In 1979, at the age of 35, Dennis Walsh, of Groves, Texas, claimed the U.S. Amateur Public Links title with a 4-and-3 win over Eric Mork at West Delta Golf Course in Portland, Ore. At the time, Walsh worked for a chemical plant associated with a Port Arthur, Texas-based oil company. Walsh, now 70, retired from the oil company six years ago. He still enjoys playing the game, although he no longer competes on a national level.
What do you remember about that victory?
I remember that I really enjoyed the week there. The area was beautiful. It was just a fun time.
Do you still have your medal?
It’s up on the wall. Every once in a while, I will walk through the kitchen and look at it and say, ‘Wow, that was cool.’ That was a really good year for me, golf-wise.
What was the competition like?
The fields were considerably weaker than the National Amateur, but there were always several really good players. I beat [Georgia Southern All-American] Jodie Mudd in the semifinals and Jodie went on to have a stellar career as a professional, and he also won the next two APLs. And if he had beaten me that day, he might have won three in a row. Golf was fun then because I could play a little bit.
What were the fields like in the late 1970s? Were there more mid-amateurs than college players?
There were a lot of college guys. I remember playing a guy [in the Round of 32] who was a runner-up [in 1969] from Hawaii named Arthur Fujita. Then, I think the rest of the guys I played were all college guys.
What did beating Mudd in the semifinals do for your confidence?
I didn’t know who Jodie Mudd was. I knew he was a heck of a player. I knew he had an older brother [Eddie Mudd] who had won the Public Links. I’ll be honest about it. [Being the No. 1 seed and co-medalist], I was the first guy off the box every day. I would get through playing. I wouldn’t hang around and practice. I would get in my car and go up in the mountains. I was totally away from golf until the next morning. Match over, see you later.
That probably wasn’t a bad philosophy.
It actually worked out great. For me, it was a lot of fun doing it that way. I had a great time up in those mountains. Timberline Lodge was up there. I wouldn’t get back to the hotel until way late. Like midnight or 11:30 p.m. It was just golf and mountains, and a lot of pretty scenery. When we left Portland, we flew right over the lodge. That place was up around 9,000 or 10,000 feet. I looked out the side of the plane and felt like I could shake hands with the people there on the ground.
Did you play the U.S. Amateur as well? And if so, what was the biggest difference between the two competitions at that time?
I played in it a couple of times. I never did any good. The thing that I noticed most was that the APL was fun. At the Amateur, you would be there with all the college kids and a few well-known [career] amateurs. It looked like a street full of gunfighters. Everybody was eyeing everybody up and wanting to know who is going to beat whom. They were serious about stuff. The atmosphere was just absolutely different. You were at a municipal golf course in most cases for the APL. The atmosphere around the clubhouse … I loved the [APL] atmosphere. That’s the way I grew up.
Did you grow up at a municipal golf course?
I grew up on a little nine-hole golf course [in Port Arthur, Texas]. I still live behind it. But they closed it at this time last year. They are fixing to make it a housing development. It breaks my heart.
What are your thoughts on the APL being retired?
There will always be a soft spot in my heart for the APL. I hate to see that championship go away. The powers that be probably made the right decision. I’m really going to miss that event.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.