Paul Runyan, a two-time PGA Championship winner who earned the nickname "Little Poison" for his devastating short game that often bested longer-driving opponents, died of pneumonia Sunday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs. He was 93.
One of the few surviving players of the first Masters tournament in 1934, Runyan was a golf instructor at a Palm Desert course until the last few weeks of his life.
Runyan, who won an estimated 50 tournaments in his career, played in an era that included some of the legendary names in the game, including Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazan and Sam Snead.
When the first Masters--then called the Augusta Invitational--was held, he was coming off a year in which he won nine tournaments.
Runyan tied for third with Billy Burke at 286, two shots behind winner Horton Smith and one behind Craig Wood. The purse was $5,000.
In 1934, he won six tournaments and the first of his two PGA championships by beating Wood--his former tutor--1-up on the 38th hole. (The PGA was a match-play event until 1958). Runyan was the tour's leading money winner that year, with $6,767 after finishing 12 times in the top three.
In 1938, he bested the longer-driving Snead for his second PGA championship, winning 8 and 7 in match play.
Runyan was fifth in the U.S. Open in 1941, and finished sixth in the same tournament 10 years later.
He played on the Ryder Cup teams in 1933 and 1935, losing in the first but winning in both foursomes and singles two years later.
In his later years, Runyan played on the Seniors Tour. He was runner-up in the U.S. PGA Seniors in 1959, and won it in 1961 and 1962.
When he wasn't playing in major tournaments, Runyan could be found at local courses. He was the golf professional at Annandale Golf Club in Pasadena, La Jolla Country Club, Sahalee Country Club outside Seattle and Green Gables in Colorado.
He was a noted teacher and expert at helping golfers with elements of their short games.
"If you [have] master putting, chipping and short-pitching, you've got golf 65% to 80% whipped," he said at a mini-clinic last year.
Former PGA champion Gene Littler, who grew up playing in La Jolla, recalled Runyan as a player who was full of energy.
"He would work in the shop, run out to the practice tee, run back to the shop," Littler told Associated Press. "I never saw him walk."
"I saw him play some marvelous shots around the green," Littler added. "I learned a lot from him."
Born in Hot Springs, Ark., Runyon would make money as a boy by shagging golfers' stray shots, making a quarter for every ball he found. As he grew older, he would sneak away from his chores on his family's dairy farm to hone his skills on a neighboring golf course.
By age 13, he was caddying, and he turned pro at 17. He caught on as an assistant to club pro Craig Wood at Forest Hills Golf Course in White Plains, N.Y.
Thirteen years later, Runyan defeated Wood for his first PGA championship.
As he neared the age of 90, Runyan was still shooting in the mid-70s on the 6,418-yard, par 70 Annandale course.
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, I beat my age," he said. "I can still have a terrible game and beat my age."
Runyan is survived by two sons and two grandsons.
Funeral arrangements are pending.