Ex-US Amateur Golf Champ Spins Some Tales

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2007, 4:00 pm
US Amateur 2007 ERMA, N.J. -- Robert 'Skee' Riegel spins a tale almost as deftly as he once spun a golf ball.
 
There's the story about his first golf lesson from a 350-pound chef, and his yarn about a frantic search of the Queen Elizabeth cruise liner when it was thought he had fallen overboard during a victory celebration after the 1947 Walker Cup.
 
But his storytelling is secondary to his golf. Riegel swept through eight matches and captured the 1947 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach and had an unbeaten record in two Walker Cups -- all at a time when amateur golf was at its peak.
 
'He's a golfer that was at his best on great golf courses in a great golf era,' said Bob Mullock, a longtime friend and owner of Cape May National Golf Club, where Riegel is pro emeritus.
 
As a field of 312 awaits this year's U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club in San Francisco on Monday, the 92-year-old Riegel believes the championship has lost some luster.
 
'In those days, it was something,' said Riegel, who treasured the perks of the title, including a place in the Masters field. 'Today, I don't know, because there is all kinds of stuff, junior tournaments, super junior events. It should be a big deal, but I'm not sure it is.'
 
The Amateur has had its unexpected winners, and Riegel might be the most unlikely because of his unconventional start in the game and improbable 2-and-1 victory over Johnny Dawson in the title match 60 years ago.
 
Born in New Bloomfield, Pa., outside Harrisburg, Riegel grew up in the blue-collar Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby. He didn't think much of golf, or those who played it. He favored football and baseball.
 
Riegel spent time at nearby Merion Cricket Club -- where Bobby Jones won his first U.S. Amateur in 1924 and completed the Grand Slam in 1930 -- trapping turtles or flying model airplanes, not hitting drivers or wedges.
 
'I had no interest in golf because the guys who were interested in golf were a little strange, I thought, a little weird,' he said.
 
But years later a $2 lesson changed his thinking and his life. He was introduced to the game at a club in Reno, Nev., at the urging of his wife, Edith. With the regular pro out of the country, a heavyset chef named Ken Johnson gave the 23-year-old his first lesson.
 
Riegel took it from there.
 
His time as an Air Force flight instructor at bases in the South during World War II gave Riegel spent plenty of time to work on his game.
 
He developed a powerful swing that carried him to victory in the 1942 Florida Amateur. Four years later, he was the stroke-play medalist at the U.S. Amateur at Baltrustrol with a two-round total of 136, a mark that stood for more than 30 years.
 
A year later, he won the USGA's oldest championship. Six decades have passed, yet Riegel remembers all the details.
 
'It was so foggy at one point I couldn't see the ball,' he said. 'And that was good for John (Dawson) because he knew the course.'
 
The scheming and long-hitting Riegel, who led 1-up after the first 18 holes, wasn't a fan of 36-holes matches. But he had a plan.
 
'The first 18, I would let up; I wouldn't hit it far,' he said. 'The second 18, I knew I wasn't tired, and I knew damn well they were tired, and I would slip it by them a bit. It was a little sneaky, but I did it. It was legal.'
 
Riegel led 2-up with three holes remaining and narrowly missed closing out Dawson on the par-4 16th.
 
At the 35th hole, Pebble's storied par-3 17th, Riegel purposely left his tee shot short of the bunker, and then chipped on. Meanwhile, Dawson figured Riegel had used two clubs less, and flew the green. Then, he dumped his second shot.
 
'That was it,' Riegel said.
 
Riegel turned pro in 1951. He made 11 cuts at the Masters, where he finished as low amateur in 1948 and was second to Ben Hogan in 1951. He was also undefeated in four Walker Cup matches, two each at St. Andrews and Winged Foot.
 
'I was always nervous,' he said. 'I always had to work like hell for anything that I won.'
 
His legend grew following the Amateur victory and is well-documented in a mural surrounded by framed photos, news clips and memorabilia on the walls of the 'Skee Room' at his home course of Cape May National, just outside his hometown of Cape May.
 
Then there's that sail home aboard the Queen Elizabeth following the '47 Walker Cup. One story had Riegel shimmying up a smokestack in the dining room during a formal dinner celebrating the victory. Another had him wandering off and falling asleep in a lifeboat, setting off a desperate search amid speculation he had tumbled overboard.
 
Asked if the ship stopped to search the seas, Riegel has a standard reply: 'That's what some say, but I don't know. I was in the lifeboat.'
 
Riegel is now at his best telling stories about golf's treasured past. He was, after all, on a first-name basis with Bobby, Ben and Sam. But Jones, Hogan and Snead were matched in celebrity by Riegel's circle of Hollywood friends, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby among them.
 
Age and back problems have slowed Riegel's stride and limited his swing. This summer's searing heat cut his time on the range, but he makes daily trips to the course with his constant companion, poodle John Paul.
 
'I haven't played this year; it's just been too hot,' he said. 'I hate to say it: I'd like to say that I miss it, but .... I got everything that I wanted, and enjoyed it.'
 
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    Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

    By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

    Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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    J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

    By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

    CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

    Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

    ''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''


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    Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

    Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

    Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

    She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

    ''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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    Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

    By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

    Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

    ''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

    Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

    Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

    ''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

    It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


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    Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

    Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

    The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

    ''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

    PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

    Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

    Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

    ''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

    It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

    He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

    ''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

    Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

    Later, he laughed about the moment.

    ''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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    Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

    By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

    PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

    Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

    Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

    The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

    “They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

    The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

    “Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


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    Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

    “As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

    Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

    “Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.