his competitiveness flag? Most compelling was his admission that he tired of the long-distance automobile travel grind in favor of normal family life, which he had not known since his marriage. Classified 4-F, he held several prestigious club positions during World War II. After a brief return to the tour in the late 1940s, he sold insurance in Southern California until 1961, when he became the professional at the new Braemar Country Club in Tarzana. Well-liked and a popular teacher, he remained at Braemar until his death, on June 12, 1987, at Sherman Oaks, California. He is a member of both the PGA and World Golf halls of fame.

Al Barkow, Golf's Golden Grind: The History of the Tour (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974). Al Barkow, The History of the PGA Tour (New York: Doubleday, 1989). Dallas Morning News, June 13, 14, 1937, April 6, 1939. Nevin H. Gibson, Great Moments in Golf (South Brunswick, New Jersey: Barnes, 1973). Los Angeles Times, June 14, 1987. Curt Sampson, Texas Golf Legends (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 1993). Herbert Warren Wind, The Story of American Golf: Its Champions and Its Championships (Cincinnati: Golf Shop Collection, 1986).

  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Golf)
Time Periods:
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
  • World War II
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

James A. Wilson, “Guldahl, Ralph,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 1, 1995
June 18, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: