Friday, December 2

Best of the Best—PGA Tour Q-School of 1971

By John Coyne
Special to ARMCHAIR GOLF


Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

READING ABOUT THE PGA TOUR Q-School played this week at PGA West in La Quinta, California—that six-day, 108-holes annual rite-of-passage where pros qualify for next year’s tour—got me thinking about my one time I was up close and personal with some of the greats of the game. It was back in 1971 when the Q-school was staged for the last time at the PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Ken Harrelson traded his baseball bat for a golf club.
I wasn’t a player. There were no six days of qualifying for me. I had gone to Florida to interview the young players and then write a golf instructional book featuring these future professionals. My narrative was: what would these young guys have to say about the golf swing to improve one’s game? The book, Better Golf, was published that spring by Follett of Chicago. It also included dozens of photographs of the pros demonstrating techniques taken by the well respected sports photographer, Richard Raphael. Dick, who did 41 Super Bowls and shot nine Sports Illustrated magazine covers, has only this book to his golf credit.

In the fall of 1971 when I flew to Florida, everyone thought it was the 1967 Q-School that had featured the best young golfers. The Q-School was relatively new. It has started in 1965 as a way to systematically bringing new blood and talent into the game.

Lou Strong, who had head professional and managing director of the PGA National Golf Club for seven years, agreed that the ’67 class was the greatest. They were: Tony Jacklin, Bob Murphy, Orville Moody, Deane Beman, Gibby Gilbert, Lee Elder, Bobby Cole and Peter Townsend.

And they were the best for good reason. Graduate Bob Murphy would win two tournaments and earn $105,595 that next year. Orville Moody, two years later, won the U.S. Open Championship. And in the same year, 1969, Tony Jacklin won the British Open. The following year, he won the U.S. Open!

New Crop

But over time, it was proven that the ‘71 class was indeed the best of the Q-Schools. They were a new crop of young kids. And kids with a lot of talent.

Of the 357 players who started in regional tournaments across the country, only 75 made it to PGA National. That class included three former U.S. Amateur champions, the last two U.S. Public Links titleholders, two former NCAA champions, a co-holder of the World Cup team title and the current British Amateur champ.

Trying to qualify for the professional golf tour that fall was Lanny Wadkins, who was the 1970 U.S. Amateur champion and a member of the 1969 and 1971 U.S. Walker Cup teams. Steve Melnyk, then the British Amateur titleholder; John Mahaffey of Texas, the 1970 NCAA champion; Allen Miller and Bruce Fleisher, both Walker Cup players; and Tom Watson of Kansas City who had just graduated from Stanford University with a degree in psychology. The most experienced player at PGA National was David Graham, already an international star, having won the 1971 World Cup.

But what did made that year so special?

For one thing, that year’s crop was mostly composed of all young, bright and well-educated players. The average age was twenty-four. Sixty-six had attended college and had played on college golf teams. Thirty-five had already graduated.

That year was special, too, because it was the first time six rounds of golf were played in the final event. Two extra rounds had been added to make it a greater test of golf.

The Hawk

The Q-School also had a “class stand-out.” Trying to qualify that week was the famous baseball star Ken Harrelson, the Hawk, who had quit baseball in midseason because, as he said, “nothing could be worse than playing for the Cleveland Indians.” The Hawk had qualified regionally at Tanglewood Golf Club in Winston-Salem, shooting 288 and making the cut by two shots.

Ken was well liked by the other young pros, many of whom were eight years younger than he. The Hawk had time for everyone, was outgoing and friendly. Everyone was pulling for him, most of all the PGA tournament officials. An attractive, volatile personality, Harrelson, at the Massachusetts and Philadelphia classics, had already proved he could draw crowds. He could even out-gallery Arnold Palmer.

Well, six days in the rain and sun of Palm Beach would show the golfing world why The Hawk and the Class of 1971 were so special.

(To be continued.)

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest book is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

1 comment :

futuremoodoc said...

Great write up, its always nice to see stories from times past.