Theodore “Ted” Weiss
1960 team captain
Seven members of Yale’s men’s golf team have been chosen for all-American teams, but none has yet made the first team. Only one has been named to the second team, Ted Weiss (Class of 1960), in 1960, the same year that Jack Nicklaus made first team. Weiss went on to a distinguished medical career and still combines his medical practice with ardent recreational golf. Here are some memories he penned in the summer of 2007.
My knowledge of Yale began in childhood when I listened to a weekly radio program during the 1940s about Frank Merriwell. A fictional Yale man, Merriwell was brave, athletic, and resourceful as he won sports events and thwarted crime. I still remember the theme music from those Saturday mornings. My other introduction to the University was reading about the USGA’s holding its 1952 boys junior championship at the Yale course. About that time, golf was becoming important to me, and the chance to attend the college with such a resource was very attractive.
In 1955 I was one of 128 boys who qualified for the USGA national junior championship at PurdueUniversity inIndiana. I reached the fourth round of the final 16, when I came to face an opponent who already had quite a reputation as a long hitter, an excellent iron player and was the fortunate possessor of a superior short game. I was worried. Nonetheless, I birdied the ninth hole to turn just one down in the eighteen-hole match. That must have energized my opponent: At ten I hit a driver and 5-iron to the approximately 410 yard par four. He hit driver and wedge for a birdie that beat my par. The final tally was 5 and 4. Maybe you didn’t guess, but if I also said he was a blond-headed fellow from Ohio whose initials were JN, you’ll know. Having done well in junior golf events in New Orleans and beyond surely helped me to be admitted to Yale in 1956.
Walking onto the golf course’s first green that September was an epiphany. It was more of a sculpture than a green. I knew then that I’d come to the right school and that I was going to be educated here in ways I hadn’t anticipated. “Heroic” and “epic” came to be among my favorite adjectives for the layout.
Ned Vare was 1957 varsity captain. I don’t believe I ever spoke to him, but I was already avid enough about golf history to know that his mother—Glenna Collette Vare—was a golfing legend. Seeing Ned on the team reinforced my impression that an American aristocracy existed at Yale, and I now was observing it up close.
One other aristocrat of golf figured in my memories of that year—Henry Cotton, a former British Open champion. When I got to the course one afternoon, news was that Cotton was playing a round. I hurried out to watch, but by then he’d reached the eighteenth. His shots were struck flawlessly; unfortunately his second—a wood—finished in the rough on the side slope between the upper and lower fairway areas, possibly because he didn’t know the best line. Cotton half topped his shot from that difficult lie, and made six. This reinforced for me both how tough the course was, and also how important local knowledge could be.
Number six was my spot on the varsity in my sophomore year. However, the Eastern Intercollegiate Championship played at our course that May was to become the most important competition of my young life. We won the team championship, and I joined the elite sixteen who would compete for the individual title. Very unexpectedly, my first round opponent was the defending champion, Warren Simmons, a national level player from a college in upstate New York. I eventually birdied number eighteen to win 2 up. I continued to play exceptionally well in the afternoon to advance to the semifinals. After winning the next morning’s match, I kept up my strong play into the afternoon finals, reaching the 9th tee two-up. But then my wheels came off. I lost 2 up. It was a bitter disappointment after such a run.
For the next two years I played number one. My most important match as a junior came against Princetonat their course. I still remember my nervousness on the final green, facing a downhill four-foot putt to keep myself and the team alive. Happily I made it and went on to win in extra holes, assuring the team’s victory. The other salient memory from that year came at the NCAA national championship played at the Eugene(Oregon) Country Club. Parenthetically, I played a practice round with the famous Connecticut amateur, Dick Siderowf, from Duke. He treated us to a hole in one on the 8th with a flawless 7 iron, still vivid in my mind. I advanced though several matches: Simmons, whom I’d beaten the year before in the Easterns, was one I defeated again. I also beat a Walker Cup player from Texas named John Farquhar. Eventually I was in the semifinals, competing against Dick Crawford from the juggernautUniversity of Houston. He was an excellent player who subsequently turned pro and won on the tour. On the practice tee that morning I had the worst piece of luck in my golfing life. As I was warming up with tee shots, I heard the head/neck of my driver creak. I held it in my hand, and could feel it torque slightly on the shaft as I twisted it. Not knowing what to do, I stuck with the club, trying to turn the head before each drive so that it wouldn’t twist unpredictably. I hooked my drive into trouble on the first hole, felt preoccupied throughout the thirty-six-hole match, and lost badly.
Our captain that year was John Suisman from Hartford. Pulling rank, he defeated me at the Easterns after we both had qualified for the individual championship. It was a friendly rivalry though. I stayed with John and his family after college when I played as an amateur in the InsuranceCity Open on the tour.
For comic relief, let me tell one anecdote about our coach, Al Wilson. Al was more the manager of our team than its coach. He was a funny and unpretentious man who never represented himself as a golf teacher, but rather as the team’s organizer and relaxer—which benefited us. His concise advice on the first tee before matches varied, but always elicited a helpful laugh. My favorite was from baseball: “Take two and hit to right.”
In my senior year it was flattering to be elected captain. In retrospect this year was anticlimactic. The NCAAs were played at the beautiful Broadmoor course in Colorado, partly designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., the father of two of my teammates. Incidentally, Mr. and Mrs. Jones came to several of our home matches. Mrs. Jones was as impressive as her husband. I remember her as perhaps the most gracious and friendly person I’ve ever met. Having been chosen as a second team All-American—behind such first-teamers as Nicklaus—I participated in a pretournament exhibition match with others on that squad. This was fun, with nothing at stake. My play in the thirty-six-hole qualifying was mediocre. I missed the playoff for qualifying by two strokes.
In addition to the experiences above, my teammates were another great plus. Classmate Al Gilison was my best friend among these and has remained one since. Bobby Jones (Robert Trent, Jr.) was another close friend. Possessed of almost as classic a swing as that other Bob Jones from the twenties, he was on the varsity each year he was eligible. One of the unique memories with Bobby was playing a round the morning of his wedding in Atlanta. (I was one of the groomsmen.) Phil Lobstein was from Texas and very much in the Hogan mold; happily he was a lot more gregarious. Other teammates I really enjoyed were Ira Thomas, Guy Butterworth, Keith Kittle, Mike Phillips, Frost Walker, and Bill Bayfield. Rees, the other Jones boy, was a freshman when I was a senior, and I knew him only superficially. But by educating these two brothers, what a contribution to American golf Yale made.
A particular pleasure of playing for the varsity was the other wonderful courses we competed on. My favorite was the Taconic Golf Club at WilliamsCollege. One year against Harvard we played The Country Club atBrookline. A. W. Tillinghast’s Wannamoisett Country Club in Rhode Island for a Brown match was another gem. It also was a treat when a friend, Tony Forstmann—part of my Yale-American aristocracy and a member of the class after mine—took me to play at his Tillinghast-designed club, Winged Foot.
In the year following graduation I gave serious consideration to turning pro. Trying to figure this out, I played as an amateur in several PGA tour tournaments, amateur competitions, and in other open events. Success and frustration followed one another in what felt like about equal measure. Eventually I decided to stop pursuing competitive golf, enrolled in pre-med courses, and went on to become a physician-psychiatrist.
I have returned often to the Yale course over the years, especially to play in the spring association outing and in the Beinecke during early September. In 1994 I won the senior division of the association event with an 81, which included birdies on number four and number eighteen—the only time I can remember doing that. A special pleasure was winning one of the Beinecke net prizes in 2001 with my son, Tony, ’02. I also had a chance to give workshops in golf psychology for the women’s and men’s varsity teams. I enjoyed meeting other university-affiliated golfers at the course during these years, including English professor and college master, Traugott Lawlor; Amy Hueter, the women’s golf coach in the nineties and a lawyer; Marge Bell, a member of the women’s varsity; Dick Granger, the late pediatrician; and my former teammate, Giles Payne, whom I came to know much better.
My most recent visit to the course came at my 45th reunion in 2005 when I just took a nostalgic ride around without playing. Thinking of the beauty there reminds me of another important person in my Yale memories, Harry Meusel, the longtime superintendent. In his loving attention to the course was more than a little of the poet. The Japanese garden Harry put in near the pond at number thirteen is a charming example. When he retired in the 1990s, I realized how important, if nearly subliminal, his contribution to my pleasure had been over the decades.
The other noteworthy person in my years after Yale has been the longtime varsity coach, David Paterson. It’s hard to encompass all of Dave’s virtues. Most succinctly, he is the complete Scottish golfer, friendly, funny, astute, articulate, and supportive of students. He is able to be either intense or relaxed. And finally, he is possessed of a wonderful golf game. He’s been a great friend and a great enhancement to the university’s golf scene.
By now I’ve been a doctor for over forty years. I’m happy with this choice—for me a better one than a career in golf. But, recounting these stories about my Yale golf experience makes me realize that, while medicine has filled my head, golf has filled my heart.