News From Terre Haute, Indiana

On & Off the Course

October 21, 2012

‘The Match’ pitting amateurs vs. pros recalled 62 years later

TERRE HAUTE — Quote of the Day: “I play golf with friends sometimes, but there are never friendly games.” — Ben Hogan.

Bubba Watson has had a busy fall. Not only did he play all the way to the final round of the FedEx Championships, and in the Ryder Cup, he also played in an event commemorating a very famous match played at Cypress Point in 1956, pitting two of the greatest golf pros at the time against two of the best amateurs.

Come to think of it, all four were some of the best golfers of all time. This year’s event was celebrating The First Tee’s exceeding $100 million in pledges to reach 10 million new young people. It wasn’t televised and kept very quiet; only 225 people were in the gallery.

One of the people in the gallery was Mark Frost, the author of a book titled “The Match,” which is about that match played 62 years ago that was re-enacted in modern terms last week. The pros in 1956 were Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson and the amateurs were Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward. It was supposed to have been a private affair, built around a wager by two millionaires, George Coleman and Eddie Lowery.

Lowery also could be remembered as the 10-year-old caddy for Francis Ouimet when he won the 1913 U.S. Open. Lowry grew up to be an avid supporter of amateur golf and had hired Venturi and Ward as car salesmen. They were to sell cars in the morning and play golf, sometimes as part of the sale, in the afternoon. He bragged to Coleman that two of his employees could not be beaten in a best-ball match. Thus, “The Match” was set up.

Even though it was supposed to be private, word quickly spread and by the back nine hundreds of spectators were following. The score card was displayed in the clubhouse for years afterward. Hogan shot 63, the course record, Venturi 65, and Nelson and Ward 67s. Scores aside, the four-ball match went down to the final hole, with the pros winning 1 up. The difference was made at the 10th hole, where Hogan’s eagle beat Ward’s birdie. They halved every hole from there.

In the modern-day scene, it wasn’t pros vs. amateurs, but it was supposed to have been Davis Love III and Fred Couples in the roles of Hogan and Nelson, against Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler, as the young guns, Ward and Venturi. At the last minute, Couples had to withdraw due to his ailing back and he was replaced with 31-year-old Nick Watney, disrupting the young vs. old setup. Watney filled in perfectly, though, especially since he eagled the 10th hole, just as Hogan did. The “old guys” won again, with Love and Watney defeating Watson and Fowler 2 and 1.

Frost’s book, “The Match,” is a great read, bringing a lot of history into the telling of the tale. After The Match, the USGA came down on Venturi and Ward for violating the rules of amateur status. Venturi decided to turn pro, but Ward felt that if he did, he would admit that he had done something wrong, so a hearing was held and a public scandal ensued. Ward, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion at the time, was deemed a professional in 1957 but sought reinstatement of his amateur status in May of 1958. He led the U.S. to victory on the 1959 Walker Cup team, but that was his last great amateur showing. Jack Nicklaus was the big news and the distance between pros and amateurs had grown greater. Thus the subtitle of the book, “The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever” was very fitting.

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