September 14, 1959
Sometimes 75-year-old Charlie Coe sits back in his office in Oklahoma City and fantasizes. He's 25 again, standing on the 1st tee at Augusta National. Fans line the fairway, and the dogwoods and azaleas are in full bloom. A Big Bertha in his hands, he's about to launch a high-tech assault on the Masters. "I could really have hit it a long way with that stuff they use today," says Coe, who played in 19 Masters.
Coe was known as a big hitter even before he won his first U.S. Amateur title, in 1949. By '51 he was considered one of the best players in the world, amateur or professional, and entertained visions of weekly battles with Ben Hogan and Sam Snead on the PGA Tour. "I talked to my wife, Elizabeth, and she said that if I thought I was going to raise three children out of a suitcase, I was crazy," says Coe. Instead, he remained with Ward Merrick Inc., an oil distribution company that his father-in-law founded.
In 1958 Coe won his second U.S. Amateur title, at San Francisco's Olympic Country Club, and in '59 he reached the finals of the match-play Amateur at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Only a pudgy 19-year-old named Jack Nicklaus stood in the way of his becoming the first man since Bobby Jones to win the Amateur three times. "When I shook his hand on the 1st tee, I thought for a young kid he showed extraordinary confidence," recalls Coe. The ensuing 36-hole match is still considered among the best in Amateur history. With the players tied on the final hole, Coe's birdie chip stopped a half rotation short of falling in. Nicklaus then holed a tricky nine-foot putt for the victory that launched his great career.
Coe never made another serious run in the Amateur but did finish tied for second with Arnold Palmer at the 1961 Masters—one of his three top 10 finishes at Augusta—one stroke behind Gary Player. An Augusta National member since '59, Coe was a close friend of Jones's, with whom he would often go toe-to-toe in friendly rounds of golf and in card games.
Coe, who is president of Merco of Oklahoma, Inc., an oil and gas investment company he founded in 1977, stopped playing golf regularly 10 years ago when he suffered a mild stroke. Through his fund-raising efforts, he helped open the Charlie Coe Golf Learning Center last September at Oklahoma, his alma mater. If Coe were 25 again, would he still remain an amateur? Or would he grab his Big Bertha and take a swing at today's huge PGA purses? "I'm not certain," he says, "but I'd sure be tempted."