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Peter Teravainen

Peter Teravainen
1978 team captain and international professional tour player

When Scotsman David Paterson came to Yale as the golf coach in 1975, Peter Teravainen (Class of 1978) was a freshman from Duxbury, Massachusetts and the best player on the team. He was named to All-American teams in 1976, 1977, and 1978 and was team captain in his senior year. With Coach Paterson’s encouragement Teravainen set out as a golf professional in 1979.
His career is certainly proof that golf is an international game. Teravainen was unsuccessful in qualifying for the US PGA Tour, but he has played in six national open championships, won on four different tours around the world, and won three national championships: the Singapore (where he lives) PGA Championship in 1989 and 1991, the Czech Open in 1995, and the Japan Open in 1996. In the Japan Open, a hole-in-one afforded him the opportunity to donate the $25,000, MasterCard-Tom Watson Prize to charity. He chose to give it to the United Nations University.

In June 2001 Teravainen returned to Yale for the celebration of David Paterson’s twenty-five years as coach. Coach Paterson asked Peter to talk at the reunion. Here are some of his remarks.

Golf can be a fun game, but if you are going to play it professionally for more than two decades you better have a sense of humor. I posed a question to the foreign Pros on the Japanese Tour last month, and they gave me a lot of help in solving it. I asked, “Which American Professional Golfers have wins on the European, Australian, Asian, Japanese Tours and a Major title?” With all this brain power working on a useless bit of trivia, we came up with a player who started his career outside the US and was able to win on these four tours and later a major. Payne Stewart accomplished this feat. I offered myself as another player who had achieved wins on four different tours and a major. We all had a good laugh, but everyone on the Japanese Tour considers the Japan Open “The” Japanese Major to win. When you are a player, a ten-year exemption gets your attention.

1980 was my first full year as a golf professional, and I was on the USPGA Tour, but I must say I wasn’t ready. One person who deserves a medal was my Tuesday practice round partner, Mike Donald. We lost every single Tuesday, but he didn’t give up on me. He must have been a little bit relieved when I lost my card, so he could find a new partner for the practice round money games. In 1981 Mike was rewarded for his patience. His new partner was a rookie by the name of Fred Couples. The start of my international career resulted from a conversation at the score board at the 1981 USTourSchool. I missed by one shot, and there was no Nike or Buy.com Tour back then. One of the Pros told me that the European Tour was giving out playing status to the top 15 players who missed out at the USTourSchool. The European Tour is truly a global tour. It has tournaments in Asia,AustraliaAfricaMiddle East, and South America.

I learned a lot at Yale, but now I would be starting my advanced degree in Economics. My strongest memory of the week in Tunisiawas a waiter at the hotel restaurant asking me if I was a capitalist. Having a total of $3,000 of capital didn’t stop me from stating that “Of course I am a capitalist.” Luckily, I didn’t get food poisoning that week. The next three tournaments were in MadridSardinia, andParis. And all roads went through Rome. Keeping expenses down was a major consideration for nearly all the players in the 1980s. The tournament purses were very small. The tour travel agent organized a cheap air ticket on Alitalia, so we wasted a lot of time making connections in Rome. On one of the overnight layovers in Rome, my roommate was the eccentric Mac O’Grady. That night he spent hours telling me swing theories from the book “The Golfing Machine.” The next day I asked the travel agent not to assign us as roommates anymore. Maybe that was a mistake. When Mac made it on the US, Tour the other players voted his swing the best. In the 1990s, Mac became a consultant to some of the top players in the game.

My roommate in Sardinia and much of my first year on the European Tour was able to give me an insight intoAmerica Civil Rights in the 1960s and how it related to professional golf. The US PGA didn’t rescind the “Caucasian only” rule until 1961. My roommate, Rafe Botts, was one of a handful of black professionals who were finally able to play full time on the US Tour in the 1960s. But it still wasn’t easy or completely fair. Now we live in a different world. The Supreme Court stepped in and changed rules fundamental to running a golf tournament. Where was the Supreme Court 40 years ago when they were truly needed to help make the PGA Tour a fair workplace?

US Tour player, Jim Thorpe, was playing in the Nigerian Open that year. Nigeria was probably one of the toughest places I have ever played golf. I didn’t feel comfortable, and the putting surface, a mixture of sand and oil, gave me problems. Both Jim and I decided that we wouldn’t be going back to Nigeria. I had played with Jim’s brother, Chuck Thorpe, on the mini-tours in Florida. When Chuck heard I was from Yale he suggested that we work together. He said that with his brains and my bankroll we would form a strong partnership. When I told Chuck the extent of my bankroll, he withdrew the offer. That is still the only business opportunity I ever received because of my Yale connection.

I definitely wouldn’t have become one of the answers to the earlier trivia question if it weren’t for my wife, Veronica. My first big win in Singapore came weeks after the birth of our daughter, Taina. The Chinese say a baby brings luck. In fact, my biggest win, the 1996 Japan Open happened only because Veronica did all the groundwork that would allow me to get a Japanese visa. I wasn’t going to play because I don’t have much patience for government red tape. After I won, she told me it was her dream for me to change from Europeto Japan. The Japanese Tour wasn’t even on my radar screen until I won the Japan Open. The travel toEurope was starting to wear me out, so it was nice to cut my fourteen hours commuting time in half. Even though she has never played golf, Veronica has become quite an expert. I asked her to remember her caddie experiences, and I found out she got more conversation out of Nick Faldo than I ever did. In 1989 in a heavy downpour at Monte Carlo, Nick commiserated with her as she was getting wet and her player was rushing on up ahead with the umbrella. Nick asked why she caddied for such a jerk. She replied, “What to do? He’s my husband.” Later that summer would be Veronica’s last week as a caddie, and what a tournament to finish onThe Open at Royal Troon. Early in the week the front of the practice range was used, and it had a downhill lie. One player was working on his long irons beside me but was having problems and left the range a little disappointed with his swing. Veronica asked, “Who was that old guy? He nearly fell down after every swing.” It was Arnold Palmer. In the third round we were paired with Jack Nicklaus, and I was extremely nervous. Veronica chatted merrily with Jack quite often during the round and told me he is a nice player to be paired with. I smiled weakly and prayed the tightness in my body was not a heart attack about to happen.

In 1991 a University of Pennsylvania alumnus, Michael Bamberger, caddied for me and he produced a pretty good book, “To the Linksland.” People have come up to me all over the world and asked me to sign it. One year I was on the first tee at North Berwick in Scotland getting ready to qualify for The Open, and an old Yalie and his wife ambled out and asked me to sign their favorite book. They enjoyed taking a Scottish holiday every year. I asked Michael not to mention one of my swings in his book. My most well-known swing even had a name. It was called the “Whiplash,” and, in hindsight, I’m glad Michael ignored my request to keep it out of his book. For the record, my first whiplash was at the Swiss Open in 1982. I received a lot of good natured ribbing over the years from the other players because of this swing that recoiled tremendously from the follow through position.

In 2006 the fifty-year-old Teravainen tried to qualify for the PGA Senior Tour. He fell short and again turned to the European Senior Tour. He remains Yale’s only international professional golfer.

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