Ron Righter read the late February email from the Carolinas Golf Association and inspiration struck immediately. The 68th U.S. Junior Amateur Championship was coming to Colleton River Plantation Club in late July and the club needed volunteers. Just over a four-hour drive from his home in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., Righter pounced on the opportunity.
"After all these years, I felt I should give something back,” said Righter, 73, who competed in the 1958 and 1959 U.S. Junior Amateurs. “When I saw the email, I thought I not only want to do this, I should do it."
Originally from the Maryland suburbs near Washington, D.C., Righter advanced to the second round of match play in both of his Junior Amateur appearances, in 1958 at the University of Minnesota Golf Course and in 1959 at Stanford University Golf Course.
His Junior Amateur days bring back fond memories for Righter, though his first-round win in 1959 came at a price.
"My best memory is also my most unfortunate memory in a way,” he said. “The reason I say it's the most unfortunate is that the guys who lost in the first round got to play Pebble Beach."
Unfortunately, Righter has yet to play Pebble Beach, but did get a chance to visit and walk the five-time U.S. Open venue after his competitive playing days were over.
Following his strong junior career, Righter played collegiately near home at the University of Maryland, where he captained the Terrapins’ 1963 Atlantic Coast Conference championship team.
Righter’s favorite golf memory occurred around the same time he competed in the U.S. Junior. He won the 1959 and 1960 Bubby Worsham Memorial tournaments, conducted by the Washington Metropolitan Golf Association. The tournament, which Worsham won in 1947 (same year his brother, Lew, won the U.S. Open) and was later renamed in 1950 following his 1949 death in a car accident, held a special meaning for Righter because of its connection to Arnold Palmer, Worsham’s college roommate at Wake Forest.
“Arnold Palmer helped rename the tournament after Worsham, and the reason the age limit is higher is because the WMGA wanted Arnold Palmer to be able to play in it,” said Righter. “He won it in 1950, the first year it was renamed. So, I became the first two-time winner of a tournament that Arnold Palmer won and named. Any time you’re associated with Arnold Palmer, it’s special.”
Righter played competitively at the amateur level through the mid-70s, but doesn’t play much anymore. He worked as an accountant in the D.C. area until 1989 before fulfilling a lifelong dream and retiring on the North Carolina coast.
While he doesn’t play much anymore, he still loves the game and follows it closely.
“At my age, your body just doesn’t do what you want it to do,” he said. “But the time felt right to finally give back to the game that did so much for me.”
The King and I
William Thomson entered the record books last August when he became, at 13 years, 11 months, the youngest competitor in the 119-year history of the U.S. Amateur.
Later that fall, he lived out some more history. Thomson, his parents and Gunnar Doyle, a Mendon High School teammate from Pittsford, N.Y., were invited to Latrobe (Pa.) Country Club to play golf and meet golf legend Arnold Palmer. The arrangements were made through John Gay, a Monroe Golf Club member Thomson had befriended.
The trip included lunch with the three-time USGA champion and seven-time major champion, a visit to Palmer’s office and a chance to sit on the old tractor made famous in Pennzoil commercials long before Thomson was born.
“It was unbelievable,” said Thomson, who opened the 68th U.S. Junior Amateur with an even-par 72. “I learned a lot about how to behave and how you want to act around other people. It was more about character [than golf]. He’s obviously an amazing golfer and there’s so much history with him, but really it was the way he acted and what a great guy he was.”
Thomson said the coolest part of the trip was sitting on the tractor and seeing all the memorabilia, both in the barn and Palmer’s office.
“There were a lot of trophies,” he said.
While Thomson missed the match-play cut last August at Atlanta Athletic Club, he said the experience prepared him for his first U.S. Junior Amateur. Seeing how the USGA sets up a championship course and dealing with the conditions gave him confidence.
“There’s always nerves on the first tee, but I felt a little more comfortable,” said Thomson, who is moving with his family to Naples, Fla., next month. “I have a friend (Ed Kraienberg) caddieing for me. We played on the same high school team a few years ago. It’s hard to be fully ready for these tournaments, but I feel like I prepared myself well.”
Growing up the son of a former U.S. Marine of the Year, Cullen Plousha learned quickly about discipline. Messing up meant punishing workouts.
“We’ve had to run at 4 or 5 in the morning or do some stadium [steps],” said Plousha.
That kind of discipline has helped Plousha on the golf course. The game requires patience, focus and determination, and Plousha has exceled ever since his father introduced him to golf a decade ago.
“It teaches us to be even-keeled on the course and not let anything bother us,” said Plousha after carding a 3-over 75 on Monday. “If anything goes wrong, pretend like nothing happened and just hope for the best.”
Plousha, 16, of Carlsbad, Calif., was born with athletic genes. Not only was his father, also named Cullen, a Marine, but he played Division I football at the University of Arizona from 1992-1994. His mother, Mary, was a starting point guard for the Arizona women’s basketball team.
The younger Cullen also plays basketball, but it’s only seasonal. Golf is something he would like to continue through college, and, perhaps, beyond. His 14-year-old brother, Carter, carries a 3 handicap in golf, but is more serious about basketball.
“During basketball season, I only practice golf a few times a week,” said the 6-foot-1 Cullen Jr., who will be on the varsity this season at Carlsbad High, where he helped the golf team claim this year’s CIF-San Diego Section title.
This week’s U.S. Junior Amateur is Cullen’s first USGA championship and one of the biggest event of his burgeoning career. Last week, he tied for 23rd in the Callaway Junior World held at Torrey Pines South, site of the 2008 U.S. Open and upcoming 2021 U.S. Open. His toughest adjustment this week has been the stifling heat and humidity, something not felt on the West Coast.
“The temperature was cooler at Torrey Pines,” said Plousha. “Both courses were pretty long and tough.”
Odds And Ends
Stan Grossman, who served on the U.S. Junior Amateur Committee for 34 years, was honored at a dinner Sunday night. The St. Louis resident received the USGA’s Joe Dey Award in 2012. He retired from the Junior Committee this year…The first round ended at 7:25 EDT…A total of 17 players broke par in the first round.