One of the most underrated golfers in history, Middlecoff won more PGA Tour events in the 1950’s than any other player. He effectively ended his career in 1961 having won 40 Tour events and 3 major championships (2 U.S. Opens and a Masters) in only 14 years of competing. He showed promise as a youngster, earning All-American honors twice at the University of Tennessee and the University Dental School where he graduated with a DDS degree in 1944 (thus the moniker of Dr. Cary Middlecoff) and won a Tour event as an amateur before entering into the armed service in the U.S. Army Dental Corps. After the war he started his career he gave up dentistry to become a full time golfer and turned pro in 1947. He won his first tournament that year, two more in 1948, then hit his stride with 6 wins an a U.S. Open championship in 1949. He won multiple tournaments 7 out of 10 years in the decade of the 50’s, but by 1960 he began suffering from debilitating back problems which led to an early semi-retirement at age 41.
We can see from Middlecoff’s swing that at least some of his back issues may have been a result of his swing mechanics. The overdriving knees and bent back finish were hallmarks of 50’s and 60’s swing styles, but Middlecoff, due to the reverse movement of both the hands and the shaft in transition had no choice but to lower excessively and snap his hips backward and out of the way in the impact area. This action, in combination with a huge forward push of the knees into and past impact and a seeming attempt to keep the head well behind the ball all the way to the finish, would appear to have put tremendous stress on Middlecoff’s lower and middle back, although without that move he would never have hit the ball as well as he did. One of the most interesting things about Middlecoff’s swing is his trigger movement, where the lowering of the head and counter rotation of the hips before the club ever moves is quite reminiscent of Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson.