In honor of this year’s 50th anniversary of Irwin’s first PGA Tour win, let’s rank the best men and women golfers of all time who grew up in Colorado
By Gary Baines – 2/1/2021
Late this year, Hale Irwin will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first PGA Tour victory. The Boulder High School and University of Colorado graduate captured the title at the Sea Pines Heritage Classic in November 1971.
Since then, Irwin has tacked on another 19 PGA Tour wins — including three U.S. Opens — and a record 45 triumphs on PGA Tour Champions.
It’s little wonder why Irwin is considered — far and away — the top golfer of all time who grew up in Colorado.
Given Irwin’s gold anniversary this year, we thought we’d take a look at the top golfers ever who spent at least a handful of years of their youth residing in the Centennial State. In other words, golfers with strong Colorado roots.
We fully realize there are numerous very accomplished players who moved to Colorado as adults, in many cases after doing their top work as golfers as residents of other states. That includes golfers such as David Duval, Justin Leonard, Craig Stadler, Martin Laird, Chris DiMarco, Gary Hallberg and Mark Wiebe. But that’s not our focus here.
For our purposes we’ll also exclude players who spent a very brief time in Colorado during their youth. Most notably, that would include Mike Reid, who lived in the state for just 18 months during his high school days. Instead, we’re looking for graduates of Colorado high schools and/or golfers who lived in the state for at least five years as a youngster.
As far as rating those players, we’ll look at their entire careers, not just the time they spent in Colorado. And, obviously, wins on the PGA or LPGA Tours are weighted more heavily than ones in amateur golf, based sheerly on strength of field.
Without further ado, here’s Colorado’s all-time best of the best:
TOP 10 MEN
1. Hale Irwin
— Age: 75.
— Alum of which high school: Boulder H.S.; also graduated from the University of Colorado.
— Pro highlights: 20 PGA Tour victories, including three U.S. Open titles. A record 45 PGA Tour Champions wins, with seven senior major championships. $5,966,031 in career PGA Tour earnings, plus 27,158,515 on PGA Tour Champions. Inducted into World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992. Competed in five Ryder Cups and the inaugural President’s Cup.
— Amateur highlights: Won 1967 NCAA national individual title and the prestigious Broadmoor Invitation that same year. Captured three consecutive CGA Amateurs, one CGA Match Play, one CGA Junior Match Play and one state high school individual title.
2. Steve Jones
— Age: 62.
— Alum of which high school: Yuma H.S.; also attended the University of Colorado.
— Pro highlights: Despite some major injuries and medical issues during his career, Jones chalked up eight PGA Tour victories, including the 1996 U.S. Open. Won the 1988 Colorado Open. $6,519,451 in career PGA Tour earnings, along with $1,019,160 on PGA Tour Champions.
— Amateur highlights: Won 1980 CGA Match Play and 1981 CGA Amateur.
3. Dale Douglass
— Age: 84.
— Alum of which high school: Fort Morgan H.S.; also attended the University of Colorado. Lived in Castle Pines.
— Pro highlights: Three PGA Tour wins and 11 victories on PGA Tour Champions, including the 1986 U.S. Senior Open. Earned $577,950 on PGA Tour, along with $7,019,089 on PGA Tour Champions. Won the 1978 Jerry Ford Invitational in Vail; the 1983
Frontier Airlines Pro-Am at The Broadmoor Golf Club, where he beat PGA Tour veterans Billy Casper and Don January; the 1983 Colorado PGA Professional Championship; and the 1965 Arizona Open.
— Amateur highlights: Owned a 30-9 record in dual matches at CU.
T4. Kevin Stadler
— Age: 40.
— Alum of which high school: Kent Denver. Lives in Denver part time.
— Pro highlights: Won 2014 Waste Management Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour. Has earned $9,712,447 in PGA Tour career. Also owns four victories on the Korn Ferry Tour, a victory on the European Tour and at the 2005 Argentine Open. Claimed the 2002 Colorado Open title in his pro debut and won a PNC Championship with dad Craig.
— Amateur highlights: Won the CGA Match Play twice, the IMG Academy Junior World Championship in 1997, and a state high school individual title, also in ’97. Was Pac-10 Player of the Year as a senior at Southern California.
T4. Jonathan Kaye
— Age: 50.
— Where resided in Colorado as a youth: Denver part-time after being born in the city; lived in Phoenix during the school year. Went to college at CU. Lives in Boulder part-time.
— Pro highlights: Won twice on the PGA Tour. Also won the CoBank Colorado Open twice — 21 years apart. Earned $10,597,848 in career PGA Tour earnings.
— Amateur highlights: Beat Phil Mickelson in a playoff to win the 1992 Ping Intercollegiate as a CU golfer. Won the 1992 CGA Public Links title.
6. Bob Byman
— Age: 65.
— Alum of which high school: Fairview H.S.
— Pro highlights: Won once on the PGA Tour, the 1979 Bay Hill Citrus Classic. Also captured four titles on the European Tour, along with the New Zealand Open
— Amateur highlights: Claimed a national championship at the 1972 U.S. Junior Amateur and played in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that year. Helped Wake Forest win two NCAA national team titles in the mid-1970s. While still in high school duplicated Hale Irwin’s feat of a decade before by winning three consecutive CGA Amateurs (1971-73). He also captured a state high school title in 1973.
7. Brandt Jobe
— Age: 55.
— Alum of which high school: Kent Denver.
— Pro highlights: Two PGA Tour Champions victories, along with four runner-ups in 337 starts on the PGA Tour, where he won more than $9 million. Has also captured a dozen times internationally, 10 coming in Asia. And Jobe also claimed the championship in the 1992 Colorado Open.
— Amateur highlights: Helped UCLA win the NCAA national team title in 1988. Won three CGA Match Plays, one CGA Amateur, a CGA Junior Stroke Play and a CGA Junior Match Play in the 1980s.
T8. Mark Hubbard
— Age: 31.
— Alum of which high school: Colorado Academy.
— Pro highlights: Tied for second in the 2019 Houston Open, marking his best PGA Tour finish to date. Has played in 119 PGA Tour events, earning almost $3.3 million. Also has won once on the Korn Ferry Tour and once on PGA Tour Canada.
— Amateur highlights: Won the individual title at the inaugural Mark Simpson Colorado Invitational in 2010 as a senior at San Jose State. As a junior golfer, won the boys 16-18 Optimist International title in 2006, and swept the CGA Junior Match Play and Junior Stroke Play titles in 2007.
T8. Wyndham Clark
— Age: 27.
— Alum of which high school: Valor Christian.
— Pro highlights: Finished second in a playoff at the Bermuda Championship in early November for his best PGA Tour showing to date. He’s now earned almost $2.9 million in his first 66 PGA Tour starts. Clark also has a second and third place to his credit on the Korn Ferry Tour.
— Amateur highlights: Won the 2017 Pac-12 Conference individual and team titles at Boulder Country Club, where he also captured the 2010 CGA Amateur crown at age 16. It was the third individual victory of Clark’s senior season in college. He was a rare college player who was named player of the year in two separate conferences — the Big 12 (while at Oklahoma State) and the Pac-12 (Oregon). Clark was one of the top junior players in the country and won the 2009 Colorado Junior Amateur by 11 shots and two state high school titles.
10. Bill Loeffler
— Age: 64.
— Alum of which high school: Cherry Creek H.S. Lives in Castle Pines.
— Professional highlights: Has won two PGA of America national titles — the 1992 PGA Assistant Professional Championship and 2007 Senior PGA Professional Championship. Has the distinction of winning the Colorado Open at three different courses (Hiwan, Inverness and Green Valley Ranch), plus the 2009 Colorado Senior Open. Only Dave Hill (four victories) has won the Colorado Open more times. Loeffler has also triumphed in three Colorado PGA Professional Championships and one Rocky Mountain Open.
— Amateur highlights: Won the 1986 U.S. Mid-Amateur title and played in the 1987 Walker Cup and the 1988 Masters. In Colorado, claimed titles in the 1976 CGA Amateur and the 1973 state high school tournament.
Men’s Honorable Mention
— Babe Lind: Played in 1947 Masters, was a Trans-Miss runner-up and won three CGA Amateurs and one CGA Match Play during the 1940s, along with three Colorado junior state titles in the late ’30s. Also won four conference titles while at the University of Denver.
— R.W. Eaks: Won four times on PGA Tour Champions, three times on the Korn Ferry Tour, one Arizona Open and one Colorado Senior Open. Also played in 77 PGA Tour events, placing in the top 10 twice.
TOP 3 WOMEN
T1. Jennifer Kupcho
— Age: 23.
— Alum of which high school: Jefferson Academy.
— Professional highlights: In just a year and a half as a pro — and 36 starts — has won $906,592 on the LPGA Tour, with four top-5 finishes and two runner-ups, including one in a major championship. Captured her first pro title at the 2020 CoBank Colorado Women’s Open.
— Amateur highlights: Won the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019 and the NCAA Division I national title in 2018 after being the college runner-up in 2017. Was the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world for 34 weeks before turning pro in late May 2019. Won nine individual titles while competing for Wake Forest. Represented U.S. on winning teams at the Curtis Cup, Arnold Palmer Cup and women’s World Amateur Team Championship (2018), finishing second individually in the world event. Won the Canadian Women’s Amateur in 2017. Played in two U.S. Women’s Opens as an amateur, placing 21st in 2017. In Colorado, captured three CWGA Stroke Play championships — with winning margins of 21 shots, 19 shots and 13 shots — and two CWGA Match Plays. Won two state high school individual titles and four major junior titles in the state.
T1. Jill McGill
— Age: 49.
— Alum of which high school: Cherry Creek H.S.
— Professional highlights: Won $2,341,941 in a long LPGA Tour career, recording 24 top-10 finishes in 361 starts. She finished second twice and third twice on the world’s top women’s golf circuit, along with placing runner-up in the 1995 Women’s British Open.
— Amateur highlights: Won two USGA individual national championships, the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1993 and the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 1994, and she finished runner-up in the ’94 U.S. Women’s Am. Played on the U.S. Curtis Cup team in 1994. Posted two top-10 individual finishes at the NCAA national championships (fourth and ninth) while playing for Southern California. In Colorado, won the 1988 CWGA Junior Match Play and the first sanctioned Colorado girls state high school tournament (1990).
3. Lauren Howe
— Age: 61.
— Alum of which high school: St. Mary’s H.S. in Colorado Springs. Lives in Aurora.
— Professional highlights: After turning pro at age 18 — and winning the LPGA’s Q-school tournament —Howe’s long LPGA Tour career was highlighted by a victory in the 1983 Mayflower Classic. She also lost in a playoff at the 1986 Mazda Hall of Fame Championship. All told, Howe notched five top-10 finish in 172 LPGA starts, earning $236,084.
— Amateur highlights: At age 15, Howe finished second — to Nancy Lopez — at the 1974 U.S. Girls’ Junior. She was the stroke-play co-medalist in the same event in 1975. Qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at 17 and finished 39th. That same year — 1976 — Howe won the Mexican Women’s Amateur. The next year, she claimed the title in the Women’s Western Amateur. In Colorado won the CWGA Stroke Play at age 16 in 1975, the same year she captured the CWGA Junior Match Play. Girls high school golf in Colorado wasn’t an officially sanctioned sport until 1990, but Howe was the No. 1 player on the boys team at St. Mary’s in Colorado Springs for the three years she spent in high school.
Women’s Honorable Mention
— Kim Eaton: Among Eaton’s record-tying 25 CWGA titles are four Stroke Plays and one Match Play. The former professional is a four-time quarterfinalist in the U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur and qualified for two U.S. Senior Opens, placing 63rd in 1982. Has twice won senior titles in the prestigious Ione D. Jones/Doherty national women’s amateur championship. Eaton has also claimed a plethora of state championships in Arizona and one in California.
— Dana Howe: Won the prestigious Broadmoor Ladies Invitation in 1982, when she beat the NCAA champion. Represented the U.S. in the 1984 Curtis Cup competition and played on the LPGA Tour. Claimed three college individual titles at the University of New Mexico. Won two CWGA Stroke Plays and one CWGA Junior Match Play.
— Becca Huffer: Twice a winner of the CoBank Colorado Women’s Open and played a year on the LPGA Tour (2019), with a best finish of 76th. As a 15-year-old, claimed the CWGA Match Play in 2005, the same year she won the CWGA Junior Stroke Play. Won two state high school individual titles, with the second one coming by 13 strokes. Also earned one individual college victory while at Notre Dame.