Don January, Who Won the 1967 P.G.A. Title, Dies at 93
Don January, who won the 1967 P.G.A. Championship and became one of the early stars on golf’s Senior Tour, winning 22 events in its first decade, died on Sunday at his home in Dallas. He was 93.
His death was announced by the PGA Tour.
“I’m just a damned old pro from Dallas, Texas, who was lucky enough to have a swing that lasted for a while,” January told Sports Illustrated in 1998, the year before he retired.
January, who turned pro in 1955, won 10 PGA Tour events in 10 different years, most notably the 1967 P.G.A. Championship, when he defeated his fellow Texan Don Massengale by two strokes in a playoff at the Columbine Country Club near Denver. Six years earlier, he was beaten by Jerry Barber in a P.G.A. Championship playoff.
January, at 46, won the Vardon Trophy for the PGA Tour’s lowest scoring average, 70.56, in 1976, the same year he captured the Tournament of Champions. He played on victorious Ryder Cup teams in 1965 and 1977.
The idea for a Senior Tour received a boost in 1979 when Roberto De Vicenzo teamed with Julius Boros to defeat Tommy Bolt and Art Wall Jr. on the sixth hole of a playoff in the Legends of Golf, a made-for-television competition in its second year, showcasing two-man teams of older players.
“I was playing on the regular tour at New Orleans and didn’t see the show,” January recalled in a 1985 interview with The Los Angeles Times. “But all we heard the rest of 1979 on the tour was what a sensation it was.”
In January 1980, January met with his fellow pros Gardner Dickinson, Sam Snead, Bob Goalby, Dan Sikes and Boros to help lay the groundwork for the PGA Tour to create a Senior Tour.
As January remembered it, his small group of pros “decided there might be a market for a modest tour,” though “we had no idea it would grow the way it did.”
January won the Senior Tour’s first event, the Atlantic City Seniors, which attracted 50 pro golfers and 12 amateurs age 50 or older. He earned only $20,000 (the equivalent of about $73,000 today) for capturing the June 1980 tournament, but senior events, now part of the Champions Tour, have proved a lucrative showcase for many of the game’s leading players over 50.
January won the tour’s PGA Seniors’ Championship in 1982, and three years later he became the first player with $1 million in winnings as a senior (about $2.8 million in today’s money). He gained his 22nd and final senior victory in 1987.
Donald Ray January was born on Nov. 29, 1929, in Plainview, Texas, the son of a roofing contractor. The family moved to Dallas when he was a child, and he began hitting golf balls at age 8 on a municipal course.
January played on N.C.A.A. championship teams at North Texas State College in Denton (now the University of North Texas), then served in the Air Force before turning pro. His first PGA Tour victory came in 1956 when he won the Dallas Centennial Open. He lost four times in playoffs before besting Massengale in an 18-hole playoff at the 1967 P.G.A. Championship.
January quit the PGA Tour in 1972 to design golf courses, but the venture proved unsuccessful financially, and he returned two years later. His last regular tour victory came in 1976, in the MONY Tournament of Champions (now the Sentry Tournament of Champions, held in early January on the island of Maui in Hawaii), though he continued to play on the regular tour until 1984 while competing as a senior player.
Heis survived by a daughter,Cherie Depuy; two sons, Tim and Richard;six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
He was elected to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1979.
For many years, January sponsored the Don January Golf Classic in the Dallas-Fort Worth area to fund scholarships at the University of North Texas.
A lanky 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, January was an unflappable figure as he walked the courses, his shirt collar tucked up. As he told The Dallas Morning News in 1999: “People thought I was a cool cat from east Dallas. All I was trying to do was to keep the back of my neck from sunburn so I could sleep on it.”
His dry wit was in evidence after he won the P.G.A. Championship, when he was asked about his approach to golf. “Just tee up and hit it,” he said, “and when you find it, hit it again.”