U.S. Mid-Am Championship Memories: Jim Holtgrieve
October 2, 2015 | Far Hills, N.J.
By David Shefter, USGA
Jim Holtgrieve claimed the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in 1981 in his hometown of St. Louis, Mo., defeating good friend and 1979 USA Walker Cup teammate Bob Lewis Jr., 2 up, in the championship match at Bellerive Country Club. Holtgrieve, 67, who works in public relations and sales for the Centric Group, would play on two more victorious Walker Cup Teams in 1981 and 1983 before serving as captain of the 2011 and 2013 teams, the latter of which reclaimed the Cup at National Golf Links of America. Married to wife Kristine, Holtgrieve, has two sons, Scott and Steven.
What was your involvement in getting the U.S. Mid-Amateur started?
Holtgrieve: In the 1980 Masters when they had the amateur dinner on Wednesday night, I sat next to Jim Gabrielson, who was on the [USGA] Executive Committee, and he was telling me about this [potential] championship for guys who work and are not in college. He said, “Would you play in it?” Of course I would. It’s a national championship. But he also said, “If we have this championship for mid-amateurs, would you also try to compete in the U.S. Amateur?” I told Jim that everyone’s dream and goal is to win the U.S. Amateur, so, absolutely, I would play in both of them. Bob Lewis and Jay Sigel were also playing in that Masters and they talked to them. And Charlie Yates talked to us. I think Gabrielson came away with a really positive feeling that we would play in both championships. A few months later, Gabrielson called and asked if I could help find a venue because we’re going to try and start it [in 1981]. I went to some friends of mine at Bellerive, so it all took place from there.
How about the inaugural championship taking place in your hometown?
Holtgrieve: I was so focused on making sure that the guys had a good time. I was running around doing [different things] and I was playing, obviously. I think it finally happened when I was playing [Robert] Hausen in the semis. I realized I’ve got a shot [to win it].
What was it like to play good friend Bob Lewis in the final match?
Holtgrieve: It was a great match. I was over [at Bellerive] the other day and somebody was talking about the 16th hole, and I said it was the greatest two-putt I ever had in my life. I was on the left side of the green and the flag was on the right side of the green. And it came down to the 18th hole. Beating Bobby Lewis, particularly in front of friends of mine … it was special. There were probably 1,000 people there. It was really cool.
How cool is it to be known as the first U.S. Mid-Amateur champion?
Holtgrieve: I was looking at the trophy at our [Mid-Amateur Reunion] Dinner [in February] and it’s pretty neat to see your name first. I wish it had been up there more like Nathan [Smith] or Jay [Sigel]. But I’ll take one.
You also have been a strong advocate of having mid-amateurs represented on the USA Walker Cup Team after playing in three and captaining twice.
Holtgrieve: I told [USGA President Tom] O’Toole back in 2012 when Nathan Smith said he was done [trying to make Walker Cup Teams]. I asked him what do you mean? He told me even though I don’t have any children, I’ve got a job, I’ve got a wife, [it’s hard] to keep trying to compete with these young guys [for spots]. I said there is something wrong with this. That’s when I lobbied about putting two mid-amateurs on the Walker Cup Team because that is what it is all about. After I did my research with why George Herbert Walker started this competition, it’s not about the winning. It’s about relationships and about growing the game. [Having mid-amateurs on the team] builds future captains.
What has it meant for you to not only play, but captain in a Walker Cup?
Holtgrieve: I still get emotional about it. The fact that 2013 was just so perfect. It’s where the very first one was in 1922. I’m sure the golf course (National Golf Links) played exactly the way [designer] C.B. Macdonald expected it to play. The weather was perfect. President George [W.] Bush spent time with us. We went to the 9/11 Memorial, and we won. I served my country, so playing Walker Cup for my country was really big. But being a captain, it was just awesome.
Do any of your five Masters appearances stand out?
Holtgrieve: My second Masters, I got a chance to play with Arnold Palmer on Thursday and I shot 70, and I was tied for second place. And I was a steel salesman from St. Louis. And here I am, my name is on the leader board at Augusta National. And I got a chance to play with Mr. Palmer.
Was Tom O’Toole on your bag for that experience?
Holtgrieve: No, not then. The first three years I played, you had to take an Augusta caddie. The last two years, I had O’Toole. I played in five Masters. I made the cut in my first three. So when I have O’Toole on the bag, I don’t make the cut. Go figure that. That’s because the first time I have the [future] president of the United States Golf Association on my bag, I am playing with [Jack] Nicklaus and he (O’Toole) is late to the tee. I almost had to tee off with Jack Nicklaus with a putter in my hand.
Did O’Toole caddie for you at the 1981 Mid-Amateur?
Holtgrieve: He did. That’s the one thing that is great. He caddied for me when I won all of my major championships. I won the Missouri Amateur twice and he caddied for me. He came up and caddied at the Western, and obviously the Mid-Amateur.