As arduous a struggle as Buddy Alexander had last week—he survived two days of qualifying and five matches before beating Chris Kite in the 36-hole final to win the U.S. Amateur championship at Shoal Creek near Birmingham, Ala., on Sunday—it could not have been more taxing than the 72 holes Jack Nicklaus put in. That's because Nicklaus didn't play golf; he watched his sons play golf.
At the Amateur on Tuesday and Wednesday, Jack joined a sizable gallery following 17-year-old Gary Nicklaus as he shot 79-73 to miss qualifying for match play by three strokes. Then Jack jetted to Tennessee in his Sabreliner 60 and watched 24-year-old Jack Nicklaus II shoot a painful 81-85 in his first official event as a professional, the St. Jude Memphis Classic (won by Mike Hulbert). The four-round total of 318 was not one of the greatest in Nicklaus annals.
"It's tougher to watch than to play," said Jack toward the end of Jackie's round on Friday. "As a father I've always found it so. But I've been watching my kids play sports all their lives. This is just another step."
It just so happens that the winner at Shoal Creek, 33-year-old Stewart (Buddy) Alexander, also had a successful golf pro for a father. Skip Alexander won two PGA events in 1948 and was the fifth-leading money winner on the Tour that year. He also won the 1941 North and South Amateur, a tournament that was taken in 1985 by none other than Jack Nicklaus II.
Buddy Alexander chose to follow in his father's footsteps, but the best he could do was win the 1977 Eastern Amateur and earn a spot as first alternate on the 1979 Walker Cup team. In a short-lived attempt at professional golf, Alexander's biggest victory came in a sand-shot wagering contest in Lakeland, Fla., which earned him the title of Dr. Bunker.
For the past four years, Alexander has served as the golf coach at Louisiana State. In July he was reinstated as an amateur by the USGA, and he brought to Shoal Creek a game that had been honed in practice rounds with his collegiate players. How appropriate it was, then, that his opponent in the final was 22-year-old Chris Kite, who had led Wake Forest to its dramatic comeback victory over Oklahoma State in the NCAA tournament last May, shooting a final-round 66.
On Saturday, Alexander said that Kite—who is not related to either of the professional Kites, Tom or Greg—was "the premier amateur in the country."
On Sunday he admitted that he hadn't slept well the night before, worrying about a blowout.
Kite made some mistakes during the morning 18 that left him two down at the break, but he came back with three straight birdies early in the afternoon round. "I felt I could do anything then," said Kite.
But Alexander wouldn't be intimidated. The coach made six birdies on the last 10 holes, including one on a 25-foot sand shot on the 30th hole. "Dr. Bunker made a house call," said Alexander. He closed out the match with a final birdie on the 33rd to win 5 and 3. Afterward, he had to pause after thinking about all those birdies. "That's some pretty fancy shooting," he said. "I didn't think I was that good."