APL Champion Memories: Stan Stopa (1973)

Stan Stopa produced a one-stroke victory at the 1973 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. (USGA Museum)
By David Shefter, USGA
July 8, 2014

Stan Stopa, of New Orleans, claimed the 1973 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship at Flanders Valley Golf Course in Flanders, N.J. Stopa, then a 20-year-old standout at the University of New Orleans, where he won the 1971 NCAA College Division individual title, edged Philip Reichel and Gary Hitch by one stroke. Stopa turned professional and won the PGA Gulf States Section championship five times, which earned him starts in several PGA Tour and Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour events in the region. He also played the final 36 holes of the 1980 Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas with Jack Nicklaus, beating the Golden Bear in the first 18. Now 61, Stopa has served as the head golf professional at Audubon Golf Course in New Orleans for the past 31 years.

Does it seem like an eternity since you won your APL title?

I work with [teaching pro] Randy Smith in Dallas. He’s one of my very best friends. And he was coaching [2007] champion Colt Knost. I’m out there on the range one day and Colt comes up and says: “I can’t believe it. I am looking at the [APL] trophy and you won it back in ’73.” And Randy said, “That just doesn’t seem right.” We’re sitting there talking about it. It was crazy.

Looking back at the championship, you didn’t get off to a great start with a pair of 76s. What happened?

 The weather was awful and the golf course was really, really difficult. (Play was stopped twice in the third round due to inclement weather). I just got lucky. The rain really came down during the third round. I had a decent third round (70). I was like five behind [after 54 holes].

And your final round got off to an inauspicious start.

I was staying with my aunt and uncle who lived like an hour and a half away, so I was commuting. We got into a traffic jam [prior to the final round]. We got to the course and I didn’t have a chance to hit a ball. They were calling my name to the first tee. Then I three-putted from 15 feet on the first hole for a bogey. I thought it was going to be awful. But I wound up bringing it back and keeping it together and everyone else kind of gave the tournament to me. (Reichel bogeyed 17 and Hitch did the same on 18). I knew exactly where I was [on the leader board]. I had to two-putt the last hole to win.

What was your mindset entering the 1973 championship?

I played in 1970 [at Cog Hill in suburban Chicago] and I was like the second-youngest or youngest player in the field. I was 17. And I finished dead last. I didn’t play in ’71. In 1972, I played in Indy and I finished tied for 10th. I used to drive it really far back then. I really should have won [in 1973] by a big margin, but my putting was not very good. And it’s still not very good.

How special is your APL title?

I had an aunt and uncle in New Jersey who have since passed on and I had a cousin who lived in Oradell. I sent a club from my title to the USGA, and when they were still living there, we decided to go take a look to see if my club was in the Museum. And sure enough, they’ve got my wedge there. I did see that.

Golf World magazine used to put out a hardback book and they had an article on the [1973] Public Links. I got my picture with my long, scraggly hair. Now I don’t have any hair. That’s from working the same job for 31 years.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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