Passings of 2010

Golf lost contributors big and small in the past year

February 2010

The story behind John Wooden the leisure golfer wasn't nearly as well known as that of John Wooden, the UCLA basketball coaching legend. Known for his integrity, honesty and sportsmanship, you might say Wooden was made for playing golf.

Wooden enjoyed most of the people he met on the course, abhorred time-consuming rounds, was praised for his calm on-course demeanor, and couldn't stand playing with golfers who thought they were better than they were. But it's for what he once did and not his opinions that he earns a mention in our look back at the deaths of notable golf personalities in 2010.

The man voted the greatest coach in American sports history after winning 10 NCAA championships pulled off one of the rarest feats in our records-and-rarities archive: During a round of golf in 1939 while still a high school teacher in Indiana, Wooden made an ace and a double eagle in the same round. By our record-keeping, only 11 people have accomplished that.

When Wooden died on June 4, four months shy of 100, he hadn't played golf in roughly 35 years, stopped by back troubles around the time he retired from UCLA. The immensity of his feat wasn't too impressive to a man who didn't like flash and flair. He said it was pure luck and that he never came close to either type of hole-out again.

It says a lot about Wooden that Golf Digest did something it doesn't normally do when it comes to record-keeping: We trusted a golfer's account without getting the full evidence. When I asked the coach in 2009 if he still had the scorecard and hole-in-one gift, he said, "Yes, they're here somewhere in my apartment." That was good enough for us. We weren't about to question the legendary integrity of a man who himself held Abraham Lincoln and Byron Nelson in high esteem. When the family unearthed the scorecard after Wooden's death, it just reinforced belief in his reputation.

In reflecting back on the notable golf personalities who died in 2010, there were many like Wooden who were part of the golf landscape but not major figures, beginning with Jackson Bradley, Karl Tucker, Buzz Taylor, Jack Jensen, Mike Bentley and Alex Alexander.

If you didn't learn from Jackson Bradley (Feb. 26, 88), you weren't paying attention. The life member of the PGA and a Texas Golf Hall of Famer, Bradley held many club pro jobs and played the tour in the 1940s to 1960s. He loved to teach the game and did so for 60 years. He also wrote instruction articles for Golf Digest from 1951 to 1961. Bradley was a pioneer in TV golf with a show in the 1950s, was one of the first to use visual recordings for teaching, developed a patent for metal woods in the 1960s and helped design nine courses in the Houston area. He counted Hogan, Snead, Nelson and Demaret among his friends.

Karl Tucker (Jan. 8, 83), a Brigham Young University graduate, found his calling at his alma mater. The golf coach there from 1961 to 1992, Tucker's Cougar teams won 170 tournaments, 19 Western Athletic Conference titles, and the 1981 NCAA Championship. Among his players were Johnny Miller, Mike Reid, John Fought, Bobby Clampett, Pat McGowan, Keith Clearwater, Rick Fehr and Mike Brannan.

Jack Jensen (March 28, 71) was another highly respected college coach, leading the Guilford College men's team for 33 years and winning national titles in 1989, 2002 and 2005. Like Tucker and Jensen, Mike Bentley (April 8, 59) was a major influence on young people. As a sportswriter in the Atlanta area, he started a series of junior tournaments there in 1974. The series blossomed into the Atlanta Junior Golf Association, and in the fall of 1977, he decided to go national, creating the American Junior Golf Association. The AJGA's first event was in Florida in 1978, and it has now grown to be the premier junior golf tour in the world, holding 85 events in 2010. Bentley served as AJGA president from 1978 to 1983.

F. Morgan (Buzz) Taylor (Oct. 29, 79) was the chairman of a pool-cleaning equipment company by trade, but as USGA president in 1998-'99 he focused on a different technology as he took firm stands on equipment standards. He was also a member of the Masters Rules Committee and the Captain's Club of the Memorial Tournament.

At the other end of the administration spectrum was Alex Alexander (April 28, 88), the type of guy you wanted in a David-versus-Goliath battle. As the Broome County (N.Y.) Community Charities Executive Director, he got the PGA Tour to put the B.C. Open on the 1971 schedule. Held at En-Joie Golf Club in Endicott, N.Y., the tournament landed Johnny Hart's B.C. comic strip as a marketing tool. The small-market, hometown-style event raised more than $9 million for charity until it ceased in 2006, coming to an end when the tour applied pressure for events to up the ante for big-money purses.

Among the player ranks, deaths included: Texas Golf Hall of Famer Charles (Shelley) Mayfield (March 22, 85), whose long career as club pro at Brook Hollow Golf Club in Dallas followed success on the PGA Tour in the 1950s as a four-time winner and three top-10 finishes in major championships; he also loved to teach, and wrote an instruction piece for Golf Digest in 1955; Ted Richards Jr. (March 14, 87), the 1953 U.S. Public Links champion who won 18 Bel-Air Country Club club championships, two Southern California Golf Association Amateurs, and four SCGA Senior Amateurs; Cecile (Ceil) Maclaurin (Jan. 25, 84), the 1976 U.S. Senior Women's Amateur winner who won 11 Georgia state titles and who donated the Georgia Senior Women's Championship trophy named after her; Ethel Funches (Jan. 6, 96), an African-American amateur star whose heyday on the United Golfers Association preceded the growth of the LPGA Tour; Minnesota senior amateur standout Richard (Richie) Anderson (May 7, 70), and Cleveland-area amateur star Sally Bergman Robb (Dec. 26, 2009, 71), who won a club championship at age 13, played for Ohio State and was Golf Digest's Most Beautiful Golfer for 1958 at age 20.

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