Thursday, April 26

A Magnificent Seven, Part 7: Steve Melnyk of the 1971 Q-School and His Life in Golf

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This is the seventh in a series on players from the 1971 Q-School. Read Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5 and Part 6. Nearly a half century later John Coyne tracked down Allen Miller, Lanny Wadkins, Leonard Thompson, Sam Adams, John Mahaffey, Steve Melnyk and Spike Kelley. How had pro golf and life turned out for these seven men?

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.


"I NEVER THOUGHT ABOUT JOINING the PGA Tour," Steve Melnyk told me recently.

"Being from Georgia, Bobby Jones was a great influence on me but after winning the British Amateur in 1971 and making the Walker Cup team, I thought what else can I do? I had already won the 1969 U.S. Amateur at Oakland and three times been a college All-American. At the time I had been selling life insurance for two years and I didn't like it. So, I guess, I turned pro almost as default."

Melnyk would play professionally for 10 years. He never won on the tour but he did finish second four times, and he finished 12th at the 1972 Masters. His great claim to fame at Augusta was winning the Masters Par 3 Contest.

"Back then there was no money in the tour," said Melnyk. "In my second year I only made $60,000."

But there was, he remembered fondly, a lot of companionship among the young professionals new to the tour. 

"We traveled commercially, no courtesy cars. My wife and I, we were friends with the Watsons and the Murphys.

"We all did laundry together on Monday night. No day care. No baby sitters. If you played in the morning, then you baby sat in the afternoon. It brought us closer together and we were all friends."

At the 1982 Phoenix Open, Steve would slip and break his right elbow. While recuperating, he became a reporter for CBS Sports, and two years later, he retired from the tour and returned to broadcasting with CBS until 1992 when he joined ABC Sports.

Then after a total of 22 years as a reporter and analyst for CBS, ABC and ESPN, he retired from television in 2004.

Meanwhile, Steve began playing again and 10 years ago regained his amateur status. He also started a golf course development company, Riverside Golf Course, which designed, constructed and operated eight courses in the Southeast, two of the Trophy Clubs in Georgia, the Oak Hills Golf Club in Columbia, South Carolina, and the Julington Creek Golf Course in Jacksonville, Florida, with Robert Walker.

As someone who has been involved his whole life with golf as an amateur, professional and course designer, I asked Steve what changes he sees today with the game. 

"These young college kids are so good," he said immediately. "They are all so good, so early. And it is pure golf. That's one of the reasons I love the Walker Cup. It is my favorite event.

"But today it is a different game. It is a power game. They hit it a long way. Part of the reason is that the fairways are so firm, and the grass is cut short. Better equipment. Even the missed shots go a lot farther.

"The golf ball is much better today. Remember how we had to put the golf balls through a ringer to make sure they were round?

"A big reason is that the equipment is lighter, and that means the faster we can swing the club. Our clubs in the '70s were heavier and that's a big difference. 

"Also, what is great to see is that golf is spreading around the world. Kids are playing the game at an earlier age. And more women are playing. Look at the LPGA and the women from Asia playing golf."

Today, the equipment and the courses are better, and more people are playing the game. Golf couldn't be better. And the game is better thanks to golf professionals like Steve Melnyk and the other young guns from the PGA Tour Q-School Class of 1971.

TO BE CONTINUED.

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose most recent golf novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

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