He earned his consummate fame on national golfing venues, but during the 10 of his 93 years he dedicated to Denver, Paul Scott Runyan made an indelible and endearing impression on the state of the game, his friends at Green Gables Country Club and throughout the state.
Widely acclaimed one of golf’s greatest teachers, particularly with the short game, Paul arrived at Green Gables in 1972, a decade after putting an exclamation point on a brilliant playing career by winning his second straight Senior PGA Championship.
Born in Hot Springs, Ark., in 1908, he grew into a 5-ft. 7-in, 140-pound dynamo earning the sobriquet of “Little Poison,” though the game’s greats thought Paul Runyan more closely resembled Paul Bunyan. He won the 1934 PGA Championship over his mentor, Craig Wood, and after thrashing Sam Snead 8 and 7 for the 1938 title, Snead exclaimed: “I don’t think anybody ever got more out of his short game than Paul Runyan. He could get the ball up and down out of a manhole.”
Notorious for the sway as he swung in vain attempts to get his drives 250 yards, he found himself out-driven 75-80 yards by Snead. But he was so deadly from 100 yards out that he birdied six of the seven par fives in their match. “This isn’t golf,” Snead snorted, “it’s magic.”
Runyan won 53 events world-wide, 29 on the PGA Tour, including seven events in both 1933 and 1934 when he also was the Tour’s leading money-winner. He contended in all nine Masters in which he played, taking third place in the 1934 inaugural and third again in his final appearance in 1942.
His teaching prowess was legend and over his 75 years as an instructor, he tutored Gene Littler, Phil Rodgers, Jim Feree and Mickey Wright. Golf Magazine once wrote, “… since the late 1930s, he has probably been the most influential short game instructor. Untold thousands have been taught his methods for putting and chipping.” Runyan wrote an influential book outlining his short game methods in 2000.
At age 91, astoundingly he competed in the annual Par-3 competition at the Masters. Teaching was Paul’s lifeblood and he continued enjoying it 20 years after leaving Green Gables, in southern California. He returned to Colorado twice, in 1998 and ’99 as guest short game guru at the Swing Dynamics Schools in Vail and maintained the Runyan Short Game School in Palm Desert with sons Paul and Jeff. He was still on Golf Digest’s top100 Teachers list when he died in March 2002, age 93.
In 1977, Paul won the national Horton Smith Award from the PGA of America, which gives it for developing and improving educational opportunities for PGA professionals.
Significantly, Runyan was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990 and the national PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame in 1959, after which the Paul Runyan Collegiate Golf Management Scholarship Program was created. Recipients of the scholarship include Mark Bacheldor from Aurora and Andrew Jokerst from Grand Junction.