Hale Irwin was born on June 3, 1945, in Joplin, Missouri, but it was in Baxter Springs, Kansas, where Hale and his father spent countless hours on the sand greens at their local municipal golf course. He took up the game at age 4, and it was the work on those sand greens that helped Hale break 70 for the first time at age 14. The Irwin family relocated to Boulder, Colo., where Hale began to star at the prep level in golf, football and baseball. Hale led Boulder High School to a state title in football as their quarterback his senior year, earning him a scholarship to the University of Colorado.
Irwin was a two-sport athlete at Colorado, excelling in golf and football. He graduated in 1967 and decided to pursue a golf career, turning professional a year later. He won his first PGA TOUR event at the 1971 Sea Pines Heritage Classic at Harbour Town Golf Links, the first golf course to be designed by Memorial Tournament Founder and Host Jack Nicklaus.
During his illustrious career, Irwin won three U.S. Opens and 20 PGA TOUR events in all. He played on five U.S. Ryder Cup teams, captained the 1994 U.S. Presidents Cup team, and won a record 45 times on the PGA TOUR Champions to become the most decorated player in the history of senior golf. Leader in career earnings on the PGA TOUR Champions with more than $26 million, Irwin's success in U.S. Golf Association events carried over to his senior golf career. He won two U.S. Senior Open titles and seven senior majors overall.
Irwin's record in the U.S. Open also cements his spot among golf's legends. With 11 years between his second and third titles, he ties Julius Boros for the longest span of years between victories. He is the last winner who received a special exemption (1990), and that same year, he became the last winner to birdie the 72nd hole to force a playoff. His victory at age 45 years and 15 days also makes him the oldest U.S. Open champion. Only Willie Anderson, Bob Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus have more U.S. Open victories.
"Hale was truly one of the great golfers and athletes we ever had playing on the PGA TOUR" Nicklaus said. "He was a terrific golfer. He always had tremendous integrity. He's been a terrific family man. Hale has always been one of the purest strikers of the golf ball. You knew when you got to a difficult golf course that Hale Irwin was going to be there somewhere. He was probably the best senior player we've ever had on the PGA TOUR Champions."