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125 Years of Golf in America: Wyoming December 18, 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. 

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Watch: PGA Tour winner Jim Benepe on growing up in Wyoming

Cowboy Up: Hornbeck One of the Most Decorated Players in Wyoming History


By Tom Mackin


Few amateurs in Wyoming can match the accomplishments of John Hornbeck. (USGA/Chris Keane)

This story was published on on Sept. 21, 2016 and has been updated.

John Hornbeck has managed to put the patience developed from leading hunting trips in his native Wyoming to good use during his illustrious golf career. A quarterfinalist in the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, Mo., Hornbeck, 61, of Saratoga, Wyo., has enjoyed unparalleled success in the Cowboy State, one that culminated with his induction into the Wyoming Golf Hall of Fame in 2018.

Being inducted into the Wyoming Golf Hall of Fame is truly my most prestigious honor,” said Hornbeck this week. “It is mind-boggling to be included in such a remarkable group of talent and people who share a love of the game.”

Hornbeck has claimed four Wyoming Mid-Amateur and five Wyoming Senior Amateur titles, the latest coming in early September when he captured the 60-64 division by a whopping 10 strokes at Bell Nob Golf Course in Sheridan. Despite playing in less-than-ideal weather conditions, Hornbeck carded a 65 in the final round of the 36-hole competition.

On the national level, Hornbeck represented his home state five times in the USGA Men’s State Team Championship (2005, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016) and has qualified for one U.S. Senior Open (missed cut in 2016) and three U.S. Senior Amateurs, including the quarterfinal run three years ago. He reached match play in his two other starts (2014 and 2017). He also finished fifth in the North & South Senior Amateur at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club in 2015 and was ninth two years later.

“I began playing in Wyoming amateur golf events in 1999 and it quickly became my summer passion,” said Hornbeck. “Over the years I've been able to represent Wyoming as a player in USGA State Team and Pacific Coast Amateur events.  It is inspiring for me to be able to play amongst the college players and young talent that comes from our state.”

Because he resides close to the Colorado border and competes in most of his USGA qualifiers in that state, he also joined the Colorado Golf Association (CGA) and plays in many events in the Centennial State. He won the 2018 Colorado Golf Association’s Senior Match Play in 2018, and the CGA Senior Amateur this year by a record 13 strokes at Riverdale Dunes in Brighton. Most recently, he finished third in a Society of Seniors event in Hurricane, Utah.

His run to the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur quarterfinals punctuated a stellar year for Hornbeck, who won four senior events in Wyoming and finished second in the Wyoming State Golf Association Match Play Championship.

Despite missing the cut in the U.S. Senior Open at Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, Hornbeck took positive vibes away from the competition. “I learned a lot from playing with the pros there about how to manage my game,” he said.

Hornbeck’s success comes despite a short Wyoming golf season that starts in the middle of May and ends in late September. He then guides small groups on rifle hunting trips for elk, deer, antelope and bighorn sheep in the southern part of the state through October and into November.

“I’ve hunted all my life and have worked since 1990 with Chuck Sanger, who has his own outfitting company based in the town where I live,” said Hornbeck in 2016. “He’s a real good friend of mine who has battled through multiple myeloma. I really don’t need to be doing it anymore, but I do it just for him. I enjoy it.”

Even in the mountains, golf is never far from his mind. “I wish I could play golf all year round, but I can’t,” said the retired coal miner.

Hornbeck graduated from Gillette High School in 1976, winning a state golf team title in his final year. After graduation, he took a job as an equipment operator for Rosebud Coal in Hanna, Wyo., from 1976-1998, then Black Butte Coal from 2009-11. He and his wife, Pam, raised two daughters, Brooke and Brandee.

On the golf course, Hornbeck was the Sinclair Golf Course men’s club champion from 1994-2004 and the Rochelle Ranch men’s club champion from 2009-13. He represented the Wyoming Golf Association in the Pacific Coast Amateur in 2005, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2016.

Despite a short golf season, Hornbeck manages to keep his game sharp. Then again, putting the clubs away for almost six months does come with a silver lining. “I think that break keeps me healthy and from getting burned out,” he said after a two-round match-play day at the U.S. Senior Amateur. “I don’t know how the pros do it. This was a grind today.”

Unfortunately for Hornbeck, his run in the 2016 U.S. Senior Amateur came to an end with a 1-up loss to Kevin Cahill of Waukesha, Wis.

“I’m thrilled to death to make it to the quarterfinals,” he said. “I love match play.”

And Wyoming.

Arizona resident Tom Mackin is a frequent contributor to USGA websites.