Masters of Golf: Ralph Guldahl

By RON KEURAJIAN

—Autograph March 2009

A photo of Guldahl playing golf

One of the greatest mysteries in the history of golf centers around Mr. Ralph Guldahl. In the mid-to-late 1930s, Guldahl was on the top of the golf world—his game was absolutely stunning. Guldahl won three majors, the 1939 Masters and two consecutive US Open wins in 1937 and 1938. He also won the Western Open three years in a row, starting in 1936. Guldahl could do no wrong, until 1939 when things took a turn for the worst. His game disappeared like Judge Joe Crater and was never to be found again. Paul Runyan, 1934 PGA Champion and Hall of Famer, said it best: “It’s the most ridiculous thing, really. He went from being the absolute best player in the world to one who couldn’t play at all”

Though Guldahl’s success lasted a mere few years, his three Majors make his signature highly desirable. It’s one of the most difficult to analyze and many variations exist, making authentication difficult. Many forgeries are wrongly certified as genuine and many genuine signatures are wrongly pronounced as forgeries.

A Guldahl signature from 1939 that shows a nice flow

Guldahl had essentially two signatures during his playing days. The first is a very flowing signature and exhibits superior eye appeal; the letter construction is strong, and the hand is complex and artistic. This signature is extremely difficult to forge and no well executed forgeries of this form of signature exist. Around the same time in 1939, Guldahl signed completely different—in a hurried form that he usually signed at golf tournaments, where many fans clamored for his autograph. It has poor eye appeal and is just plain ugly. This form is often pronounced as a forgery but in fact it is genuine.

A hurried sample of Guldahl's signature from 1939

As the years progressed, Guldahl settled on one form of signature that he would use for the rest of his life. The hand is slightly jagged and lacks good flow. This form of signature is easy to replicate and well executed forgeries are on the market, so caution is warranted.

Though he died in 1987, Guldahl’s signature is scarce and premium items are rare. Most signatures that are available for purchase were signed during his playing plays, so album pages and golf scorecards are good sources of Guldahl signatures. Material signed after retirement is much more difficult to find than vintage ones. Typed letters, photos and government postcards are rare. Handwritten letters are even rarer—I have only run across two genuine examples. I have never seen a signed golf ball. The total population of Guldahl signatures is low and supply is far outweighed by demand.

The last form of Guldahl's signature used for the remainder of his life

In retirement Guldahl embarked on a career in insurance and in the late 1950s accepted the position of director of golf at the Braemar Country Club in California, where he remained for the rest of his life. Infirmity of hand affected his signature before he died at the age of 76. Material penned in the last few years of his life show a slight choppiness and is obviously labored in appearance.

Being an early Masters champion makes for an expensive signature. Here’s a price guide in short: A signature is valued at $500 with a government postcard valued at $750; a nicely signed 8×10 photo is a rarity and will sell for $1,500; typed letters signed will sell for $750-$1000 and autographed letters signed sell for $1,500-$2,000.

One final note regarding the mystery of Ralph Guldahl, to this day golf experts have tried to solve the riddle of the demise of his game. Guldahl said he simply lost interest in the game, others blamed it on his weight gain, but the truth appears to be more disturbing and just plain creepy. It was a simple golf instruction book that was the undoing of the great Guldahl. Back in 1939 Guldahl wrote a book titled Groove Your Golf and after he wrote it, his game would never be the same. He over analyzed himself and it ruined his swing forever. “I wrote that God damn book!” Guldahl reportedly said and the rest as they say is golf history. If you ever run across a signed copy of this book, you may want to avoid it altogether. It is said to be cursed, or so the old-time golfers tell me.

About Steve Cyrkin, Editor

Steve Cyrkin is the editor & publisher of Autograph, and focuses mostly on forgery, market and consumer protection issues.

Comments

  1. Ron Guerra says:

    I have a copy of the 1937 Book entitled From TEE “T” to CUP it contains a signature from Ralph Guldahl. Do you have any interest in making me an offer?