Wednesday, May 2

A Magnificent Seven (Conclusion): Spike Kelley at the 1971 Q-School and His Life in Golf

This is the final installment of a series on players from the 1971 Q-School. Read Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6 and Part 7. 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.

ONE OF THE YOUNG GUNS WHO DID NOT QUALIFY at the 1971 Q-School was Spike Kelley, the assistant pro at a nine-hole course in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Kelley, who hadn't been able to putt all summer because the greens had burned out on his home course, shot 80 in the first round of the tournament. The only thing he had done right that day, he said, "was buy a Coke on the tenth hole."

Spike Kelley is head pro and co-owner
of Goshen Plantation Golf Club
in Augusta, Georgia.
Spike would shoot 80, 74, 72, 74 and then a 71 in the fifth round, tying for the 23rd spot. He needed a 72 or 73 on his last round to earn his card. That, too, caused him concerns.

"Me, on the tour! I'll have to buy a golf bag."

The one he was using at Palm Beach was borrowed. "A member at the club gave it to me when I qualified so I'd look like a golfer."

Spike could not put it together the last day and faded with 79, for a total of 450, six shots too many. His cheerfulness, which had made him a favorite of the few spectators who came every day to camp on the 9th and 18th greens or walk a few holes in the sun, didn't leave him. It hadn't been a wasted week for Spike Kelley.

"After all," he said, "I got to play on a great golf course and fly on a jet plane."

And he would be back the next year when the PGA Q-School moved west.

"I hope we play in California. I've never been to Disneyland."

What Spike also remembers fondly about the 1971 Q-School was that it was the first time he had ever been in a fairway bunker. "I played a wood out of the sand and hit it on the green. I was thinking then, 'Well this isn't too hard.'"

While Florida did prove hard, Spike kept trying and qualified two years later and made the PGA Tour. He would be on the tour from ’1973 to 1979 and have his best year in 1975 when he finished second at the Tallahassee Open and won the Buick Open.

But the tour was not for Spike.

He returned to Oklahoma and became the home pro at Shawnee Country Club for 15 years before building the Traditions Golf Club in Oklahoma City, where he worked until finding on the Internet that Goshen Plantation Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, was for sale.

''I looked at about 12 courses, and this was by far the best," Kelley said.

At 54, Spike Kelley and his partner, Richard Finley, bought Goshen Plantation Golf Club in Augusta from American Golf Corp for $1.8 million.

''It's an absolute gem," said Kelley, who moved from Shawnee to be the co-owner and head pro.

The Goshen Plantation Golf Club was completely remodeled by Kelley in 2001. Since then, it has been voted the "Best Public Golf Course" by the Augusta Magazine, and one of the top 10 public courses in Georgia by Georgia Golf Magazine. In 2009, Golf Digest named it the "Best Place to Play."

Kelly is not only the pro, but he is out early most mornings to mow fairways and greens and greet the early players at the first tee. His good will, charm and sense of humor are still the strong point of this kid who came out of Oklahoma and made a career and life as a professional golfer.

No small achievement for anyone.

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

No comments: