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Connecticut Native Boros was a Force in U.S. Open

By Ron Driscoll, USGA

Connecticut native Julius Boros won a pair of U.S. Open titles in 1952 and 1963. (USGA Archives)

When people discuss golfers whose games were best suited to the rigors of the U.S. Open Championship, four-time champions Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus typically top the list. One man whose success and longevity is often overlooked is Fairfield, Conn., native Julius Boros.

Boros won two U.S. Opens – in 1952 and 1963 – and he had an amazing run of consistency in the championship, finishing in the top five nine times. That total is two short of the record of 11, held jointly by Nicklaus and fellow four-time winner Willie Anderson. Contemporaries marveled at the seemingly imperturbable nature of Boros, as well as his tempo and his deft short game, all of which lent themselves to success in the most pressure-packed situations.

“Poker-faced, laconic, a bit on the dour side, he is an efficient rather than an arresting golfer,” Herbert Warren Wind once wrote in The New Yorker. “But his colleagues have long respected the smooth, relaxed tempo of his swing and his penchant for being at his best in the big tournaments.”

Indeed, Boros earned his first professional victory in the 1952 U.S. Open, outlasting none other than Hogan at the Northwood Club in Dallas, Texas. Hogan led through two rounds as he sought his third straight victory in the championship, but admittedly wilted in the 98-degree conditions of the traditional 36-hole Saturday finish. Hogan shot 69-69-74-74, and Boros shot 1-over-par 281 to win by four strokes over Ed Oliver, with Hogan finishing third. Although Boros seemed to come out of nowhere to defeat the legendary Hogan, he had in fact finished ninth in his U.S. Open debut in 1950 and tied for fourth the previous year at Oakland Hills.

The son of Hungarian immigrants who owned a farm in Fairfield, Boros first played golf by hopping the fence of the adjacent Greenfield Hill Country Club and hitting balls with his brothers. As John Underwood put it in a 1968 Sports Illustrated story: “He would scale the fence, clutching a few rusty clubs and a ball to his chest, and try to get in as many shots as he could before the greenkeeper ran him off. The Boros swing, however, is neither hurried nor exaggerated, but rhythmically undisturbed, like the implacable progress of the plastic horses on a carousel.”

Julius Boros poses with 1913 U.S. Open champ Francis Ouimet after winning in 1963 at The Country Club. (USGA Archives)

Boros was 32 at the time of his U.S. Open win, having only turned professional two years earlier at 30. He worked as an accountant for several years after earning a degree at the Junior College of Connecticut (now the University of Bridgeport), where he played varsity baseball. He went on to become one of the top amateur golfers in the country, having reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur in 1949 before deciding to try to make a living at the game.

Boros dedicated that 1952 U.S. Open victory to Ann “Buttons” Cosgrove, his first wife, who had died in childbirth the previous September. She was the daughter of the owners of the Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club in Southern Pines, N.C., and Boros had met her when he took a job at the resort as a fledgling professional.

Boros went on to earn 18 victories on the PGA Tour, and he continued to be a factor in U.S. Opens, with five top-five finishes in six years from 1955 to 1960, including a tie for second in 1956 with Hogan, one stroke behind Cary Middlecoff at Oak Hill Country Club.

Despite his apparent imperturbability, Boros admitted, “I was as apprehensive as the next guy in a tight situation.” His swing motto was “swing easy, hit hard,” and he was able to produce plenty of power, but his corollary touch around the greens was a key to his success. Before lob wedges were invented, he employed a sand wedge to hit soft, feathery shots out of the high rough. As Tony Lema, the 1964 British Open champion, once put it, “Julius Boros is all hands and wrists, like a man dusting the furniture.”

Boros broke through again in the 1963 U.S. Open at age 43 in daunting conditions at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., making birdies on two of his final three holes to get into a playoff with Arnold Palmer and Jacky Cupit. Boros rolled to victory in the playoff, shooting 70 to Cupit’s 73 and Palmer’s 76.

Boros became golf’s oldest major champion in 1968 at the PGA Championship at age 48 years, 4 months, 18 days, winning by one stroke over Palmer and Bob Charles at Pecan Valley Golf Club in San Antonio, Texas. His record still stands, and there was further testament to his longevity to come.

In 1973 at age 53, Boros made a bid for a third U.S. Open, holding a share of the lead through three rounds at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. Although Johnny Miller shot a record 63 on Sunday to win, Boros finished in a tie for seventh place, four strokes back, and he later considered that effort one of his top achievements. Two years later, at age 55, Boros lost to Gene Littler in a playoff at the Westchester Classic, a PGA Tour event he had won in 1968 at 48.

Boros’s last hurrah came in 1979, when he joined with Roberto De Vicenzo in The Legends of Golf televised team event. The duo tied Art Wall and Tommy Bolt for the top spot and the ensuing playoff, marked by a barrage of birdies by the senior players and won by Boros’s birdie on the sixth extra hole, served as the launching pad for the PGA Tour Champions.

Boros died on May 28, 1994, of a heart attack at age 74, sitting in a golf cart under a willow tree, his favorite spot on Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He left his wife, Armen, and seven children, one of whom, Guy, competed on the PGA Tour. Guy won the 1996 Greater Vancouver Open, making the Boroses one of three father-son tandems to have won on the PGA Tour.

Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.