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Memorial Memories – Maltbie “Stakes” Claim to Inaugural Event

Roger Maltbie Wins in Playoff in 1976 to Remember

A brand new course and a brand new event around a unique idea by Jack Nicklaus were the parts to the 3 pronged approach to the Memorial Tournament in 1976.

Jack designed a course that had a resemblance to one of his favorites in the US (Augusta) named after one of his favorites in the world (Muirfield) and in the first year honoring his favorite player of all time (Bob Jones).

Oh yes, there was a tournament to play as well.  After 72 holes of regulation, two were tied:  2-time US Open Champion Hale Irwin and fun loving journeyman 26 year old Roger Maltbie, in his 2nd year on tour and sometimes known as “Michelob Maltbie” (the beer company’s logo that was donned his golf bag).

Roger Maltbie wins the Inaugural Memorial Tournament in 1976 with runner up Hale Irwin in the background (photo Golf History Today)

The two men were set to embark on an unprecedented three-hole aggregate-score play-off for the first Memorial Tournament title. Maltbie, donned in his Grand Slam/Munsingwear shirt and colorful patterned slacks that looked as if they resembled Hugh Hefner’s wallpaper, knew he was the underdog. He could sense that Irwin was the crowd favorite, and got the feeling that Irwin was irritated to be playing extra holes when he could have won Jack Nicklaus’ regal new event in regulation.

Perplexed by his opponent’s brusqueness, Maltbie shuffled back to his golf bag After an awkward few seconds, his caddie, Jeff Burrell, leaned over and whispered, “How about that? He thinks he’s going to win.”

After tying the first 2 holes, the pair were playing 17 where Maltbie snap hooked his 4-iron way left.  However, waiting on it was a gallery stake which the ball bounced off of and onto the green 15 feet from the hole (see video clip).  Irwin was a bit taken aback by Maltbie’s luck and missed a 10 footer for birdie sending the playoff into one additional hole.

Irwin used up four strokes on 18 and broke his 5-iron on the way to the green. He never holed out because Maltbie sank and 18-foot birdie putt for his third career victory, worth $40,000.

In the craziness that followed, a tournament volunteer retrieved the stake and gave it to Maltbie, who proudly displayed it for the media. Then, he put it in his golf bag as a keepsake. However, at the next stop, the Kemper Open, Maltbie left it behind under his hotel room bed.