James Taylor’s 1989 U.S. Mid-Amateur victory at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., was unique in two ways. First, he defeated longtime friend and ex-high school teammate William Hadden, 4 and 3, in the championship match. Second, Taylor’s father, Buzz, a member of the USGA Executive Committee, got the rare opportunity to hand his son the Robert T. Jones Memorial Trophy. Buzz would become president of the USGA in 1998. James, meanwhile, left competitive golf six years after his win due to health issues. He underwent back surgery and then in 2010 he was diagnosed with cancer of the appendix. Taylor, 56, is in remission and currently coaching middle-school football in South Carolina. He is the father of six children, including 7-year-old twins, and is working toward a possible return to competitive golf, perhaps even qualifying for the U.S. Senior Amateur.
How long had you known Bill Hadden?
Taylor: We had known each since we were 10. We grew up caddieing together at New Haven (Conn.) Country Club. We went to Choate (now Choate Rosemary Hall) in Wallingford, Conn. When Billy was in college, he came by on his way to the [PGA] Tour [Qualifying] School when I was living down in Florida. But then we hadn’t seen each other for seven or eight years. He called me and I called him after we both qualified [for the 1989 Mid-Amateur] and said let’s room together. We roomed together that week and ended up playing in the finals. What are the chances of that?
Did that make for an awkward moment?
Taylor: It was different, but we had known each other way too long. We both played hard and competed. The weirdest part was in the victory and Billy made that really easy for me. He was just such a class guy about it. And it allowed me – even though I beat my friend – to enjoy it. Billy remains a great friend of mine and a great ambassador for golf.
Are there any other memories from that week in Indiana?
Taylor: I had met [Crooked Stick architect] Pete Dye and I was playing out of a Pete Dye/P.B. Dye course, Lob Lolly Pines down in Florida. To be at Pete Dye’s baby, that was very honorable for me. I had trained on one of his golf courses, so you kind of know how he thinks. You know how to operate on a golf course. I really thought that was an advantage that week. I kind of understood his golf course.
How cool was it to have your father, a member of the USGA Executive Committee, present you the trophy?
Taylor: My recall is not exact, but I think he was the [chairman] of the Mid-Amateur Committee. On the one hand it was really an honor. On the other side – and this isn’t a complaint – but it made it a little more difficult for me to get on the Walker Cup Team because they wanted to make sure nepotism wasn’t part of the equation. They did that for the right reasons. It had its plusses and minuses.
But you did receive a Masters invitation for winning the Mid-Amateur. What are your memories of Augusta National?
Taylor: That has its own set of stories. I got to play with [Arnold] Palmer in the first round back when Palmer could still hit it. He couldn’t quite score like he used to, but he could hit it. When he stood on that first tee, he still thought he could win that championship.
Did you go into the tournament confident?
Taylor: My game was really in good order when I went there. And I thought I was going to play well enough to at least make the cut, and I had higher hopes to see how far I could go. But upon arriving on the grounds, it was all too much for me to handle. I am so glad Augusta still does what they do for amateur golf. It’s a memory I’ll take to my grave. When your feet hit the grounds as an amateur, they treat you like a king. It just doesn’t get any better than that. I hope as time goes by, it never stops and they keep inviting amateurs.
As part of the USGA contingent, your dad served as a Rules official that week, so did he have time to watch you play?
Taylor: He got special permission [from Augusta National] to follow me for a couple of rounds. But don’t forget, they always hid the old man behind the seventh green because there weren’t a lot of rulings. Don’t tell anyone I said that.
Were you a career amateur?
Taylor: I had turned pro before that [Mid-Amateur win]. I really took up golf after high school, as far as taking it up as my only focus in athletics. I was about a 4 handicap when I turned pro at age 22. I learned that lesson [fast]. When I quit, I had won a couple of mini-tour events and beaten the likes of [Paul] Azingers and [Mark] Calcavecchias of the world. I made myself into a pretty good player. I got to the point where I realized I wasn’t going to be an upper-echelon player and I didn’t want to be a tour rat.
So what did you do after playing professionally?
Taylor: I’ve coached high school football. I ran the Ben Hogan Tour (now Web.com Tour) event in New Haven, Conn., for a couple of years. Through that, I got a job on Wall Street with Jimmy Dunne. I did varied stuff. I never landed anywhere permanent. Now, I’m coaching middle-school football and doing a lot of work in my church and beginning to pursue a little bit of golf.
Did you have thoughts of getting into golf administration or volunteer service like your father?
Taylor: It’s crossed my mind on the give-back-to-the-game part. If I get back into the game, I may offer my time.
Did you get to attend a lot of fun events because of your dad’s involvement with the USGA?
Taylor: I got into a lot of great events after I served my two-year probation [in the amateur reinstatement process]. So I think he got to go to a lot of great events because of me.
But he had to be a proud father when you won the Mid-Amateur?
Taylor: For both of us. He taught me about the love of the game. I, like a lot of other people, miss him terribly. He passed away in 2010.
How are you doing physically?
Taylor: Things look good right now. I’ve got some strength back again. I am fiddling around to see if I can assemble a game again. [The cancer of the appendix] was one in four million cancer. But if I can find a game again, [qualifying for a Senior Amateur] would be my outside goal.
What’s it like raising six kids?
Taylor: I’ve got three grown and married. I just married the youngest of those three. She is 23 and my oldest is 31. And my youngest is 5. And I’ve got 7-year-old twins. Back in the day, I would see these guys from the Senior Tour and I used to chuckle at these second families. And I’m that guy now.
Do people confuse you with James Taylor the singer?
Taylor: I get nicer hotel rooms because of that. But they look very disappointed when I come walking in. And they say, “We gave the Executive Suite to the wrong guy.”