James Wiechers, who won the 1962 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship before embarking on a 13-year professional career that netted him one PGA Tour title, died on Oct. 15 at the age of 74 in Napa, Calif., following a four-month illness.
Wiechers, who was born in Oakland, Calif., was one of Northern California’s top junior golfers in the 1960s. The year before he won the Junior Amateur, Wiechers lost to eventual runner-up and future five-time USGA champion Jay Sigel in the quarterfinals at Cornell University Golf Club.
At the 1962 U.S. Junior Amateur held at Lochmoor Club in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., Wiechers wound up facing his former high school teammate, James Sullivan, in the championship match. Both had attended Bellarmine Prep in San Jose. Wiechers, who would turn 18 three days after the final match, prevailed, 4 and 3.
After graduating from Santa Clara University, where he was an All-American, in 1966, Wiechers spent that summer touring America with Northern California golf buddies Ron Cerrudo, Bob Smith and Ross Randall.
“Our car won just about every amateur event we entered,” said Cerrudo, who came within one stroke of the 18-hole playoff between Deane Beman and eventual winner Gary Cowan in the 1966 U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club.
Smith won the Porter Cup, while Wiechers edged Cerrudo, 1 up, to win the Western Amateur at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 2 and then beat Smith in the Trans-Mississippi Amateur final at Edina (Minn.) Country Club.
These performances came during a time of great success by Northern California golfers. Johnny Miller won the 1964 U.S. Junior Amateur and finished eighth in the 1966 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club as an amateur. Two-time U.S. Amateur champion E. Harvie Ward and 1967 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Verne Callison were formidable foes.
Wiechers, meanwhile, just missed making the 1966 USA World Amateur Team that finished second in Mexico City. But instead of chasing a spot on the 1967 USA Walker Cup Team – a team Wiechers believed he would have made – he decided to turn professional and enter PGA Tour Qualifying School that fall. Over the next 13 years, the biggest check he made was not for his win in the 1969 West End Classic ($5,000), but the ace he recorded at Sedgefield Country Club during the Greater Greensboro Open ($11,000).
Wiechers qualified for four U.S. Opens, with his best finish a tie for 14th in 1975 at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club.
By 1979, Wiechers, a member of the Santa Clara University Hall of Fame, decided that he had enough of PGA Tour life and he started a successful wine delivery and storage company in Northern California. Then he started teaching at Chardonnay Country Club before landing a coaching position at Napa Valley Junior College in 2005. Wiechers stepped down from the position in 2017.
“One of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet,” PGA Tour Champions multi-time champion Scott McCarron told the Napa Valley Register. “Jimmy was always there for you, anytime you had a question. A great storyteller. Just so much fun to be around.”
Wiechers is survived by his wife Susan; daughter Erica Wiechers; brother Michael Wiechers; two sisters, Terri Plemons and Judy Wiechers; grandson Evan Kuykendall; and son-in-law Jason Kuykendall.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.