The 68th Amateur Championship of the United States Golf Association was held at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio. The tournament was won by Bruce Fleischer with an even-par total of 284 on the famous Donald Ross design. There was only one sub-par round that week and it came on the final day when then University of Virginia law student Marvin “Vinnie” Giles III shot an incredible closing 65 and set a course record but came up a shot short of Fleisher.
One of the most memorable aspects of that championship was the unusual number of young golfers – virtually all collegians – in the field who went on to become well-known regulars on the PGA Tour. Besides Fleisher, there was Tom Watson, Hubert Green, Lanny Wadkins, Andy North, Doug Tewell, Leonard Thompson, Rod Curl, Barry Jaeckel and Jim Simon.
My father and I were at Scioto for the 1968 U.S. Amateur. One morning after arriving at the club and before we went our separate way, Dad told me to meet him at the practice area at 4:00 p.m. He said, “we’ll hit some balls.” Later that afternoon, while I was in the midst of hitting a few warm up shots, he approached the tee. But, Dad was not alone. Walking alongside him was his longtime companion Byron Nelson and legendary sportscaster Chris Schenkel.
My father introduced me to his famous friends and then mentioned that they had come to watch me swing a bit. As I remember it, Chris Schenkel appeared as the consummate gentleman; very pleasant but he did not say much. By contrast, Byron Nelson was in his element and ready and willing to give counsel. First, he told me to relax and just swing the club like I always did. Then, as I was about to hit another shot, he moved in close enough to actually step-on the head of my club. At that point, Mr. Nelson’s instruction was pretty simple. He said, “Even though my foot is on the club, I want you to go ahead and make a swing.” With obvious restrictions, I moved as far as I could into my limited backswing. Then, he lifted his foot off the club head and, in an instant, the club rebounded its way to the top of my backswing.
Byron Nelson’s lesson that day dealt with the importance of everything moving together during the takeaway. Evidently, by using primarily my hands and arms to move the club away from the ball, I had gotten too far or too deep into my backswing without shifting my weight and turning my hips and shoulders. For future practice sessions, Mr. Nelson advised me to purposely keep the club head on the ground a little longer as I hit balls. Though still in my mid-teens, I knew what he meant because that was how my father taught. Both of them favored a teaching technique that involved getting people to do something by prompting them to do the opposite.
During those halcyon days in 1940s, when Nelson was winning a record number of tournaments on the early PGA Tour, his backswing started off with a choreographed movement of his right foot. His right knee moved slightly forward which would roll his right ankle inward and imperceptibly pull his right heel off the ground. From there he would plant his right heel down as his club, arms and body moved together away from the ball. For Nelson, these initial swing movements acted as a trigger to relax his muscles which gave him the great rhythm, tempo and timing that he always seemed to have.
Through the years my dear father was responsible for introducing me to a great many wonderful people. Which I am most grateful. Both Byron Nelson and Chris Schenkel were indeed world-class gentlemen. I know that the instruction given to me that day by Byron Nelson helped my golf game. His interest in me added to my love and respect for the game. Mr. Nelson made himself available on a number of occasions and he offered valuable information to my book Jack Grout, A Legacy In Golf. I am happy to say that I was fortunate to remain in contact with him until the time of his death on September 26, 2006.
Chris Schenkel was a television stalwart. His versatility and easygoing baritone won over fans during a more than six-decade broadcasting career in which he covered all major sporting events. He was the first to cover The Masters on television, in 1956; the first to call a college football game coast to coast on ABC; and the first to serve as live sports anchor from the Olympics, in Mexico City in 1968. And he did it while earning a reputation as one of the nicest guys in the business.
Mr. Schenkel was named sportscaster of the year in 1963, 1964, 1967 and 1970 by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, which inducted him into its hall of fame in 1981. He died September 11, 2004, following a long battle with emphysema. He was 82.
I love your stories. I have every one saved. Your attention to detail is impeccable. Those days hangin out with you and Parky et al were some of the best times of my golfing life. I feel lucky to have become your friend when we all had dreams of following Jack’s successes. Hopefully we will have a much deserved visit some day in the near future up in the Carolinas or down here in Northeast Florida. God speed Grootie…..Cheers, Noise
I got a very similar lesson from Mr Nelson at the Tournament of Champions after asking him his swing key for taking it back those years he won 11 tournaments…he was very specific.
This is Upper Arlington isn’t it?