The San Diego region has cultivated many world-famous, award-winning athletes in a variety of different sports, including baseball star Ted Williams, football’s Marcus Allen, track and field star Gail Devers, and basketball phenomenon Bill Walton.
Golf is no exception. Amid PGA’s exciting golf scene in the 1960s, Billy Casper, Gene Littler and Phil Rodgers were known as the 1-2-3 punch from San Diego. Scott Simpson, also a San Diego native, grew up watching these three golf greats, just as local Phil Mickelson grew up admiring Simpson’s game. Mickelson, on his way to surpassing the foursome, is challenging Casper’s status as San Diego’s most successful player with his collection of wins.
Following is a highlight of San Diego’s most successful professional golfers:
Billy Casper is the first San Diegan to win 3 majors. A two-time PGA player of the year (1966, 1970), he also has two U.S. Open wins (1959, 1966), one Masters win (1970), and one U.S. Senior Open win (1983). Casper was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978 with 51 PGA Tour wins and nine Senior Tour wins.
Gene Littler, credited as one of the new breed of college-educated golfers to turn professional in the 1950s, is known for his smooth, rhythmical swing. A San Diego State University alumnus, Littler won the U.S. Open in 1961 and had acquired five PGA Tour wins and eight Senior Tour wins by the time he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990.
Phil Mickelson, recent winner of the 2010 Masters, is one of San Diego’s most famous golfers. A local high school golf star, Mickelson continued his career at Arizona State University, winning three NCAA championships. He then moved into the PGA where he currently has 40 PGA Tour victories, including three Masters wins (2004, 2006, 2010) and one PGA Championship (2005). Mickelson and his family still reside in San Diego County.
Phil Rodgers, one of the game’s finest amateurs of his time and the 1958 NCAA champion, was named on the Top 100 Teachers List for 2005-2006 by Golf Magazine. Rodgers became a premier short game instructor after his time on the PGA Tour, having been credited with helping Jack Nicklaus end his “slump” by winning the 1980 U.S. Open.
Scott Simpson, a professional on the PGA Tour since 1979, won his first and only U.S. Open title in 1987, dueling Tom Watson in the final round. Simpson, with seven other PGA Tour wins, finished 2nd place twice on the PGA Champions Tour in 2006.