By John Coyne
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF
WHAT I REMEMBER BEST about Tony Holquin were his small and delicate hands. They were like a woman’s hands really, soft and gentle. His handshake, even when I first met him as a teenager, was soft and gentle. He never tried to impress anyone with his strength, for he wasn’t big or imposing. Professional Golfer magazine referred to him as “little Tony” when he won the 1953 Texas Open. Once, back in the early ‘50s when he broke the course record at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club in the first round of the Crosby Golf Championship, the Chicago Tribune headline read something like, “Tiny Tony Shoots 63 at Crosby.”
His size didn’t matter when there was a golf club in his hands. When he was on the tee everyone took notice. Compact as he was, he could generate enormous power and drive a golf ball, as we used to say back in the Midwest, a country mile.
First Tex-Mex Pro
For anyone who didn’t know him, Tony Holquin was just another golf pro from Texas; one of those countless Tex-Mex kids who learned to play on a public course, in his case, Brackenridge Park, near his home in San Antonio.
Others Latinos would come after Tony, Lee Trevino of Dallas, being just one. Trevino is famous for saying, after he won the U.S. Open in 1971, that he used to be Mexican but now that he had won the Open he was Spanish.
But of all these great Tex-Mex golfers who came out of Texas, Tony Holquin was the first. He grew up during the Great Depression, the oldest of six. His father was a stonemason; his mother was a housekeeper. When he was 11 he found an old golf club. It became his magic wand. It lifted Tony out of poverty and sent him into the world of golf where he would play on the PGA Tour and the Senior Tour, win the Texas Open, win the Mexican Open twice, and as a home pro in Illinois in the Fifties and Sixties, win almost every tournament held in the state and be named to the Illinois PGA Hall of Fame in 2007.
But real life got in his way off the fairway. Graduating from San Antonio Tech High School in 1944, he was immediately drafted into the Army and sent into World War II. Fighting his way with the 76th Infantry Division through Europe and into Germany, he said he wasn’t afraid of getting killed, but afraid of losing a limb so he wouldn’t be able to play golf. In his squad of 11, five were indeed wounded in combat.
Coming home to Texas, he returned to golf and as an amateur won the ’46 and ’47 San Antonio City Championships.
Like all poor kids who get lucky, Tony had an early mentor, a rich Texas oilman named Tom Crawford, who took a liking to Tony and another young golfer, Gil Cavanaugh. “He backed us both,” Tony would tell me when I was his caddie. “He made us practice hard, six and seven hours a day. He bought us clubs and clothes and taught us how to act in public.”
Tony turned pro in 1948 and got a job as a teaching assistant at the Pelham Country Club in Pelham, Westchester County, New York; then in the summer of 1952, he came to Illinois and the Midlothian Country Club to be the assistant pro for another Texan, Jimmy Walkup.
At the time Tony was 26 and I was 14 and the number No. 1 caddie at the club. More importantly, I was Tony’s caddie at Monday pro-member events, local pro tournaments, qualifying rounds for the U.S. Open and at the famous Tam O’Shanter World Championship of Golf.
For ten years or more, he was one of the best three players in Illinois tournament after tournament, matching up against Bill Ogden, the pro at North Shore, and Dick Hart from Hinsdale.
In 1953, when Jimmy Walkup moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and another country club, Tony was immediately hired as head pro. Even before he won the Texas Open that year we all thought he should go onto the PGA Tour full time, but as he said, “I won two tournaments (Mexican Open) and earned $2,000.” It wasn’t enough to support a family in those early pre-television days on the tour.
Tony stayed for 13 years at Midlothian, then moved onto Gleneagles Country Club and Balmoral Woods, both in Illinois, before retiring from being a teaching pro, but not from playing golf. It took a stroke five years ago to finally end his playing days.
He died on May 14, at his home in Oak Forest, Illinois, from complications from a fall, at the age of 82.
Hearing the news, I scanned recent issues of golf weekly magazines looking for some small mention of his passing. There weren’t any death notices. The Chicago Tribune remembered him as a “long time club pro” and Chicagoland Golf website ran a story and a wonderful photo of Tony teeing off at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club.
Over the years, I saw Tony several times when I was back in Illinois. He was amused that I now lived in Pelham, the town where he had his first pro job. After all those years, he could still remember the street where he lived, as well as the country club where he first taught the members how to play the game.
A Nice Word for Everyone
Having written golf novels that focus on Midlothian Country Club, I have heard from former members and caddies at the club about my books and at some point in their conversation or emails to me, they’ll mention Tony and his assistant, Joe Jimenez, another Texas pro of Mexican ancestry who would go on to a great career on the Senior Tour. They would write how Tony and Joe gave them golf lessons on Saturday mornings at the club, how they were both gentlemen with a nice word for everyone. They were two former Texas caddies passing on their knowledge of the game to the next generation of loopers.
Golf is full of home club professionals like Tony Holquin; good players who teach the game to students on fairways far from the glamour of the PGA Tour. The game is built by such professionals. Those of us who play can always remember the pro who first handed us a club and whispered, not untruthfully, that if we practiced and worked on our swing, someday this club might become our magic wand.
John Coyne is the author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan and The Caddie Who Played with Hickory. Learn more at John Coyne Books.