Veteran Golfer Enjoying New Family, Old Game (2000)

Buddy Pearson
Herald-Citizen Staff

Bobby Greenwood celebrates Father’s Day with a glorious golfing past and a bright future with his family.

A seven-year member of the PGA Tour during the early 1970s, the Cookeville golf pro today — with his wife, Elma, and daughter, Viola, by his side — will watch the 100th U.S. Open on television, a tournament he played in on one of the most storied courses in Open history, .

Greenwood has played in five major championships during his golfing career, but his experience in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach seems to stand out the most.

“I was in 15th place going into the final round in 1972, the year (Jack) Nicklaus won,” said Greenwood. “I shot an even-par 72 in the third round and was playing pretty good in the tournament. If I stayed in 15th place, I would have been in the Masters the next year and back at the Open again.

“But, that was the year there was a yacht race canceled because of the high winds. The wind was blowing 30 miles an hour and I was playing right into it. I shot the highest round I ever shot in a tournament and it’s just the worst feeling. It’s tough to handle an 86 when you have shot 61, 63 and 64, at various tournaments.”

Now, 28 years later, if something like that were to happen to Greenwood, he would probably have an easier time handling it with the peace and serenity of his new family surrounding him. The 61-year old is married to a 29-year old native of the Philippines and is the father of a one-year old baby girl who is named after his grandmother.

“Some people say that I’m too old for her and too old to have a baby, but this has been a blessing,” Greenwood stated. “The key is marrying the right person. I have two grown children who have children of their own, and I was not looking to have more. But, if you love somebody, you can’t tell her you are not going to have a child with her. It happened and it’s been a blessing for us.”

Bobby and Elma became pen pals through a Christian singles International Filipino connection because he had heard that the Filipino culture was very conservative, sweet, kind and nice. He and Elma began writing to each other and began to fall in love during their correspondence. Greenwood then went to Japan to design a course for Jack Nicklaus. It was on a visit to the Philippines during his stay in Japan that the two finally met.

“I got to know her and her family while I was in the Philippines for two months,” he said. “I came back home and realized I was in this miserable, lonely existence again. So, I just called her and said ‘will you marry me’ and she said ‘yes’.”

It’s kind of ironic that Bobby’s friendship with Jack Nicklaus led to his newfound family. But Bobby and the Golden Bear go way back to the days of amateur golf when Greenwood had the upper hand.

“Jack and I are old friends,” Greenwood said. “I had beaten him in Memphis in a match head-to-head nine months before he won the U.S. Open. He doesn’t hold grudges about getting beaten. As a matter of fact, he wrote in two of his books about the match and that I was the last amateur to beat him and that kind of stuff.”

Not only did Greenwood beat him in the Colonial Classic, but he also set the course record on Nicklaus’s home course. Bobby shot an 8-under par 64 in the Southern Amateur Championship at Lost Tree Golf Club in North Palm Beach, Florida.

“It’s kind of funny because every time Jack goes out to play at his home course, it says Bobby Greenwood owns the course record,” he joked.

Greenwood has a golfing resume’ as long as a birdie putt seems to a 20 handicapper. Besides beating Nicklaus, he bested Byron Nelson in a singles match while a captain on the prestigious Texas Cup Team in 1964. He was twice ranked among the top 10 amateurs in the United States by Golf Magazine, ranking sixth and eighth, respectively. He was a three-time NCAA All-American at North Texas State University, earning first team honors in 1963. In 1964, he was the co-medalist at the U.S.G.A Amateur held at Canterbury Country Club in Cleveland, Ohio.

Greenwood captured the Sunnehanna Amateur (Tournament of Champions), carding a record 63 in the second round in 1966, garnering the tournament record of 269 in 1966. He won the Tennessee Open in 1968 and 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, he captured the number-one 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 later co-founded the Tennessee Cup matches when he returned to Tennessee.

But, throughout all of his golfing glory, the one thing that means the most to him is how he became a PGA Tour member.

“I went to the qualifying school and I tied for third with Johnny Miller and earned my PGA Tour card,” boasted Greenwood. “The real, legitimate way to get on the Tour is through Q-school. If you’re a club pro, you can show up for qualifying on Mondays, but you really didn’t earn a spot on the Tour. You just got the invitation because you were a club pro. But, people will say they played on the Tour when all they did was show up for qualifying rounds and didn’t make it.”

Greenwood, who is currently a golf course architect and president of Greenwood-Clifton Golf Design Group in Orlando, Florida, still competes on a regular basis. In 1999, he finished seventh in the Tennessee PGA Section Championship, marking the oldest competitor to finish that high in the tournament. This past Monday, he carded a 71 at Bluegrass Country Club in Hendersonville to miss qualifying by one shot for the U.S. Senior Open Championship.

“In a way, I was happy I didn’t qualify,” he said. “If I had shot one stroke lower, if that putt had gone in that lipped out on the last hole, it would have cost me $3,000 to make the trip. I would have gone to the U.S. Senior Open to try and break 80 for four rounds and that’s not a lot of fun.”

“I like the challenge and I tried hard to do qualify. But, my best golf is behind me now. if you stop and think about it, playing in a major championship is brutal.”

Greenwood is happy to be playing golf at all these days. He has worked his way through various injuries just to be able to swing a club. He teaches lessons on a weekly basis and plays in a few selected events, other than that, he enjoys being with his family.

“Golf is still a tough game. It’s the most difficult of all games to play correctly. But, when you’re happily married and enjoying life, it’s nice.”

Published June 17, 2000 6:26 PM CDT
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