Date: January 29, 2015
Author: Martin Blake

Golfing great Kel Nagle dies aged 94

Kel Nagle, one of Australia's all-time great golfers, has died.

Nagle, 94, winner of the centenary British Open Championship in 1960 and a record 61 tournaments at home, passed away in Sydney's Mona Vale Hospital after battling poor health.

His family has requested privacy while funeral arrangements are made.

It’s understood Peter Thomson, his lifelong friend and partner in two Australian victories at the Canada Cup (now known as the World Cup), made the trip to Sydney to pay Nagle a bedside visit last week.

As much as his monumental collection of golfing feats, Nagle was known for his humble and gentlemanly ways. Thomson once said of Nagle: "Of all the people I have met in the world of golf, this fellow is the finest.''

That comment was passed in a speech at an Australian Golf Writers Association dinner in Sydney in 2007 when Nagle was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The hall of fame's director Jack Peter flew from Florida to Australia to induct Nagle, who was not well enough to attend the ceremony at Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

At the time, Nagle was one of just five Australians inducted, joining Thomson, Greg Norman, Karrie Webb and Walter Travis. David Graham has since taken that number to six.

Golf Australia chief executive Stephen Pitt said Nagle’s loss would leave an unfillable void in Australian sport.

“Kel was a giant of the game – he had an incredible record with wins at the Open and Australian Open that make him a legend,” Pitt said.

“But much more than that, he was an ambassador for his sport and his country, universally liked and admired by his peers.

“His victory in the 1960 Open Championship was one of the most memorable by any major champion – the way he did that will never be forgotten.

“Our deepest condolences and thoughts are with Kel’s family and those he touched and inspired in golf around the world who share our pain today.”

Nagle's greatest triumph was at St Andrews where he defeated Arnold Palmer by a shot to win the fabled claret jug of the Open Championship in 1960. He was 39 years old and had never contended in one of the majors, but Thomson, his friend and colleague, urged him on.

Playing together in the Canada Cup earlier that year in Ireland, Thomson told Nagle that he could win at St Andrews.

"You're playing great, you're driving it straight, you're putting well. I think you can win the Open," Thomson said.

Nagle was unconvinced: "But I'm 100-1.''

So Thomson, who had won four of his five Open Championships, practised on the Old Course with his friend, talking him through its intricacies. Nagle won, and had to borrow Thomson's jacket for the presentation because the required garment was across the road in his hotel. He won 1250 pounds.

Nagle had a beautiful, rhythmic  swing but it was on the greens that his prowess was more obvious, for he was a remarkable putter. Thomson, clearly the better player overall, still wondered loudly after his career how many titles he might have won had he been able to "putt like Kel''.

Nagle birdied the 17th and made a safe par at the 18th to win at St Andrews. "My best years probably were from '59 through to '65 … the British Open,'' he said at his induction to the hall of fame. "It was a fantastic thrill really. Being a 100-1 shot, I really didn't give myself much chance. Although I was playing well in Ireland, that's just how it worked out, and it opened a lot of doors. I got invitations to play in tournaments all over the place. It was a tremendous thrill for me at that stage of my life.''

Nagle went on a run at the Open.He was sixth in 1961, second in 1962, fourth in 1963, fifth in 1965 and fourth in 1966. But he was more than formidable everywhere he played

He won six Australian PGA titles, seven New Zealand Opens and seven New Zealand PGA titles. He reached a playoff in the United States Open at Bellerive Country Club in Missouri in 1965, losing to Gary Player, and he won tournaments in Europe and on the United States tour. His record would certainly have been even greater had he not lost some of his best years to the second World War, having been called up at 19 to serve in the army's anti-tank regiment.

He quit competitive golf in 1977 suffering back pain and tendonitis in his hands. He later had at least one back operation.