(Reuters) – Californian Gene Littler, a U.S. Open champion and Hall of Fame golfer, has died at the age of 88, the PGA Tour announced on Saturday.
Littler, whose silky smooth swing earned him the nickname “Gene the Machine”, won 29 PGA Tour events, as well as two in Japan.
Those victories included the 1961 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills in Michigan.
That career-defining victory came seven years after he was beaten by a stroke in another U.S. Open at Baltusrol.
He also lost playoffs in two other majors — the 1970 Masters and the 1977 PGA Championship.
Littler made history in the latter, when he was part of the first sudden-death major championship playoff. He was beaten by Lanny Wadkins at Pebble Beach.
“His rhythmic swing that earned him his distinctive nickname remains in our minds a thing of beauty,” PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan said in a statement.
“San Diego has produced great champions like Billy Casper, Phil Mickelson and Mickey Wright. Gene Littler stood right there beside those giants of the game, and we mourn the passing of a tremendous golfer, husband and father.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Toby Davis