A Precocious Debut
When Marvin "Bud" Ward entered the 1937 U.S. Open in Philadelphia, neither he nor golf's observers had a clue who he was or how he'd do. But Ward went out and shot 69-73-71-72 to finish a shot behind the illustrious trio of Byron Nelson, Craig Wood and Dennis Shute, and suddenly rocketed onto the national golf scene.
Ward was named to the 1938 American Walker Cup Team, and he gained more fanfare that year when he shot a course record 67 at the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews during the British Open. There would be many more highlights in the life of Bud Ward, one of the most accomplished golfers ever to come out of the Northwest.
The Launch of a Competitive Career
Bud rose to prominence in 1937 following his performance in the U.S. Open. Ironically, he'd been unable to enter any PNGA events before because he was not a member of a PNGA club. Upon joining Olympia Country & Golf Club in 1937, he entered the PNGA Men's Amateur Championship at Tacoma Country & Golf Club, losing to Don Moe in the second round. He then qualified for the U.S. Amateur at Alderwood Country Club in Portland. Bud created a stir when he reached the semifinals. His thunderous drives, coolness under fire, and excellent course management made him a player to watch.
Ward learned some lessons at the U.S. Open that would pay dividends down the road. He played for birdies while in the lead instead of hitting to the center of the greens and pocketing pars. His inexperience saw him play offensively rather than conservatively. His friend, Ken Storey, also related a reason for Ward's downfall in the event. "The faces of his irons appeared to be too straight [before the Open]. So he had them adjusted just prior to the tournament. The seven iron was left with a slight hook in the toe. This explains why he took five's on three of the par-three holes. He did not realize the error until after the tournament."
Ward experienced heightened expectations following his fine play at Alderwood.
"It was one thing when nobody really expected much. I could just go ahead and shoot, relaxed and free of worry. It is entirely different when people look at what happened there and then point me out as the next amateur champion. It is a terrific strain. It means I'll have to watch every shot and not miss a one if I can possibly help."
A Unique Mix of Powerful Physique & Soft Hands
Bud looked more like a football lineman than a golfer. Ward's stocky legs provided a solid base, and his wide shoulders powered long and accurate drives. Though he never played football, Ward played basketball at Olympia High School, where he was named to the all-state team. He also anchored the school's golf team.
Though strong of build, Bud's success may have been due to his surprisingly nimble hands and deft putting touch. Dick Metz became somewhat of an authority on Ward after playing Bud in the 1939 San Francisco Match-Play Open. For 14 holes, Metz was down to the sharp-shooting Washingtonian. Metz eventually pulled out a win, but he had to birdie the last three holes to do so.
"Great hands," said Metz after the match. "They are strong, well-built hands and they always work together. He is in control of the club with the hands at all times, and they compensate for any imperfections in his swing. [And] Ward reads greens better than any amateur I ever saw. He putts as well on one type of green as another, and when he judges a putt to be 60 feet, it is exactly 60 feet. Ward savvies roll and break to perfection and there never is any variation to his smooth putting stroke."
The great Tommy Armour, the host professional at the 1939 Amateur, said Ward's hands were as good as those of Vardon, Jones and Hagen.
Moving to Eastern Washington & Emerging Nationally
In 1939 Spokane's Athletic Round Table, an organization that has fostered and promoted many sports activities, needed an executive secretary. They approached Bud about the part-time job and suggested he transfer from his current workplace, the State Tax Office in Olympia, to its Spokane branch. Ward liked the idea. He was about to get married and, by working two jobs, could earn enough to support his new family. Bud accepted the offer and moved to Eastern Washington. He joined Spokane Country Club and, shortly after, won the 1939 Northwest Open, the first of his five titles in that event.
Ward recalled that tournament and the confidence it gave him.
"When I left Spokane for the 1939 Amateur, I had little idea I'd land so close to the top. I knew my game was good. I'd proved that to my satisfaction when I won the Northwest Open a couple of weeks before where I ended in a three-way tie and then managed to come through in the play-off."
In typically modest fashion, Ward underemphasized how he "managed to come through" in the Open; he simply demolished veteran professionals Neil Christian and Emery Zimmerman, shooting a 66 in the final round on Spokane's tricky Indian Canyon course.
His showing in the Northwest Open made Ward a favorite in the U.S. Amateur at North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Illinois. While playing Ray Billows in the finale in gusty winds, Ward was one under par for the first 31 holes, the length of the match. After all the top-flight golfers the Northwest had produced, Bud Ward was the first ever to win a U.S. Amateur title.
A Banner Year
The year 1941 was definitely Bud's finest as a competitive golfer. He accomplished a rare triple, winning the PNGA Men's Amateur, Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur championships – all within a two-month span.
In becoming the PNGA champion on his Spokane Country Club course, Ward played devastatingly well. To reach the final, Ward's opponent, Mat Palacio, a former California State Amateur champion, defeated Canadian Amateur champion, Ken Black. After being taken to the last green in a semifinal match with Tacoma's Chuck Hunter, Ward was 3-up on Palacio after the finale's morning round, before turning it on and closing out the match on the 30th hole.
In the Western Amateur at Colorado Springs, Ward was again "in the zone," besting Harry Todd, the 1939 Western Amateur champion, 3 & 2. Following his win, Ward became the top-ranked player in the U.S.
Nasty Circumstances in Omaha
Though widely known as a fine golfer, Bud had a cool personality, often eschewing the courtesies spectators found endearing. Ward once explained his on-course deportment: "Win and you're a great guy. Lose and you're a monkey." Though he defeated worthy opponents on his march to the 1941 U.S. Amateur in Omaha, Ward encountered the most hostile crowds by a Northwesterner since Doc Willing's match against Harrison Johnston at Pebble Beach in the 1929 Amateur. The fans were anti-Ward for two reasons. Though refuting the charges, Ward was quoted as criticizing the course for its scorched fairways, calling it a "cow pasture." Secondly, he handily defeated Nebraska's favorite son, Johnny Goodman, en route to the title.
In the morning of the final match, 3,000 fans became more and more grumpy as genial Pat Abbott, an actor by profession, fell further and further behind Ward. The crowd decided to affect the outcome on the 24th hole. Abbott was 2-down when he hit a shot that seemed to be heading straight down a steep bank behind the green. Fortunately for Abbott, several spectators blocked the ball, then a local marshal gave the ball an additional nudge, "accidentally" putting it on the green. In an unprecedented move, USGA President Harold Pierce halted play and commanded the crowd, "We all know what is happening here today. We want it to cease."
Abbott received no more help. But on the 31st hole when Bud hit his approach shot over the green, the crowd roared "Let it through!" and began applauding loudly at his misfortune. Despite an antagonistic gallery and Abbott's competent play, Ward would not be denied, closing out the match on the 33rd green. When the match ended, the crowd swooped in and hoisted Abbott onto their shoulders.
Later in 1941, Vancouver-area golfers were treated to a rare exhibition match between the newly-crowned Ward and their beloved Canadian Amateur champion, Ken Black. The Red Cross fund-raiser was for the "Championship of North America." The duo tied in stroke play with identical 71's.
Marvin "Bud" Ward continued to enjoy success, winning the 1947 Western Amateur and Northwest Opens in 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1961, and being named again to the Walker Cup team in 1947. In 1951, he turned professional. Ward served as the head professional at Peninsula Golf & Country Club in San Mateo, California – where he set the course record of 63 – until his death from cancer in 1967.