YALE GOLF & ME, by Ted Weiss–’60, Captain
My knowledge of Yale began in childhood when I listened to a weekly radio program during the 1940s (so long ago) about Frank Merriwell. He was the consummate boy’s hero in that series, based on novels by Burt L. Standish. A 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 came when I read about the USGA’s holding its 1952 boys jr championship at our course. By about that time golf was becoming important to me, and the chance to attend the college with such a resource was attractive.
One pre-Yale anecdote is worth telling. In 1955 I qualified for the USGA national jr, which was played at Purdue in Indiana. Having grown up in New Orleans–where the greens were Bermuda and rye back then–seeing northern bent grass greens was a revelation. They looked like velvet. Initially 128 boys qualified. I won several matches, reaching the 4th round–down to 16. My next opponent already had quite a reputation–a long hitter, an excellent iron player, and the fortunate possessor of a superior short game. I was worried. Nonetheless, I birdied the 9th 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. My two bogeys on 11 and 12 lost to his pars. I butchered 13 to make him dormie five. The final tally was 5 & 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 jr 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 sculpture than a green. I knew then both that I’d come to the right school, and also that I was going to be educated here in ways I hadn’t anticipated. The course’s architect, Charles Blair Macdonald, proved my very important teacher. Adjectives like heroic and epic came to be my favorite descriptors for the layout. If Balliol College helped shape many Oxonians, the golf course did that for me.
The most vivid memory from that year’s golf came during an intrasquad match against my teammate, Alan Gilison, of Long Island. We were competing for positions on the seven-member freshman team. I was leading the match when I felt a kind of pity for Al, since it looked as if I’d defeat him. As a result of this mental process, I slackened up, and as quickly as you can imagine, he had pulled ahead of me and then won the match. Due to this loss I played #2 that season, and Al was #1. That experience taught me the downside of too much empathy for an opponent.
Ned Vare was ’57 varsity captain. I don’t believe I ever spoke to him. But, already avid about golf history, I knew that his relative–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–here, of golf–who figured in that year year was 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 #18. 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.
#6 was my spot on the varsity early in this year. However, the Eastern Intercollegiate Championship played at our course that May was to become the most important competition of my young life.
We played for the team championship, as well as trying to qualify for the individual competition, over 36 holes on the first day. My stamina was good–after two seasons at the hilly course–and I birdied two of the last 3 – 4 holes of the second round to qualify with 80 – 75 = 155. We won the team championship, and I joined the elite 16 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 could lavish a lot of detail here, but the conclusion was that–after great trap shots to within a foot or two of three holes on the front nine (including from the deep traps in front of the 4th and on the right of the 8th)–I eventually birdied #18 to win 2 up. I continued to play exceptionally well in the afternoon to advance to the semifinals.
I was so keyed up that night I couldn’t fall asleep, and got just a few hours. Nonetheless, my momentum continued in the next morning’s match: I holed a 40 footer on the 1st for a winning birdie, and closed out my opponent at 16 with another birdie after an up and down from the front left trap. The afternoon finals was proceeding in a similar fashion when we reached the 9th tee with me two up. But then my wheels came off: I skied a wood into the left hand trees, losing that hole and others on the back nine as my rhythm and coordination had left–presumably from fatigue after the poor night’s sleep. I lost 2 up. It was a bitter disappointment after such a run.
The captain that year was Franz Dolph. He was an unlikely standout–slim and bespectacled. Even his teeing method was unorthodox, as he squatted to set up the ball. But his swing was excellent and effective, propelling drives far down the fairway.
For the next two years I played #1. My most important match as a junior came against Princeton at their course. In my era there were seven varsity players, each competing at match play for one point. If we were tied after eighteen, things continued into extra holes. My opponent was Jack Huiskamp. I started fast, well under par over the first 4 – 5 holes, but cooled as the round progressed. By the 18th we were tied, and so was the team match at 3 – 3. Back then the last hole at the Springdale course was a medium length par 4 with a green that tilted from back to front. I left my birdie putt about four feet short. Jack already had made par, so my putt needed to go in to keep me and the team alive. It was sharply downhill and seemed perfectly straight, allowing no deviation. I still remember my nervousness about what was at stake. But happily I made it, went on to win in extra holes, and completed the team’s victory.
The other salient memory from that year came at the NCAA national championship played at the Eugene (Oregon) CC. Parenthetically, I played a practice round with the famous Connecticut amateur, Dick Siderowf, from Duke. He treated us to a hole in one on about the 8th with a flawless 7 iron, still vivid in my mind. The 36 hole qualifying, as with the Easterns, was for the team title and for getting into the 64 man individual championship. The course suited my game–shortish and tight. My 147 was adequate. (Although our team again had won the Easterns, we finished back in the pack at the nationals.). I advanced though several matches: Simmons, whom I’d beaten the year before in the Easterns, was one I defeated again. This was particularly satisfying, as it wasn’t on my home course, so I had no advantage. I also beat a Walker Cup player from Texas named John Farquhar. Eventually I was in the semifinals, competing against Dick Crawford from the juggernaut U. 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 36 hole match, and lost badly.
By now you may be thinking that I just make excuses for losing crucial matches. But actually I view these experiences as painful, probably necessary parts of my education as a competitive golfer. I’d never lost sleep before a match until the Easterns as a sophomore, and I’d never had a club go bad in competition until here. Subsequently I learned what to do for overstimulated insomnia–a little of the sedative, Ativan, at bedtime–and I also started carrying a duplicate driver with me to tournaments. Anyway, these were the facts as I experienced them–you’ll have to decide.
Coincidentally, pro Stuart Appleby had a similar problem with a damaged club during the tour’s AT&T National this summer. Leading 3/4 of the way through the event, he had his driver head crack during the third round. News reports didn’t say if he found a replacement club for the last day, but in fact he faded badly and didn’t win.
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 very friendly rivalry–though as above, not too friendly! I stayed with John and his family after college when I played as an amateur in the Insurance City 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. (Didn’t he coach that, too?) “Take two and hit to right.”
It was flattering to be elected captain by my teammates. That’s helped me understand the responsibility Ryder Cup players describe which transcends the individual’s aspirations.
In retrospect this year was anticlimactic. We played the Easterns on a mediocre course in western Pennsylvania. (Someone said it could have been at Oakmont, but….) I started with an 8 on the par 4 first, hitting from trap to trap at green-side. Then it began to rain, and this continued for the entire 36 holes. I didn’t break 80 in either round, and the team didn’t win.
My match against Princeton (Huiskamp again) was, ultimately, hilarious. We played at home, and my teammates won the other six matches. But, Huiskamp and I had another close one, even after 18. At #2–our 20th–I hit an excellent iron shot about 2 1/2 feet from the hole. My opponent made par, and I had a chance to sweep 7 – 0. The cup was cut in the middle of the green on top of a little knoll. My too eager putt for the win slid at least as far past as it had been before that stroke. Sadly I missed the comeback, which I guess balanced my two matches with Huiskamp very symmetrically, and only cost the team glory.
There were two other interesting matches that year. In one I played Don Allen from Rochester. A Walker Cupper, he had the unusual habit of clamping a lighted cigarette between his teeth as he hit most shots. On the 4th hole I drove first, nicely down the fairway. Don’s tee shot drifted right, toward the tongue of the lake that juts in from that side. OK, I thought; this hole is mine. But, not necessarily: His prodigious length was enough to carry the lake far down into the right rough. It definitely shook me up. Such a drive may be more common nowadays, but back then it was pretty much unheard of without a gale behind. Anyway, I hit a 4 iron, Don an eight. Though I did win the hole, it was a memorable moment.
The second match was one in which I played very well, closing out my opponent on the 16th green. At that point I was two under, and had my best chance to break 70–something I hadn’t yet accomplished. So, I played out the bye holes to see if I could. At 17 I made a timid bogey. That irritated me, so I decided to attack 18 without reserve. I hit a perfect drive into the heart of the upslope on the narrow fairway there. Not wanting to back off, I hit a full-blooded fairway wood, which soared high above the hill. Unfortunately it hooked wildly, as uphill shots can do, right into the middle of the parking lot in front of the clubhouse. I finished with 72, and never have broken par.
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 matches. As iconic and impressive as he was, Mrs. Jones was equally so. 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 pre-tournament exhibition match with others on that squad. This was fun, with nothing at stake.
My play in the 36 hole qualifying was mediocre. Still, I had a chance to make the match play coming down the back nine. On about the 14th hole an official told our group to speed up to avoid being penalized for slow play (something I can be guilty of.) So I did hurry, choosing too much club, and hitting the iron second right over the middle of that par 4 green into a tree root. I made a double bogey. We walked off the green to the next tee, a par three, and found three groups waiting ahead of us. How frustrating. 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. He is extremely funny, and I have enjoyed a lot of laughs with him, including during subsequent best ball events at his club on Long Island and at Yale alumni outings. 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.) The course was Peachtree CC, designed by his father. In the 90s Bob wrote an excellent book explaining golf course architecture; the teachers in his major field (English) must have been proud. My classmate, Mike Phillips, was our longest hitter; he competed with Gilison as the funniest on the team. Frost Walker from Florida had a wonderful, compact swing and a fierce competitive drive. He was one of the few who beat me in an intrasquad match. 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, and Bill Bayfield. Reese, the other Jones boy, was a freshman when I was a senior, and I only knew him 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 GC at Williams College. This medium length layout in the Berkshires was distractingly beautiful. If I hadn’t been at Yale, Williams would have made a close second. Well, not really. One year against Harvard we played the historic Country Club of Brookline. A. W. Tillinghast’s Wannamoisett CC in Rhode Island for a Brown match was another gem. (Parenthetically I think this architect–excepting Macdonald–is my favorite, with his sculptural green designs and bunkers that look as if they’ve been punched into the landscape.) 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 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. The successes and frustrations continued, in what felt like about equal measure.
My denouement, in a funny way, also was Yale-related. During the late spring of ’61 I played in the local qualifying for the US Open at New Orleans CC. After 74 in the morning round–three over–I went out in 33 in the afternoon–three under, which returned me to even. I looked like a shoo-in to qualify for the next, sectional stage. But, on the 10th tee, waiting to start the last nine, John LeBourgeois–a Yale classmate from New Orleans–came up to me, and we chatted for a few minutes. When I went back to play the tee shot I’d lost my concentration, and couldn’t settle down, failing to break 40 for that nine. This put me in a playoff for the next stage, which I lost. Although the playoff winner decided not to go ahead, and I could have, this final frustration was too much. I decided to stop pursuing competitive golf, enrolled in pre med courses, and went on to become a physician (psychiatrist.)
Interestingly, I heard Arnold Palmer relate a very similar instance from the 72nd hole of the Masters, also in ’61 I think. One stroke ahead going up the last fairway after a satisfactory drive, he saw a friend in the crowd who said hello to Arnie. They talked for a few minutes while Palmer waited to hit his second. When he did get back to the ball, he’d lost his concentration, missing the green, making double bogey, and losing by a stroke. So we all have painful lessons.
There were many returns to the Yale course over the succeeding years, especially to play in the spring association outing and in the Beinecke during early September. In ’94 I won the senior division of the association event with an 81 which included birdies on #s 4 and 18–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 varsities.
I enjoyed meeting other university-affiliated golfers at the course during these years. Several really delightful ones were: English professor and college master, Traugott Lawlor; Amy Hueter, 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 ’05 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, namely Harry Muesel–the longtime superintendent. In his loving attention to the course, there was more than a little of the poet. The Japanese garden Harry put in near the lake in front of the par three 13th tee is a nice example. When he retired in the 90s, I realized how important, if nearly subliminal, his contribution to my pleasure had been over the decades, and wrote to tell him so.
The other noteworthy person in my years after Yale has been the perennial varsity coach, David Paterson. It’s hard to encompass all Dave’s virtues. Most succinctly, he is the complete golfer: Scottish, of course. Friendly. Funny. Astute. Articulate. Supportive to the students. Able to be either intense or relaxed. And finally, 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.