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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  • Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

    The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

    The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

    In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

    Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

    Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

    Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

    By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

    Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.


    Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

    Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

    Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

    Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

    Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


    J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

    Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

    Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

    DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

    LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

    Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

    Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

    In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

    "Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

    Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

    "The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

    The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

    "Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

    Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

    Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

    By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

    We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

    God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

    We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

    Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

    There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

    It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

    Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

    Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

    BORN IN 1912

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
    May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
    Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

    Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.

    BORN IN 1949

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
    Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
    Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

    Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.

    BORN IN 1955

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
    Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
    Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

    Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


    Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
    Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
    Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
    Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
    Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

    A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


    Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
    April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
    July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
    Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
    Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
    March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

    The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
    Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
    May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
    May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
    June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

    Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.

    BORN IN 1980

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
    July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
    July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

    Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

    Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.