My life as a golf writer/historian began innocently enough in 1970 when, between my junior and senior years studying journalism at Boston University, I caddied for heralded Kernwood amateur Joe Smidt at the Massachusetts Open at Salem Country Club.
When Joe fired an even-par 72 in the opening round and stood a mere two strokes behind first day leader Tony Clecak, it struck me like a ton of bricks. Joe emerged as the best angle for the local papers and I was on his bag. I’ve got to write this story. So I called Jay Sweet, sports editor of The Beverly Times, and made the pitch.
“Take it on,” Jay told me, “and cover the final day tomorrow too.”
So I did. My very first venture into covering golf for a daily publication. That event was historic for me and for Massachusetts golf. Smidt hung tough, trailing the leaders by only two shots after a morning 76 on a drenching Day 2, which in those days meant 36 holes. He slipped the final round and finished in the middle of the pack, but he still gave me plenty to write about.
Then came the real history-making scenario of the tournament. Paul Harney, Massachusetts’ biggest golf hero at the time, the head pro at Pleasant Valley, won his fourth Massachusetts Open in a row by shooting a course record 65 in a Friday, July 3 playoff with aging legend Jim Browning, 56, on a gloriously sunny afternoon that drew conservatively 3500 spectators, the largest gallery in Mass. Open history for what was the last 18-hole playoff in Mass. Open history. Browning, by the way, was the oldest player ever to finish first in the Massachusetts Open, the playoff setback notwithstanding.
That was after Browning and Harney tied for first place with record-high scores of 221, five over par, the highest winning score in the tournament’s 54-hole history, caused primarily by that second-day deluge. “I was lucky to be dried out by the time I drove back to Salem for the playoff three days later,” Harney joked to this author years later.
I wrote about Harney’s spectacular playoff performance for The Times as well, all of which, a half century later, made my debut in the golf writing world special beyond belief. I was hooked forever.
Harney won the PGA Tour’s Andy Williams San Diego Open two years later, then returned to Salem in 1991, when the next Massachusetts Open was contested on the Donald Ross gem, for a photo shoot as part of a MassGolfer magazine piece I was writing for the Massachusetts Golf Association. I got to play with Harney and host professional Kirk Hanefeld that day in one of the great golfing thrills of my humble playing life.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been writing about golf near and far since that 1970 Massachusetts Open, which makes this my 50th year covering the game I love; the game that has given me unimaginable privilege and blessing, meeting countless people who love the game like me, and in most cases, play the game much, much better than I ever will.
As my 70th birthday approaches, I reflect on 25 years of covering golf for The Salem News, then 25 more years writing golf for a variety of publications, including occasional freelance pieces for The News and now this weekly in-season column for The News going on four years. I have also been able to write a dozen golf history books for a variety of area clubs, starting with Salem’s for 1995 and including my current project for Charles River Country Club, as well as a 100-year history for the New England PGA.
Fifty years that have featured my covering six Masters tournaments in the late 1970s and late 1980s, the 1988 U.S. Open at The Country Club, the Boston Five LPGA Classic at Ferncroft from 1980 to 1990, four USGA championships at Salem in 1977 (Senior Amateur), 1984 (Women’s Open), 2001 and 2017 (Senior Opens), plus interviewing most of the game’s greats pre-Tiger Woods, as well as Hollywood icon Jack Lemmon, sports immortals like Joe DiMaggio, Bobby Orr, Willie Mays, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Carl Yastrzemski and President George H.W. Bush, among others, all on the golf course.
But the greatest joy from the game has occurred while covering our North Shore golf family, juniors to seniors, at club tournaments, especially the invitation fourballs at Salem, Tedesco, Essex and Myopia, the Kernwood Member-Member, club championships everywhere, our PGA club professionals, our course superintendents and our players’ litany of successes on the state, regional and national levels.
The friendships I’ve made have given me happiness beyond description. Great people make up the game of golf at all levels and in all respects and I’ve encountered hundreds of them.
I have three people to particularly thank for this unforgettable experience: Bill Kipouras, who saved my sportswriting/golf writing career; editor Jim Shea and publisher Cy Newbegin. They gave me virtual free reign to cover North Shore golf as I saw fit for a quarter century. Thanks, men.
And now, a few months from joining the septuagenarian class, I’m still privileged to be writing about North Shore golf. I promise I shall count my blessings in this regard every day between now and when I draw my last breath, and hopefully keep you, my loyal reader, informed and amused weekly from April through September annually for as long as possible.
As for the moment, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, let’s continue with the 2019 North Shore golf season.
Rough go of it last weekend for both Rob Oppenheim on the Web.com Tour and Swampscott and Salem Country Club’s Steven DiLisio competing for Duke at the NCAA Division 1 golf championship. Oppenheim, Salem-born and Andover-raised, led the Evans Scholars Invitational in Glenview, Illinois after two days with a 12-under 132 score, but stumbled on Day 3 with a 76 before rallying Sunday with a 69 for 277, good for T-19. He has moved up to 42nd on the money list with $52,999. The top 25 earn cards for the new PGA Tour season starting in the fall. DiLisio shot 81-77-77 for 235 and his Duke team finished a disappointing 25th, with 15 teams advancing to the second stage.
Turner Hill’s Kyle Vincze was medalist at the first Massachusetts Amateur qualifier at Bass Rocks with a level 69. Among the other qualifiers were Joe Cunningham of Essex (72), Ryan Anderson of Beverly (73) and James Staffieri of Salem (74). They’ll play the main event at The Country Club July 15-19.
Another smash successful Peabody Day at Salem CC, its 25th annual event, another, as always, sellout, that provides scholarships to Peabody High and Bishop Fenwick High School seniors. The seven recipients, all from Peabody Veterans Memorial Highh School, who received a combined $45,000 are Sarah Anderson, Sophia Anezis, Sophia Brunet, Alexa Flewelling, Andrew Langley, Samantha Wallace and Mariana Winschel. The Joseph M. O’Boyle merit scholarships went to Nicolina Trifero of Bishop Fenwick and Andeemae Sims of Peabody High. The event, chaired this year by Steven Richards, co-chaired by Michael Tripoli and Byron Mahoney, has raised $400,000 over the 25 years.
Gary Larrabee writes the ‘Reading The Greens’ North Shore golf column weekly in season. He has been covering golf on the North Shore for the last 50 years.