Should you ever want to stump your mates with a golf trivia question, or at least attempt to, because Australian’s knowledge of sports either borders on or is squarely inside the realm of encyclopedic, ask them to name the golfer who is number four all-time on the list of PGA Tour of Australasia wins.
If you want to be generous and provide a clue, mention that this golfer trails Hall of Famers Greg Norman by one and Peter Thomson by three. Together, these three men are clustered in the low thirties in Australasian Tour wins, far behind another golfer you may never have heard of, Kel Nagle, who has 61.
Unlike Nagle, Norman and Thomson, this golfer never won one of the four Majors, but in 1947, he did win the Harry Vardon Trophy, also known as the Order of Merit, which was at that time awarded to the golfer with the lowest stroke average in the major stoke play events, with a minimum requirement of 20 rounds, including four in the British Open, or as the Brits would prefer us to call it, The Open Championship.
Our golfer won with the lowest average 71.25, over the highest number of rounds, 52. Greg Norman won that award in 1986 and 1988. Peter Thomson never did and neither did Kel Nagle.
Born 14 February 1914 in the western Sydney suburb of Strathfield, the answer to our trivia question is Norman Von Nida.
He first came to the attention of the Australian golf world when he won the Queensland Amateur at the age of 18, after which, in 1933, he turned professional. His career was interrupted by World War II, when he was in his prime years as a golfer, but since many people can same the same thing, it is not necessary to speculate on what may have been. He did win in 1940 and picked right up in 1946.
Norm Von Nida’s first professional victory on the PGATOA was in the 1935 Queensland Open. He won a similarly named event in 1936, but the New South Wales PGA sanctioned this Queensland Open.
In 1937, he again won the Queensland Open on the PGATOA, which he did in 1940, 1949, and 1953 and for the seventh time in 1961, perhaps causing many Queenslanders to wish that he would stay in New South Wales, where he belonged.
In 1938 and 1939, he won the Philippine Open, and did stay close to home to win the New South Wales Open. He played in the first of his two U.S. Opens in 1939, but managed only a tie for 59thin the year that Iron Byron Nelson had to survive a three-way 18 hole playoff to earn his $1,000 winners’ check. Von Nida would try again in 1950, but did not make the cut.
After his 1940 win of the Queensland Open, World War II intervened. When he came back to next compete in 1946, he won four times, with the two most significant being the Australian PGA Championship and the New South Wales Open.
He traveled to England for the first time in 1946 and finished second in the Order of Merit to South Africa’s Bobby Locke, who would take that award twice more, in 1950 and 1954.
Von Nida became the first Australian golfer to make regular appearances in the winners’ circle on the British tour.
Perhaps his best year as a professional was 1947, when he won eight times and collected his Vardon Trophy. Two of those wins featured ties with other golfers. One of these was the Yorkshire Evening New Tournament, which at the time had recently switched from a match play format to a stroke play format, apparently with no provision for a tiebreaker.
Von Nida was tied by England’s Henry Cotton, a previous winner of the tournament, and the two men shared the purse for first and second, each of them earning £150. Von Nida was second alone in the 1948 edition of the tournament, losing by three strokes to Charlie Ward of England. Von Nida was at the head of the list in terms of money for that year, collecting £3263 in prize money.
A similar situation occurred in the 1947 Penfold Tournament, except that this time, it was Dai Rees and Reg Whitcombe forming the tie with Von Nida.
Norm Von Nida won his second New South Wales Open that year, also.
The following year was also a peak one for him. He won the British Masters, his second Australian PGA Championship and his third New South Wales Open. His best finish in a Major was the 1948 tie for third place in The Open Championship.
He won three more times in 1949, including his fifth Queensland Open. He won his first Australian Open in 1950, along with his third Australian PGA victory. He made the best of his three finishes in The Masters, a tie for 27th. Which he matched in 1941, and completed with 43rd in 1947.
In 1951, he again won the Australian PGA, and in the truth is stranger than fiction department, he once again tied with Dai Rees in the Yorkshire Evening New Tournament.
The first of two consecutive Australian Opens came in 1952, which added to his win in 1950, gave him two to date. His third came in 1953, the year that he won his sixth Queensland Open.
Now 40 years of age, Von Nida started to wind things down a bit, at least in terms of wins. He had just the New South Wales Open in 1954. Seven years later, however, in an age where a professional golfer was considered far beyond his prime, he won his seventh Queensland Open. Four years later, he won for the final time, the North Coast Open.
In 32 years of professional golf, he had 45 professional wins to his credit. We average duffers can relate to him from the perspective that he was known to throw or break his putter, or even lose them completely in the middle of a round, when he missed a putt.
The Von Nida Tour, a developmental tour of the PGATOA, is named in his honour. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1985 and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1989 as an athlete and coach. He was rated in the top half dozen players in the world at his peak, and players such as Gary Player, Peter Thomson, Bruce Crampton and Bruce Devlin all credit him with a role in giving them the confidence to compete at the international level.