Kel Nagle was born in North Sydney and because of five-and-a-half years of World War II military service (1939–45), Nagle got a late start on pro golf, as he played no golf between ages 19 and 24, and turned pro at age 25 (1946). He made up for lost time by winning at least one tournament each year from 1949 to 1975.
During his early career, he had a long swing and was regarded as the longest hitter on the Australasia tour, as evidenced by the Australian press dubbing him as “the Pymble Crusher”. By age 39 (in 1960, when he won The Open Championship), Nagle had shortened his swing and become a straight hitter with what Gary Player described as “the best short game out here”.
Nagle claimed seven New Zealand Open crowns across a 13-year period in which he also finished runner up three times, and third twice. He sits tied second for the most New Zealand Open titles with Andrew Shaw, and two behind Peter Thomson.
1957 New Zealand Open: Played at Hokowhitu on October 10, 11 and 12, was played with the Manawatu Golf Club’s course in a heavy, and often muddy condition. The return of Thomson and Nagle along with the popular David Thomas from Wales was a big drawcard for the large galleries.
After two days Nagle with 72-73-145 and Thomson 74-71-145 was both two strokes clear of Thomas, with Charles four further back. The final day saw the latter two play well below their potential, leaving Nagle, at thirty-six years of age, to claim his first National Open title.
1958 New Zealand Open: One of the strongest fields seen in New Zealand gathered at St Andrews, Hamilton on October 16 to 18. The usual strong group of Australians, led by Thomson and titleholder Nagle were joined by David Thomas along with Gary Player and Harold Henning from South Africa.
The latter two began strongly and led after two days with 138, but were overtaken by the leading Australians with remarkable putting by Nagle on the final day.
While Thomson equalled the Open scoring record of 280, Nagle created a new mark with 278 and his third-round 65 was the lowest ever individual round recorded for the event.
1962 New Zealand Open: Began at Titirangi in the most appalling conditions. Heavy rain for four days had seen lakes and mud over much of the course and preferred lies were allowed. Prominent early in the event played on October 25 to 27 were Thomson, Nagle, Charles and amateurs Godfrey and Boys.
It was on the final day that dramatic play took place and when the last round began the local player Walter Godfrey led Nagle by three strokes. This situation was totally reversed when Nagle went out in 33. Godfrey replied with birdies at 12, 13, 15 and 16 to lead by one stroke, only for Nagle to eagle 17 and eventually take the title with a final round of 68.
1964 New Zealand Open: Held at the Christchurch Golf Club on November 19 to 21. The Shirley venue, in perfect order and with weather conditions to match, proved a happy hunting ground for Kel Nagle. He led by three strokes on the first day, four on the second and five going into the final round.
His subsequent record of 266 was fourteen strokes better than Thomson’s winning score at Shirley in 1950. The 66 he scored in the third round became a course record, only to last until his final round of 64. Overseas players filled all but one of the first ten places, Ross Newdick on 285 alone imposing himself.
1967 New Zealand Open: Played at St.Andrews on November 16 to 18 in a variety of conditions. Perfect on the first two days, the final day saw rain and gales. The inevitability of the tournament outcome, however, seemed to be the greater influence on the diminishing galleries.
Nagle, the winner in Hamilton nine years previously, was never headed and thanks to a course record 64 on the second day, improved his Waikato record by three strokes. Considerable interest was shown in the battle for the Bledisloe Cup with Jones, Durry and McDougall always prominent.
Though lacking in consistency, two brilliant rounds saw McDougall finish with the same four-stroke advantage enjoyed by Nagle in the Championship.
1968 New Zealand Open: A feature of this event at Christchurch Golf Club on November 28 to 30 was that the leading six players all saved their worst rounds until the last. In the case of defending champion Kel Nagle however, his worst was 69 and gave him the title for the sixth time.
No one enjoyed the Shirley course more than the Australian Frank Phillips who scored 68-67-135 in the first two rounds to lead into the final day by two strokes. A double-bogey at the par 4 sixth hole sealed his fate, though his second placing was commendable in a very fine field.
1969 New Zealand Open: Played at Belmont in pleasant conditions on November 27, 28 and 29 with a very strong field. Nagle led Charles by one stroke following rounds of 69 and 67 on the first two days, and in the third round, both Lister and Vines matched Nagle’s 69 to maintain their two-stroke deficit.
The Japanese professional Murakami who had performed very well in Australia and was in a similar position to that of Lister and Vines produced a fine third round 67 to tie the lead. He was unable to press home any advantage and it was left to Lister, who took the lead late in the final round, to make a challenge.
An eagle 3 late in his round gained Nagle the opportunity he needed to take his seventh New Zealand Open title in an event which produced many excellent scores on the par 70 Wanganui course.
Although he had won over 30 tournaments in Australia and had won the Canada Cup for Australia in partnership with five-time Open champion Peter Thomson in 1954 and 1959, Nagle was a shock winner of The Open, as he was 39 years old but had never finished in the top-10 at a major championship before.
Thomson told Nagle a few weeks prior to the 1960 Open championship that he “had the game” to win and that “you can beat me”. He beat the rising star of American golf Arnold Palmer into second place, and it was Palmer who deprived him of his title in 1961.
Although he never regained The Open title, Kel Nagle had six top-five finishes at the Open between 1960 and 1966 (ages 39 to 45). His best result in a United States major was second in the 1965 U.S. Open—the year after he won the Canadian Open—when he and Gary Player finished the 72-hole tournament in a tie.
Nagle lost to Player the next day in an 18-hole playoff, during which Nagle hit a female spectator in the forehead on the fifth hole and was visibly affected to the point that he hit another spectator on the same hole. Player won the playoff by 3 strokes.
As late as 1970, the year he turned 50, Nagle was ranked among the top ten players in the world on the McCormack’s World Golf Rankings, the forerunner of the modern world ranking system.
Nagle played on the Senior PGA Tour (now Champions Tour) in the U.S. in the 1980s, when he was in his 60s and early 70s. His best finishes were a pair of T-3s: at the 1981 Eureka Federal Savings Classic and the 1982 Peter Jackson Champions. In his final round at the 1982 Charlie Pride Invitational (Four Hills CC Albuquerque, NM), he “shot his age” of 71. In July 2007, Nagle was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame and was inducted in November 2007.
Nagle died in Sydney on 29 January 2015 at the age of 94.