Bridgehampton, N.Y. — Dr. Bob Hooper’s loss proved to be the USGA’s gain for more than 30 years.
While details such as the year and event have become blurred over time, the magnitude of a certain moment has not. The venue was Hooper’s home course, Wilmington (Del.) Country Club. The year was 1978, possibly 1979, and he was playing a match-play club event.
At this point, Hooper hones in on the moment of impact. His match with fellow member Steve Macuga was all square through three holes. Then, while standing on the fourth teeing ground, Hooper was informed he had a 15th club in his bag.
In accordance with the Rules of Golf, Hooper lost the holes due to a Rules breach and suddenly found himself 3 down. Hooper would lose 1 down.
I lost that club match because I didn’t know the rules, said Hooper. I told myself that it would not happen again. At the time I was also involved with the Delaware State Golf Association, and after that loss I realized how little I knew other than what most average golfers know.
Hooper’s thirst for knowing more eventually morphed into a bond with the USGA that has gone well beyond just being a long-time volunteer. That formal relationship will end Sept. 30 when he referees the afternoon round of the scheduled 36-hole U.S. Mid-Amateur final between Tim Hogarth and reigning champion Nathan Smith at Atlantic Golf Club.
I say that it’s my intention to retire, but you never know, said Hooper, a 77-year-old retired dentist who has served in many capacities under the heading USGA committee member. Thirty years sounded like a nice round number. I might still be involved in some small capacity, but just not like I have been.
Consider this: Hooper has been a USGA committee member since 1981. During that tenure, he has worked all 30 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships, 22 consecutive U.S. Senior Opens, beginning with the second one in 1981, and 27 consecutive U.S. Opens, ending with Tiger Woods’ dramatic win in 2008 at Torrey Pines.
And I never missed a single day, Hooper proudly says.
In 2005, Hooper won the USGA’s Joe Dey Award, which annually honors an individual’s meritorious service to the game of golf as a volunteer.
As much as golf has shaped Hooper’s life, he did not take to the golf course until 1957, when he was on his honeymoon with wife Carolyn, who had picked up the game while attending Penn State University. Carolyn was also a longtime USGA volunteer who served on the Women’s Committee and chaired the U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship Committee among other duties.
Hooper, who was a quarterback and pitcher at the University of Delaware, was drawn to the game just by the simplicity of hitting a golf ball. At the height of his game, his USGA Handicap Index was in the mid-single digits.
From the more than 80 USGA events he’s worked, Hooper has collected numerous memories. But when pressed to name a specific one, there was no wavering.
Jay Sigel versus Seth Knight, second round of the 1985 Mid-Amateur Championship on the Vintage Club’s Mountain Course in Indian Wells, Calif.
Jay was 5 down with five to go, Hooper recalls. Knight makes a birdie on the way in – [meaning Sigel made eagle] – and Jay wins on the 19th hole. What are the odds? Knight just needed to win or halve just one. I’ll just never forget that one.
Sigel went on to win the first of his record three titles in a five-year span.
The outcomes, the venues, the various rulings, those are like Post-It notes stuck to the bottom of a drawer. The lasting and more enriching memories rest on top – the many friendships created and nurtured. That is what Hooper will take with him.
I have been afforded the opportunity to meet so many great people, he said.
Tony Zirpoli would be one of those people.
MVP of the Mid-Amateur, said Zirpoli, who retired as the USGA’s senior director of regional affairs in 2007 and was the director of the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis in 1981.
We were still a small organization back then, but Bob would show up, roll up his sleeves, grab a paint gun to mark the course, help put up the tents, then work the two rounds of stroke play and referee right through the final.
Today, the formative years of the Mid-Am appear to have been done by the seat of the pants. Hooper would sit in Mid-Amateur committee meetings when a site had not been announced for the following year.
It would be late fall, early winter before we knew, he said. At the third Mid-Am in 1983 at Cherry Hills Country Club outside of Denver, Hooper remembered not having enough walking Rules officials until the semifinals.
Just me and my partner Frank Parr, he said. We were still a very small operation.
There was even some speculation as to whether the event would even take newsContent. USGA officials Grant Spaeth, Frank Hannigan and Jim Gabrielson were of the opinion that the Mid-Amateur, which was for players age 25 and older with USGA Handicap Indexes of 3.4 or less, was extremely viable.
It was about the only time I recall [USGA Executive Director] P.J. Boatwright ever being wrong, Hooper joked. He said ‘It won’t ever work. Go ahead and have it, but it won’t work.’
Jim Holtgrieve won the first Mid-Amateur and from there the championship blossomed, becoming the second-largest USGA amateur championship, right behind the U.S. Amateur.
This week, Hooper has been seen roving the course, offering guidance on specific Rules interpretations – and doing whatever else is asked. To him it’s just another week of doing what has become his passion. He is appreciative of all the well wishes, but sees no need for the fuss.
In the past, Hooper has been more involved with the morning portion of the championship final. This year, that has been reversed. Hooper is not sure why, calling it pure coincidence – and it may be.
Nevertheless, when the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Mid-Amateur Trophy is presented to the champion there will be a celebration.
There will also be plenty of goodbyes to a very dear friend.
Stuart Hall is a USGA freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship websites.