Thursday, April 26

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

Embed from Getty Images

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 Kelly. 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.

Thursday, April 19

VIDEO: Conor Moore Impersonates Tiger, Rory, Sergio, Padraig, Dustin, Bubba, Poulter and More

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: This is Conor Moore doing everybody in golf. Or so it seems. Which one is your favorite?

VIDEO: Retrieving Golf Balls at a Driving Range in the Philippines


Wednesday, April 18

A Magnificent Seven, Part 6: John Mahaffey at the 1971 Q-School and His Life in Golf

Embed from Getty Images
John Mahaffey at the 1981 Masters.

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

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.


THE ONE YOUNG PRO TO ARRIVE at the 1971 Q-School with an aura engulfing him was John Mahaffey, Jr. He was like the new good-looking kid in high school that had the girls in a titter. It wasn't his looks, nor his golf swing, but the whispered secret shared by the other players that Mahaffey was "Hogan's Prodigy."

Mahaffey, who had qualified at Quincy, Illinois, was 23 and had played at the University of Houston. He had been an All American in 1969 and 1970, the year he won the NCAA championship. After college, he went to work for Jimmy Demaret at the Champions Golf Club in Houston. 

It was at Champions that he met Hogan and played several rounds with him, Jackie Burke and Demaret. It was then that Hogan, after dinner one night at Champions, invited him to play in the 1970 Colonial tournament, where Mahaffey finished 11th. What most of all impressed Hogan -- besides his game -- was Mahaffey's quiet and polite manner on the golf course and in the clubhouse. 

Ben Hogan's attention to John Mahaffey followed him to Florida and to Q-School.

As John told me, "Hogan had asked Gardner Dickinson to look out for me and see that I didn’t do anything stupid. After the first round, Gardner called me at night in my hotel room. That day on the ninth hole I had driven into a fairway bunker and my next shot was over water. Well, I'm a kid. I'm thinking I can hit the ball over water. And I did. I got my par. Gardner told me that Hogan had suggested I don't have to make a crazy mistake. I didn't need to be low qualifier. I just had to qualify. Gardner told me not to do anything dumb."

And Mahaffey didn’t. He finished sixth with rounds of 73, 71, 73, 72, 73, 74. 

John returned to Texas where he signed a contract with the Ben Hogan Company and started the PGA Tour in January due to a family emergency for Lanny Wadkins that allowed John, as an alternate, to play in the tournament. That was their first connection and developed into a lifelong friendship. Today, both are broadcasters on the PGA Tour Champions; Lanny in the booth and John on the golf course. 

Another good friend from the Q-School and the early days of the PGA Tour was Tom Watson. They traveled together caravan style from one event to the next. What the young pros of the Q-School liked about Mahaffey, besides being a good guy and golfer, were his imitations of other players. Many thought his comic imitation of Chi Chi Rodriguez's swing was even better than the real thing.

"We were all lucky," John said. "The old pros took us under their wing. They taught us what to do, how to behave in public."

And back in Texas, Mahaffey had Hogan.

"I didn't have a pro teaching me how to play golf," John recalled. "I learned the swing from reading and studying Ben Hogan's Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf."

According to Curt Sampson, who wrote a biography of Hogan, "Five Lessons became the Gray's Anatomy of golf.  Hogan himself said, "I admit I wasn't prepared to see the members of the club on the practice tee, holding up the book."

John Mahaffey was one such student. He taught himself how to play from studying the medical illustration-style drawings done by Tony Ravielli, all based on Hogan's instructions. He also learned from playing golf with Byron Nelson and Lee Trevino.

"These guys worked the ball a ton. They moved it all over the golf course: left to right, right to left, high, low…and that's how I learned how to play golf as well."

Hogan, too, was impressed that John had learned the golf swing from his book.

"Hogan liked my work ethic as I wasn't afraid to practice until dark, and sometimes after.

"At one point, early in my career, Hogan called me into his office and asked me what my favorite courses were on the tour and I listed them. He told me that I had all the shots to play any course. What I needed was a go-to shot, especially for the back nine, and course management. No one was better than Hogan with course management. He told me he had watched me practice and play and that I had all the shots and not to be afraid to take on any course. Once I did I became a lot better player."

Mahaffey's first PGA Tour victory was at the 1973 Sahara Invitational, and then in 1975 he tied Lou Graham at the end of regulation in the U.S. Open, only to lose in the 18-hole playoff.

Mahaffey finished 10th in 1973 at the British Open, and didn't win again on tour until 1978. At the 1978 PGA Championship, Mahaffey won the playoff beating Jerry Pate and Tom Watson. And the following week he won the American Optical Classic. His final tour victory was in 1989, winning The Players Championship. He finished his PGA Tour career with 10 wins and 20 times being the runner-up.

Mahaffey moved on to the Champions Tour, winning once, and later began his current career as a commentator with the Golf Channel.

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.

Tuesday, April 17

Golf on TV: HUGEL-JTBC LA Open, Valero Texas Open, Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf, Trophee Hassan II



ORLANDO, Fla. – The LPGA Tour is in Southern California this week, staging the inaugural HUGEL-JTBC LA Open, airing in primetime on Golf Channel Thursday-Sunday. The PGA TOUR is in San Antonio for the Valero Texas Open, where Kevin Chappell defends. Carlos Franco and Vijay Singh are set to defend on the PGA TOUR Champions at the two-man team event, Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge. Thomas Pieters headlines the field at the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco.

LPGA TOUR

HUGEL-JTBC LA Open
Dates: April 19-22
Venue: Wilshire Country Club, Los Angeles, Calif.

Tournament Airtimes on Golf Channel (Eastern)                                   
Thursday         6:30-9:30 p.m. (Live) / 4-6:30 a.m. (Friday replay)
Friday             6:30-9:30 p.m. (Live)
Saturday          6-9 p.m. (Live) / 4:30-6 a.m. (Sunday replay)
Sunday            6-9 p.m. (Live) / 4:30-6 a.m. (Monday replay)

Broadcast Notes:
Inaugural event: This is the inaugural edition of the event, marking the LPGA Tour’s return to the Los Angeles area for the first time since 2011.
Headlining the field: Shanshan Feng, Lexi Thompson, Inbee Park, Sung Hyun Park, So Yeon Ryu, Ariya Jutanugarn, Cristie Kerr, Anna Nordqvist, Jessica Korda, Brooke Henderson and Michelle Wie.

PGA TOUR

Valero Texas Open
Dates: April 19-22
Venue: TPC San Antonio (AT&T Oaks Course), San Antonio, Texas

Tournament Airtimes on Golf Channel (Eastern)
Thursday        3:30-6:30 p.m. (Live) / 10 p.m.-1 a.m. (Replay)
Friday             3:30-6:30 p.m. (Live) / 10 p.m.-1 a.m. (Replay)
Saturday         1-2:45 p.m. (Live) / 10 p.m.-2:30 a.m. (Replay)
Sunday            1-2:45 p.m. (Live) / 10 p.m.-2:30 a.m. (Replay)

Tournament Airtimes on NBC (Eastern)
Saturday         3-6 p.m.
Sunday            3-6 p.m.

Broadcast Notes:
Chappell defends: Kevin Chappell finished one shot ahead of Brooks Koepka to claim his first PGA TOUR win.
Headlining the field: Sergio Garcia, Si Woo Kim, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Beau Hossler, Shubhankar Sharma, Jim Furyk, Kevin Chappell and Adam Scott.

PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS

Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf at Big Cedar Lodge
Dates: April 19-22
Venues: Buffalo Ridge (Springs Course); Mountain Top; Top of the Rock, Ridgedale, Mo.

Tournament Airtimes on Golf Channel (Eastern)
Friday             12:30-3 p.m. (Live) / 1-3 a.m. (Saturday replay)
Saturday         3-6 p.m. (Live) / 2:30-4:30 a.m. (Sunday replay)     
Sunday           3-6 p.m. (Live) / 2:30-4:30 a.m. (Monday replay)

Broadcast Notes:
Format: All teams will compete on the Springs Course at Buffalo Ridge (better ball) on Thursday, and will alternate between Top of the Rock (combination of alternate shot / better ball) and Mountain Top (better ball) on Friday and Saturday. The final round will be held on Sunday at Top of the Rock.
Franco, Singh defend: Carlos Franco and Vijay Singh teamed up to win last year (15-under), finishing one shot clear of three teams (14-under).
Notable Champions Division teams: John Daly/Michael Allen, Carlos Franco/Vijay Singh, Miguel Angel Jimenez/Jose Maria Olazabal, Davis Love III/Scott Verplank, Sandy Lyle/Ian Woosnam, Tom Lehman/Bernhard Langer, Andy North/Tom Watson and Steve Stricker/Jerry Kelly.

EUROPEAN TOUR

Trophee Hassan II
Dates: April 19-22
Venue: Royal Golf Dar Es Salam (Red Course), Rabat, Morocco

Tournament Airtimes on Golf Channel (Eastern)
Thursday         9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (Live)
Friday              6:30-8:30 a.m. / 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (Live)
Saturday          8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (Live)
Sunday            8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (Live)

Broadcast Notes:
Molinari defends: Edoardo Molinari defeated Paul Dunne with a par on the first playoff hole to earn his third career European Tour win.
Headlining the field: Thomas Pieters, Paul Dunne, Danny Willett, Chris Wood, Thomas Bjorn, Edoardo Molinari, Sean Crocker, Gavin Green and Yusaku Miyazato.

GOLF CHANNEL VIDEO: Matt Adams on Golf's Endorsement Hierarchy



WHAT ARE THE ENDORSEMENT TIERS for PGA Tour players?

Golf Channel's Matt Adams breaks it down, from PGA Tour winners to recent major champions (like Patrick Reed) to the superstars and golf gods.

Wednesday, April 11

A Magnificent Seven, Part 5: Sam Adams at the 1971 Q-School and His Life in Golf

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

By John Coyne

Copyright © John Coyne. Used with permission.


SAM ADAMS, FROM BOONE, NORTH CAROLINA, is a natural right-hander who played golf left-handed because "my father was left-handed and we only had one set of clubs in the family."

Sam was 25 when he attended the 1971 Q-School, having graduated from Appalachian State University where he was captain of the golf team. In 1967 he was the Conference Carolinas champion. After college he became the assistant professional at Boone Golf Club and, even at the Q-School, his ambition was to become a home professional and teacher. And that is exactly what he did in his life.

Getting to his dream job wasn't easy. Getting to the Q-School wasn't easy.

He tried the qualifying school three times, and on his third attempt he finished third in the regional qualifying at Tanglewood in Winston-Salem, a tournament won by Lanny Wadkins. Adams shot 12-under in the four-day event.

The day before Q-School he lost his favorite 3-wood and had to use a backup club, but it turned out okay. He shot 69 in the first round and that calmed him down. He was playing well and felt he could hold it together and earn his tour card.

"The golf course was far from easy," Sam remembered, "but a player who was playing well could shoot a good score, not a great score like 65 or 66. But the Q-School tournament to me was physically, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically draining. Six rounds just prolongs the agony."

After finishing second in the Q-School, tied with Wadkins, Adams joined the tour at the Azalea Open in Wilmington, North Carolina, in November of 1971. He never returned to his job at the Boone Golf Club. He played on the tour from then through 1977, having financial sponsors for the first two years, and then playing on his own.

As a rookie, Sam also finished second to Gay Brewer in the 1972 Canadian Open, another highlight of his first year on tour.

His greatest moment in the game came when he won the 1973 Quad Cities Open shooting 64, 64 in the middle two rounds and closing with 68 to shoot 268 (16 under par) and win by three shots.

"In doing that," Sam said, "I became the first American born lefty to win a PGA Tour event."

"Being left-handed probably worked to my advantage," Sam admitted. "I was more visible and got more attention than I would have had if I had just been another right-hander with the same level of success. When I joined the tour the only other lefty playing regularly was Bob Charles from New Zealand...He stopped playing regularly in 1974 or 1975 and for a time I was the only lefty playing the tour full time."

The strongest part of Adam's game was putting, and he was particular good on fast greens.

"The greens we putted on in the 70s," Sam said, "were probably between 9.5 and 10 on the Stimpmeter. Today's greens on the tour run 11.5 to 12.5, depending on the amount of slope and if the weather conditions allow.

"Also, the greens today are better conditioned than what we putted on....the make percentage from inside 10 feet is much higher today than in the 70's...that may, in part, be the players, but I think it is the improved putting surfaces."

It is not only the greens that have changed since the 1970s, but the players as well.

"PGA golfers are certainly better conditioned athletes than previous generations," said Sam. "Whatever training programs they are on certainly produces more club head speed and greater distance. The design of the equipment, particularly drivers and fairway clubs, have made it much easier for a skilled player to hit more accurate long shots. The hybrid clubs are so much easier to hit than a 1 or 2 iron that players can now hit and hold the green from much longer distances. Mowing heights have also played a role in how far the modern player drives the ball and necessitated the use of hybrids to loft the ball from tight lies."

After leaving the tour in 1977, Adams supervised the construction of Roan Valley Golf Club near Boone, North Carolina. He is still at the course as the head pro, and now the club is known as RedTail Mountain. It is located in the beautiful Appalachian Highlands, 20 minutes from Boone.

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.

Monday, April 9

Throw Out the Script: Patrick Reed Wins a Green Jacket and Other Masters Surprises



Throw out the script. The Masters creates its own drama and unexpected story lines.

Rory McIlroy was supposed to finally get that green jacket slipped over his shoulders and complete the career Grand Slam after boldly playing his way into the final pairing on Sunday. Instead, Rory hit perhaps the worst drive of his professional career on the first hole. It wasn’t a blip. More like an omen.

Patrick Reed was the 36- and 54-hole leader after posting three splendid rounds in the 60s at Augusta National Golf Club. However, it was his first time leading a major on Sunday. The pressure and elite chasing pack would get to Captain America. He would fold like a linen napkin at the Champions Dinner.

Wrong. Dead wrong.

Reed withstood charges from Jordan Spieth (64) and Rickie Fowler (67) and made clutch par putts on 17 and 18 to close out his first major. His gutsy 71 and 15-under total were good for a 1-shot victory.

With seven Masters titles between them, a rejuvenated Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were supposed to contend for the green jacket. Instead, both of them barely made it to the weekend.

After a final-round 67 to finish at 2 over for the tournament, Phil said he lost his magic from recent weeks and admitted that he puts too much pressure on himself at the majors. It’s hard to blame him. He’s running out of opportunities. Meanwhile, Tiger did well to make the cut and shake off some competitive rust. Playing a complete major at this juncture of his comeback is a victory in itself.

Tony Finau was expected to hobble through part of his first round and then withdraw after dislocating his ankle at the par-3 contest while celebrating a hole-in-one. Instead, Finau opened with a 68 and went on to finish 7-under par and in a tie for 10th. He shot a 66 on Sunday, his best round of the tournament.

Somebody was supposed to win the par-3 contest.

But not 68-year-old Tom Watson, who carded a 21 playing alongside Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. This old Tom only needed eight putts. Watson is now the oldest par-3 winner, surpassing that other ancient wonder, Sam Snead.