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Publication precedes Delaware’s hosting of PGA TOUR’s 2022 BMW Championship
Long before Jimmie Allen, Aubrey Plaza and Ryan Philippe, professional golfer Ed “Porky” Oliver was Delaware’s biggest celebrity.
“For 25 years,” said author John Riley, a chronicler of Delaware history whose latest book details the life and times of Oliver and golf’s greatest generation, “he was Delaware’s celebrity who won on the PGA TOUR eight times.”
Located on the edge of Wilmington is Ed Oliver Golf Club. Although a well-known site to locals, what many don’t know is that Oliver was one of only two Delawareans ever selected for the Ryder Cup – the PGA’s pre-eminent event and one of the world’s greatest sporting events since 1927.
Sports Illustrated considered Oliver the most popular man on the pro golf circuit, and the Delaware native was so well-known and well-regarded that when he became ill with cancer, President John F. Kennedy was among those who raised funds to help support the golfer’s family. When Oliver died in 1961 at age 46, entertainers and athletes like Bing Crosby, Johnny Weissmuller, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead were among those sending condolences.
“He had a Pied Piper personality that people embraced,” Riley said. “They followed him and lived and died on his golf exploits his whole life.”
How He Played the Game: Ed “Porky” Oliver and Golf’s Greatest Generation isn’t the first time Riley has brought Delaware’s movers and shakers into the limelight. With former Philadelphia Eagle and Delaware resident Kevin Reilly, he co-authored Tackling Life: How Faith, Family, Friends and Fortitude Kept an NFL Linebacker in the Game.
Riley also wrote Delaware Eyewitness: Behind the Scenes in the First State. Delaware Eyewitness began as a chronicle of the decline of Hercules, a chemical company with a Delaware presence dating back to the 19th century, where Riley served as head of government and public relations. Because Riley also wanted to chronicle the eras that influenced him and the state’s history, this work evolved into a memoir and an insight into Delaware business and politics.
According to Jim Davis, editor of The Golf, the journal of the Golf Heritage Society, Riley’s tribute to Delaware’s most celebrated golfer “brings Oliver’s ebullient personality to glowing life.” Davis also noted that Oliver was “a homegrown professional who built a game that could stand with Hogan, Snead and Nelson” but had remained largely in the shadows of golf’s history until Riley’s book shed fresh light on Oliver and his impact on the sport.
PGA historian Peter C. Trenham agreed.
“Oliver had many accomplishments, but his greatest impact was his role in attracting fans and helping to popularize the golf tour,” Trenham said. “One of the most colorful players to ever play the game, a book on his life was long overdue.”
The golf tour that Oliver helped popularize during his lifetime will come to Delaware for the first time this year. After the state hosted numerous LPGA and top amateur events since 1913, the Wilmington Country Club will host the PGA TOUR and its 2022 BMW Championship from August 16 to 21.