MARCO ISLAND, Fla. -- Gene Sarazen was remembered Monday as the last of golf's early ambassadors, one whose love for the game was as apparent in his final shot as in his most famous one.
"He was a little man with a big smile," 1964 U.S. Open champion Ken Venturi told mourners at Sarazen's funeral. "A boy wonder who emerged from the hickory-stick era."
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and LPGA founding member Patty Berg were among some 800 friends and family who gathered at San Marco Church to remember "The Squire" -- a nickname Sarazen earned for his elegant style and fashionable knickers. He died Thursday at 97 from complications of pneumonia.
The center of the church altar contained an arrangement of at least five dozen red roses standing about three feet high. On a pedestal behind it was a white golf hat.
Just five weeks ago, Sarazen hit the ceremonial first drive at Augusta National for the Masters. Venturi said those who were there were lucky to see his last shot.
"He gave strength in times of weakness, he gave courage in times of fear and above all, he gave love in times of doubt," said Venturi, now a television analyst. "Each day I think of Gene, I will always smile."
It was another shot in 1935 for which he is best known -- the one that helped put the Masters on the map.
Then called the Augusta National Invitation Tournament, Sarazen trailed Craig Wood by three shots when his drive at the par-5 15th hole left him 235 yards from the pin. His caddie wanted him to hit a 3-wood over the pond, but Sarazen insisted on a 4-wood.
He swung and the ball hit the pin and dropped for a double-eagle 2, the rarest shot in golf. Sarazen tied Wood in regulation and beat him in a playoff.
The golf ball and the 4-wood Sarazen used are in a trophy case at Augusta National.
But as much as golf fans will remember for the "shot heard 'round the world," Father William McConville said Sarazen will be remembered for his generosity.
"The man is a legend and we gather and celebrate him as a legend," said McConville, former president of Siena College in Albany, N.Y. "But let's be honest: As important as golf is, it is only a game."
Sarazen received an honorary doctorate from Siena in 1978. Three years later, he started an annual tournament that has provided 68 scholarships through The Gene & Mary Sarazen Scholarship Fund.
"It's the quality of our heart that will be judged and not the quality of our short game," McConville said.
Sarazen, who began caddying when he was 8, burst onto the scene in 1922 to win the U.S. Open. He won his second major later that year in the PGA Championship.
Asked two years ago what he thought about Tiger Woods winning the Masters at age 21, Sarazen quipped, "I won two majors when I was 20."
He won seven major championships in all -- the PGA three times, the U.S. Open twice and the Masters and British Open once. Only Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus have managed to win the career Grand Slam -- the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA.
Sarazen also invented the sand wedge, which can be found in almost every golf bag.
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