Since match play returned to the U.S. Amateur Public Links in 1975, no one older than Dean Prince has won the title. Prince, a native Hawaiian who moved to the San Francisco Bay Area as a youngster, defeated Tony Figueredo, 5 and 3, at Bangor (Maine) Municipal Golf Course in 1978 at the age of 40. Prince, who was an insurance broker, played in eight APLs and three U.S. Senior Opens. He relocated to Hawaii in 1990 and still plays four days a week at Kapalua. He maintains his connection to the game by assisting Golf Channel with its coverage of the PGA Tour’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions each January.
What are your memories of the 1978 championship?
I don’t ever hook the ball, but there was a par 4 where I hooked it left into the trees and I thought it was going out of bounds. This was in the middle of my final round of qualifying. The ball hit the trees and went back into the fairway. That’s how I got in the playoff [for the final match-play spots]. If it was meant to be, it was meant to be.
How big was the playoff?
It was 14 for 11 spots. I birdied the first hole and got out of there right away.
Did the course set up well for your game?
I was a short hitter, but I hit it straight. The golf course kind of fit my eye. It was near the airport … and there was a little bit of wind. … The putter just got really hot. My second wife was traveling with me and when I missed a 10-footer, the crowd [thought] there was something wrong with my putting.
In the semifinals against Dale Loeslein, you were 1 down with two to play. How did you pull off the win?
I thought my chances of losing were pretty good. The 17th hole was fairly long. It was a slight dogleg right. I pulled out a 2-iron [for my approach], which meant it was close to 200 yards. I hit it on the edge of the green, two-putted and won the hole. I [eventually] won in 19 holes.
What happened to that 2-iron?
I donated it to the USGA Museum. It was a Hogan 2-iron. I hardly had to hit it [that week], but that’s the one I had to hit on 17 in the semifinals. A good friend of mine, Marty Keiter, who was the director of golf at Kapalua, told me, Dean, one day back in New Jersey I saw your club [at Golf House]. So, that’s a neat thing.
As a mid-amateur winner of the APL, you are something of an anomaly. Did you see the winds of change coming with this championship, in terms of college players starting to dominate?
I beat Jodie Mudd in the quarterfinals. He was 16 years old. His brother [Eddie] had won the 1976 APL. Jodie was the beginning of the professional amateur. The landscape of the APL changed in the early 1980s. Now we had professional amateurs with all the kids. They were going to college on scholarships and [playing] golf all summer in the APL, the U.S. Amateur, the North & South [Amateur], all those [prominent] tournaments. And, also, junior golf was starting to take hold.
Are you sad to see the APL being retired?
I am sorry to see the Public Links end. But that’s the way of life. It was headed that way in the 1980s. I know the USGA moves slowly to make sure they are doing everything right. And the Four-Ball [Championships, beginning in 2015] will end up being a lot of fun. Match play with four-ball is different and it’s exciting.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.