Greenwood’s Legacy Chronicled (2004)

Buddy Pearson
Herald-Citizen Staff

Greenwood, however, doesn’t have to venture too far to find reminders about his glory days. Besides being engulfed in awards and golf memorabilia at his home in Cookeville, all Greenwood has to do is go to the book shelf and open one of five books to recount some of his more successful moments on the links.

With a list of golfing accomplishments that is longer than a John Daly drive, some of Greenwood’s more memorable golfing escapades can be found in My 55 Ways to Lower Your Golf Score by Jack Nicklaus; My Story by Jack Nicklaus; Southern Golf Association: The First Hundred Years by Gene Pearce; The History of Tennessee Golf by Gene Pearce; and, most recently, The History of Sunnehanna Country Club and the Sunnehanna Amateur by John Yerger III.

“These books started happening. I have five books that have been written with me in there,” said Greenwood. “It makes you look back and say, ‘Why didn’t I have more confidence?,’ when you don’t know all that you’ve done.”

Greenwood has done plenty to establish a legacy among the nation’s golfing community.

The Sunnehanna experience

In college, Greenwood was a dominant force at North Texas State University. He was a three-time NCAA All-American and the only First Team NCAA All-American in the school’s history. He led the Eagles to three consecutive Missouri Valley Conference Titles and was also selected to the prestigious 10-member Texas Cup Team in 1964 where he bested golfing great Byron Nelson in a singles match.

During this time, Greenwood was making quite a name for himself as an amateur ball-striker. But, according to the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur tournament in Johnstown, Pa., his name wasn’t big enough to play in the tournament of champions.

“I remember when I was a young golfer I wanted to play in the top amateur tournaments to try to learn how to play the game and one day get on the (PGA) Tour,” Greenwood explained. “I would write these tournaments and ask for an invitation to play in their tournament. I got a letter back from Sunnehanna, a very nice and polite letter, that said I didn’t qualify to play in their tournament. In order to qualify, I had to be a state amateur or state open champion. It’s the tournament of champions and that when I qualified to get back in touch with them.”

Using it as a source of motivation, Greenwood tacked the Sunnehanna letter to his wall so that when he got out of bed every morning he saw it and when he went to bed every night he looked at it again.

Finally, in 1965, he earned an invitation to the Sunnehanna Amateur.

“When I did win the Tennessee Open at Old Hickory by eight strokes, I got a letter saying that I had qualified for the tournament,” Greenwood said. “The club was beautiful and quaint — the golf course was beautiful. It was just a wonderful experience for a country boy from Tennessee.”

The experience wasn’t all that good to start out with. There was a baggage mix-up on the plane ride to Pennsylvania and Greenwood wound up losing his golf clubs and clothes.

“I lost my clubs on the flight up there. So, I said, ‘What’s the use in practicing since I don’t have my golf clubs,’” Greenwood recalled. “I sat around the swimming pool for two days looking at pretty girls and resting. I had been practicing like a dog getting ready for the tournament.”

When the start of the tournament rolled around, Greenwood was still without his clothes or clubs. So, he borrowed woods from a club member, a set of irons from the head professional and a putter from the course superintendent.

“The greens superintendent had a Bullseye putter that I liked,” Greenwood said. “I go out the first round and shoot 70 with borrowed clubs. That gives me confidence. If I can shoot par on this course with borrowed clubs, I should be do pretty good when my clubs get here.”

Early in the second round, Greenwood was one-under when his clubs arrived. He kept the putter but switched back to his old clubs and went on to card a course-record 7-under-par 63. Greenwood went on to win the 1965 Sunnehanna Amateur with a tournament-record 269 tournament total. His 63 is still the course record and his 269 was tops until 1992.

“He was a fan-favorite back then and very popular with the people in the pro shop and people in the community,” said Mike Mastovich, a sports writer for The Tribune Democrat in Johnstown, Pa. “The word of his legacy spread. I’m 40 and when he was here I was two years old but people told me about him and you just kind of root for the guy even though I didn’t see him play.”

Greenwood had such an impact on the tournament that his remarkable story not only appears in the new book, but Mastovich wrote about it again in an article previewing the 2004 Sunnehanna Amateur.

“He actually crosses a couple of generations,” Mastovich said.

But Greenwood’s legacy at Sunnehanna didn’t stop there. He returned to Johnstown in 1968 and won the tournament a second time before turning professional. A two-time winner of a tournament that has been held annually since 1954 may not carry that much merit to most folks, but to the those affiliated with Sunnehanna it does. Only a handful of golfers have won the tournament more than once with a list of champions that includes Howard Twitty (1970), Ben Crenshaw (1973), Jay Siegel (1976, 1978, 1988), John Cook (1977, 1979), Bobby Clampett (1980), Brad Faxon (1982), Scott Verplank (1984, 1985) and Allen Doyle (1989, 1990, 1992, 1994). Those who played and didn’t win at Sunnehanna include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples.

“An invitation was considered a privilege. There wasn’t opportunities for amateurs to play in medal-play tournaments. Sunnehanna was an exception,” author John Yerger III told the Herald-Citizen.

“For a lot of these guys, this book is a chance to reflect on good times, times of great success and great moments in life when things weren’t so complicated.”

USGA Tournaments

The 65-year-old Greenwood has been doing a lot of reflecting lately. He recently had open heart surgery and is recovering at his home on Spring Street. During his recovery he has had the opportunity to watch the U.S. Open and the British Open championships on television, both of which are tournaments he competed in while on the Tour.

“Bobby was a heck of a player,” said Larry Adamson, a former executive with the USGA. “I’ve seen a lot of players and he had a sweet, sweet swing. With a little break or two, I don’t doubt that he could have been successful.”

Greenwood tasted some success while on the Tour, accumulating over $100,000 in prize money. He competed in five USGA major championships and nine other national or major championships. Greenwood competed in the Canadian Open four times, the Bahamas National Open two times and the Jamaica National Open once. He played in the Senior PGA Championship at Laurel Valley Country Club in Ligonier, Pa., paired in a practice round with Arnold Palmer.

Greenwood narrowly missed the cut in the 1990 British Open at St. Andrews but did make the cut at two U.S. Opens. He played all four rounds in the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., and at the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach, Ca.

He was twice ranked among the top 10 amateurs in the United States by Golf Magazine, ranking sixth and eighth, respectively. In 1964, he was the co-medalist at the USGA Amateur held at Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland, Ohio. He also competed in USGA Amateurs held at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., and Wakanda Golf Club in Kansas.

“I handled all the entries and I dealt with all the players and we would get 9,000 entries a year and the field is just 156 with 75 exemptions,” Adamson said about the U.S. Open.

“If you make the cut, I don’t care who you are, you are a player. If you go to the U.S. Open and make the field and then make the cut, you’re a good golfer.”

Southern Amateur and the History of Tennessee Golf

More of Greenwood’s golfing endeavors are chronicled in both of Gene Pearce’s books. In Southern Golf Association: The First Hundred Years Greenwood’s success in the Southern Amateur is duly noted. At the 1968 Southern Amateur at Lost Tree in North Palm Beach, Fla., Greenwood shot an 8-under-par 64 to set the course record. He finished third in the tournament, two shots behind winner Lanny Wadkins.

“I didn’t know that I finished third in the Southern Amateur Championship until the other day,” said Greenwood. “The guys I beat were some great players.”

Pearce’s next book, The History of Tennessee Golf, profiles Greenwood in depth, getting more into his background and accomplishments. And what a list there is.

Greenwood won the Tennessee State Amateur in 1966 and the Tennessee Open in 1968. He also won the Rhode Island Open in 1970. As a rookie on the PGA Tour, he was the “Champions Choice”, the PGA Tour rookie voted by past champions, to play in the Colonial Invitational in Fort Worth, Texas.

Upon leaving the PGA Tour after a seven-year stint, Greenwood captured the No. 1 club job in the country by becoming the club pro at Sawgrass Country Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. While there, he hosted two The Player’s Championships during his two-year stay. He was also the head professional at Suntree Country Club, a 36-hole Resort and home of the Suncoast Senior Golf Classic.

But one of the better kept stories in Pearce’s publication isn’t about Greenwood playing, but rather watching a golfing great.

While attending North Texas State, Greenwood would drive from Denton to Fort Worth in order to go to Shady Oaks and watch Ben Hogan practice. He did this several times and would watch from several yards away as Hogan would hit a bag of balls, stop and smoke a cigarette. One day Hogan invited Greenwood to get in his cart and ride over to the practice bunker.

Some time later, Greenwood was getting ready to play a practice round and Hogan joined him. Greenwood said that Hogan told him the shafts in his woods were too limber and then Hogan let Greenwood hit his driver on the 18th tee. The next week, Greenwood received a set of woods in the mail from Ben Hogan.

Beating Nicklaus

Greenwood has plenty of stories about his golfing past and he has the opportunity to share them with his wife Elma and his five-year-old daughter Viola. One of his most noted stories is beating Jack Nicklaus in a match-play tournament.

Nicklaus was in Memphis in the summer of 1961 at the Colonial Invitational, defending his title when he went up against Greenwood in the match-play event. Greenwood made an eagle on the 18th hole and then birdied the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to win the match. It was the last match Nicklaus lost as an amateur.

Nicklaus was so stunned by his defeat to Greenwood that he wrote about it in My 55 Ways to Lower Your Golf Score and My Story.

“When I beat Nicklaus, I didn’t have any idea what I had done,” said Greenwood. “He hadn’t been beaten in three years and he won the U.S. Open nine months later.”

Greenwood’s legacy

Anyone interested in learning more about Bobby Greenwood doesn’t necessarily have to go to a book store. They can just turn on their computer

“My wife Elma is a computer whiz,” Greenwood said. “If you look up Bobby Greenwood on the computer now, there’s all this information.”

If folks don’t want to get on the computer or go to a library, all they have to do is call up Bobby Nichols at Ironwood golf course to get the lowdown on Greenwood. Nichols and Greenwood have been golfing buddies since the early 1960s.

“When he was at the top of his game, he was the best ball-striker I have ever seen,” said Nichols. “He was so far ahead of any other golfers from around here. He had all the shots and he was good under pressure. I hope that in some way he will be remembered as the best golfer in this area.”

Nichols and Greenwood squared off against each other in the inaugural TGA-TPGA Challenge Cup Matches in 1968 with Greenwood representing the amateurs and Nichols the professionals. The two have played with and against each other on numerous occasions since then.

“This new generation doesn’t know who Bobby Greenwood was,” said Nichols. “I wish these young people could have seen him play golf.”

Greenwood doesn’t play much golf any more. He spends his time as a golf-course architect and also gives lessons to aspiring young players on a limited basis.

“Kids that I give lessons to one of the requirements is to buy a hardback note book and keep it so that every time you get a lesson that changes your game or helps you, put down the date and what it was,” Greenwood explained.

Greenwood’s golfing proteges would be smart to write down what Greenwood says or does. Who knows, it may just come up in a book or two.

Published July 24, 2004 7:02 PM CDT
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