125 Years of Golf in America: Missouri December 4, 2019

The USGA was founded on Dec. 22, 1894. With the 125th anniversary coming at the end of 2019, every week throughout the year we're highlighting how all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, make the game we all love a great one in the United States. 

Next Week: Alabama 125 Years of American Golf Home

Watch: St. Louis Cardinals Hall-of-Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith discusses his love of the game

Bellerive Hosted – and Missouri’s Holtgrieve Won – Inaugural U.S. Mid-Am

By Robert Sommers

 

Missouri native Jim Hotgrieve captained the USA Walker Cup Team to victory in 2013, 32 years after his Mid-Am triumph. (USGA/Chris Keane) 

This article from the November/December 1981 issue of Golf Journal has been condensed and updated for the 125th anniversary series. Jim Holtgrieve, who won the inaugural championship in his hometown of St. Louis, Mo., went on to serve as the captain of the USA Walker Cup Team in 2011 and 2013.

The 2020 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship will be held at Kinloch Golf Club, in Manakin-Sabot, Va., from Sept. 12-17.

 

This was a typical scene at the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in 1981 at Bellerive Country Club, in St. Louis: Jack Marin, the former Duke University and National Basketball Association player, exchanging business cards with Fred Ridley, the U.S. Amateur champion of 1975. Both are attorneys, Marin in Durham, N.C., and Ridley in Tampa, Fla.

When two players met on the first tee, the talk was not necessarily about golf; more likely it was about business. Henry DeLozier, of Chevy Chase, Md., was to play Kent Frandsen, of Lebanon, Ind., in the first round. Again, both are attorneys, and DeLozier lamented to his opponent, “I keep thinking of all the business I’m losing by being here.”

Jim Holtgrieve, who has his own business representing a number of manufacturers, suggested at the players’ dinner preceding the championship that telephones should be installed at every tee so that players could maintain contact with their offices.

Seldom has a new competition been received so enthusiastically as this one. A steady stream of players approached USGA representatives and expressed their delight with the concept.

The U.S. Mid-Amateur is limited to players 25 years of age and older. It was built on the presumption that the post-college amateur did not have a national championship in the sense of equitable competition. Even though post-college amateurs do compete in, and are often successful in the U.S. Amateur, the odds are against someone who fits golf around his work and family and then competes against college golfers, for whom the game is very close to a full-time activity.

The Mid-Amateur is recognition of the modern reality that finds college golfers on athletic scholarships to be one kind of amateur golfer and those beyond college age to be another species.

The entrants were just what the USGA had in mind – principally businessmen who play the game for the sport of it and who have a commitment to amateur golf. Along with the assortment of lawyers, insurance agents, stockbrokers and salesmen, we had an orthopedic surgeon, a concert pianist, a farmer, an airline pilot, a baker, a sand blaster, an owner of a golf course, a counter clerk, a clothing manufacturer, a few dentists, two restaurateurs and a used car salesman.

The championship was won by Holtgrieve, 33, of St. Louis, Mo., a member of the 1979, 1981 and 1983 Walker Cup Teams, and of the 1980 USA Team in the World Amateur Team Championship. Holtgrieve defeated Bob Lewis, 37, of Warren, Ohio, a 1979 Walker Cup teammate, 2 up, in the 18-hole final.

Holtgrieve is somewhat of a late bloomer in golf; he was 28 before he won his first district title, and he was 30 when he played in the U.S. Open for the first time, surviving the 36-hole cut and finishing as second low amateur, in a tie for 57th place. He played in the 1980 and 1981 Masters Tournaments, finishing as second low amateur and then as low amateur.

For a time, while he was serving in the U.S. Air Force in the early 1970s, Holtgrieve considered becoming a professional. He wrote to his father and told him that he believed he could make it as a touring professional if he had $25,000 as a stake, but he also wrote to Tony Henschel, golf professional at the Westborough Country Club. In a seven-page reply, Henschel advised Holtgrieve to prove himself at home before he considered a professional career. He was 24 then; it took him four years to begin to prove himself. By then he had lost interest in playing the Tour.

Lewis, Holtgrieve's opponent in the final, is another who reached his peak rather late. Lewis is a reinstated amateur who played the PGA Tour from 1970 through 1974 and gave it up because of putting woes.

Jim Holtgrieve claimed the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1981 at Bellerive Country Club in his hometown of St. Louis. (USGA Archives)

Lewis first came to prominence in the 1980 U.S. Amateur by reaching the final, although losing to Hal Sutton by the overwhelming score of 9 and 8. He was selected for the 1981 Walker Cup Team that won over Great Britain and Ireland at the Cypress Point Club, in Pebble Beach, Calif., and he went to the semifinals of the 1981 Amateur, losing to Brian Lindley, who, in turn, lost to Nathaniel Crosby.

The caliber of the golf throughout the week was first class. Tom Reed, a tall, lean, 47-year-old insurance agent from Denver, Colo., played the first 14 holes of Bellerive in even par, and yet lost, 5 and 4, because Holtgrieve was 5 under par. Holtgrieve was 1 under par in each of his next two matches, defeating Tom Evans, of Lake Bluff, Ill., 3 and 1, and Randy Nichols, of Connersville, Ind., 6 and 5.

At the same time, Lewis was even par in defeating two-time U.S. Amateur champion Gary Cowan, of Ontario, Canada, 4 and 3, and Jim Beltz, of Southfield, Mich., 6 and 5. Lewis was 1 under par when he eliminated John Ruby, of Stratford, Conn., 3 and 1.

That brought him up against Bill Malley, of Hayward, Calif., in the quarterfinals. Malley, 27, with a flowing black moustache, long black hair, and arms like Popeye’s, dabbled in weight-lifting and bodybuilding, but now concentrates on golf. He was easily the most popular visiting player in the field (Holtgrieve carried the largest galleries), partly because he was such a friendly, outgoing person and partly because he hit the ball miles and miles.

The quarterfinal round was delayed by rain that made Bellerive unplayable early in the day. When it was finally begun, Lewis played the 17 holes of the match in 6 over par and Malley was 7 over. Lewis won, 1 up.

Holtgrieve, meanwhile, was 4 over in defeating Frandsen, 3 and 2. While it was commendable for Frandsen to have reached the quarterfinal round of a national championship, it could hardly be considered the highlight of his year. Frandsen had recently argued a case before the United States Supreme Court as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor put in her first day as a sitting justice.

Holtgrieve was 4 over par once again in the semifinals against Bob Housen, a financial planner from Brielle, on the New Jersey Shore, winning, 4 and 3.

At the same time, Lewis was playing marvelously steady golf against Gordon Brewer, of Huntingdon Valley, Pa. Lewis won, 5 and 4, and was 2 under par.

The final was played later in the day, and Lewis kept up his steady play through the first nine. He was 1 under par and 1 up.

Holtgrieve went ahead on the par-3 16th when he got down in two from perhaps 70 feet and Lewis three-putted from 50 feet. They halved the 17th with par 5s, and then Holtgrieve played a wonderful shot to the 18th, a 446-yard par 4. His 7-iron stopped 10 feet from the hole, and he holed the putt for a birdie 3 to give him his 2-up margin.

Lewis seemed to be the steadier man from tee to green, but Holtgrieve’s superior work around the greens made the difference.

In 2015, at a reunion of Mid-Am champions, Holtgrieve said of his inaugural victory, “The 16th hole was the greatest two-putt I ever had in my life. And it came down to the 18th hole. There were probably 1,000 people there. Winning in front of friends of mine … it was special.”

“I was looking at the trophy at our reunion dinner, and it’s pretty neat to see your name first. I wish it had been up there more, but I’ll take one.”