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Ron (Rocket) O'Connor, the mortgage broker and former teenage qualifier for the PGA Tour's Lucky International Open, shifts his voice to a lower register: "Me, a golfer? Nah, I play football!"
They laugh, appreciating the irony. Abraham Lincoln is the only high school to claim two U.S. Open champions as alums (Ken Venturi, class of 1949, and Miller, '64)—and yes, you can see its cream-colored central tower from the Olympic Club, site of next week's Open—but it is an urban high school. Surrounded by sidewalks, asphalt basketball courts and tissue-box homes, Lincoln's high-ceilinged corridors reverberate to the treads and chatter of a multiethnic student body. Fifty years ago Lincoln was mostly white and middle-class, but students weren't dropped off by moms in station wagons. San Francisco kids walked from home or rode buses powered by overhead lines. Lunn, the son of a motorcycle cop, lived at 47th and Taraval and practiced by hitting balls into a mattress in a friend's garage. O'Connor, a judge's son and the third of seven children, took the 28 bus home to a house west of Twin Peaks.
"That high school team was amazing," Miller says the next morning, calling from his Napa County home. "Bob Lunn really pushed me. Big guy, hit it a long way in the air. And I was pushed by Tommy O'Kane. We'd had a rivalry since I was little. And John Knuteson, he was a really good player...."
Thinking it over, the game's top television analyst is tempted to call his team's success a fluke. "Lincoln didn't recruit anybody," he points out. "We simply showed up."
Coaching, then. It must have been the swing theories of Will Ryan, Lincoln's golf coach for 29 years, that made them great.
They all smile at this notion. "We coached the coach," says Nelson.
"He wasn't a real good golfer," adds Lunn. "He might have shot in the 90s."
"Uncle Will," they remind us, was a basketball coach, a reliable ride and "a very nice man who was on the 1st tee when we teed off and met us at the end of the match." Would they have preferred a dedicated golf coach, a Lincoln Leadbetter? No way. "The best golf coaches didn't overcoach and get you out of your natural swing," says Miller. "Will was perfect for me."
If coaching wasn't the secret, Lincoln's golfers must have outworked their opponents.
That's it, says O'Connor. "I used to hit 500 sand shots a day, maybe more. I read that chapter in Hogan's book that said you had to get your hands bloody. I wasn't happy unless I went home with my hands taped in the right spots."