When I attended the U.S. Amateur Public Links last week at Heron Lakes Golf Club in Portland, the tournament looked very little like the event I won in 1949.1 saw only two players over 40, and most of the contestants looked as if they were about 14. When I won at Rancho Park Golf Course in Los Angeles, the majority of the competitors were between 30 and 45.
The tournament was more of a blue-collar event back then, and I miss that. There were more truck drivers, warehousemen, police officers and firemen—laborers who also worked hard on their golf games. If most of today's Publinks competitors were to list a profession, it would be college student.
Not that there's anything wrong with the Publinks featuring college golfers. It doesn't matter if you're 14 or 64.1 was one of the young ones myself, only 21, when I won. I was working at Crystal Springs Golf Course in Burlingame, Calif., as a jack-of-all-trades (and master of none). There were 210 players in the field—61 more than this year—and the format was all match play, meaning you had to win at least seven matches to be champ.
My toughest match came in the 36-hole semifinal against Phil Kunkle. I was one up going into the final hole. We both had birdie putts, but he was inside of me so I stymied him. I putted my ball onto his line, making it impossible for him to drain his eight-footer unless he played some sort of billiards shot. He didn't, and I beat him. I went on to defeat Bill Betger 5 and 4 in the final.
Defending the title was much more difficult. The tournament was in Louisville, and I stayed at the Brown Hotel downtown. There was one problem: The hotel didn't have air conditioning, and it was so humid that week that by the fourth round of match play I ran out of gas and could drive my ball only 150 yards. I dropped the last four holes to lose one up. One thing about the Publinks hasn't changed: You can't win if you play poorly.