TERRE HAUTE — “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”
That adage would appear to be right on the money when it comes to professional golf and Robinson, Ill., especially from the early 1960s through the early ’70s.
It was back in 1962 when the Robinson Country Club sponsored a tournament which attracted 37 professionals and 57 amateurs who played for $2,000 in prizes. The tourney continued to grow until it became a major stop on the PGA Tour in 1968 with prize money totaling $25,000. Until that time, the question had been “Can a small southern Illinois town of less that 8,000 survive as a stop on the PGA Tour?” The facts speak for themselves.
To say that those in charge of the ‘68 Robinson Open knew what they were doing in no way gives justice to the outstanding work they accomplished. The one thousand and one details that accompany a PGA tournament can be mind boggling.
Dick Heath and Maxine Zwermann were co-chairpersons of the tournament that drew huge galleries. Nancy Lynn Thal was crowned Miss Robinson Open. K.B. Corvell was president of what was properly known as Crawford County Country Club. A cocktail party and dinner dance awaited many who had made large donations to the event.
Tents, press trailers, scoreboards, T.V. towers and other facilities were brought to the course. Notables on hand for the tournament included U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen and Governor Samuel Shapiro.
The Robinson Open was off to a fast start.
Dean Refram won that first tour event with a spectacular 18-under-par performance of 270, good for the $5,000 first-place check. Although there was no Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus in the field, it didn’t lack for quality players. How about a pro who would go on to win many millions and multiple majors on the PGA Tour as well as the senior circuit? That would be Hale Irwin, whose tie for 21st earned him $232.81.
Other well-known players on hand for the first Robinson Open were U.S. Open champion Orville “Sarge” Moody, Mike Hill and Dean Beman, who would go on to win on tour and later become commissioner of the PGA Tour.
Others were J.C. Snead, Dick Lotz, Larry Ziegler and popular local pro Earl Greenwell, who once held Robinson’s course record, a 10-under-par 62.
And then there was John Schlee, a power hitter who instead of playing a dog-leg-right par five in the manner the hole was designed, chose to hit over the top of the clubhouse thereby cutting off a sizable chunk of yardage. Schlee always had a large gallery regardless of how well or poorly he was playing. This was because his wife followed him around the course and to call her a beautiful woman would have been a gross understatement. The photographers who were supposed to capture the action on the greens and fairways usually spent most of their time taking pictures of Mrs. Schlee.
Also on hand were Rocky Thompson, who later on the senior circuit used a driver with a 52-inch shaft, and J.C. Goosie, who organized countless mini tour events where a multitude of young pros could gain valuable tournament experience.
By 1969, the tournament became known as the Robinson Open Golf Classic and prize money jumped to $75,000.
The field was strengthened with the addition of Bob Goalby, who won The Masters in May of the preceding season. He opened with a blistering 62. Rounds of 71, 73, and 67 for a 273 total put him in a tie with Jim Wiechers. The ensuing playoff was won by Goalby and a $15,000 check was his as Wiechers settled for $9,000 runner-up money.
Goalby never received the credit he deserved due to a scorecard error by Roberto DeVincenzo that cost DeVincenzo a tie for the Masters’ title. Many blamed Goalby for the mistake made by Tommy Arron.
Other well-known players competing included Howie Johnson, who claimed third place, and Billy Maxwell, who tied for fourth. Maxwell, a former U.S. Amateur champion, teamed with Don January and Joe Conrad to make North Texas State one of the best teams in the nation during their collegiate days.
Jim Colbert won $1,012 and would go on to dominate the PGA Senior Tour a number of years later.
By the time 1970 rolled around, prize money had climbed to $100,000 and the Robinson Open Golf Classic was a hit with golfers anxious to gallery the professionals they had been watching on TV and reading about. They had not been disappointed as the tourney fathers prepared for a bigger and better Robinson Classic.
(To Be Continued)
• • •
Pressure is something from which no one is immune. The recent British Open seems to demonstrate that fact most vividly. It bears out the notion that many major tournaments are more aptly lost by the losers, rather than won by the winners. In other words, “gifts” are not uncommon. At any rate, Carnoustie made for great drama as did Sergio and Padraig.
• • •
Last Wednesday was a banner day for Lowell Smith when he lofted a nine iron some 10 feet past the flagstick on No. 12, a 130-yard par three at Idle Creek. The ball then spun back squarely into the cup.
Witnessing Smith’s ace were Frank Mershon and Kenny Pearson. It was Lowell’s first hole-in-one.
• • •
At 72 years of age, Bob Mason is still belting drives past many players half his age. Mason, in days gone by, would remove his eye glasses and place them at the side of tee shots. He doesn’t do that anymore.
He explained, “I used to do that, but when I took a step sideways to follow my shot’s line, I stepped on a couple of pairs of glasses. Now I put them in my pocket.”
Golf can be expensive.
• • •
With a swing that would make most any barn door proud, Gary Turner has again been named the most improved golfer at Lost Creek Course at the Elks.
Turner has led his scramble teams to some top finishes with a slight amount of assistance from Tim Tennant.
• • •
Congratulations to 71-year-old New Goshen resident Jim Roberts, who reported that he recently shot a 69 (with six birdies and one eagle) on the white tees at Rolling Meadows, east of Spencer.
Playing with Roberts, a retired employee of Duke Energy, were Hank Hammond and Dan Hileman.
• • •
• Tip of the week — Much is made of the spine angle at address. It is important to keep the back straight from the neck down to the posterior. If this posture is not held throughout the shot, many gremlins may be exposed.
Keep your head down and your shoestrings tied. We’ll be back.
Tribune-Star golf columnist Bob Arnett can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE — “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.”
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