Star Kentucky amateur Owens dies at 85

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Johnny Owens, who won more than 100 amateur golf tournaments and was co-founder of the Society of Seniors, died Oct. 7 in Lexington, Ky., according to the Society. He was 85.

Mr. Owens was an accountant by trade, but it was the numbers he put on his scorecard that set him apart. His top victory came at the 1984 British Senior Amateur. He also won the Canadian Amateur, consecutive Kentucky State Amateurs in the mid-1960s and was easily the top amateur in that state's history. He played in the 1964 Masters and two U.S. Opens (1952 and ’61).

Mr. Owens, along with fellow top amateurs Dale Morey, Ralph Bogart and Ed Tutwiler, in 1983 founded the Society of Seniors, an organization that enables top amateurs to continue competing after 55 on a no-handicap basis. For the last 27 years, Mr. Owens split his time between Quail Ridge Country Club in Boynton Beach, Fla. – the SOS’s national headquarters – and Lexington.

“We lost a great man here at Quail Ridge,” said Harreld Kirkpatrick, another top Kentucky amateur golfer who first competed against Owens in 1953. “Johnny was a guy who never gave up on the golf course. If he hit his tee shot into the water, he would take a drop, hit a 3-wood on the green and make the putt. He was just a great person.”

Mr. Owens starred at the University of Kentucky, where he was captain of the golf team all four years (1947-’50) and won the Southeastern Conference individual title in 1950. He became coach at the school from 1951-57 when it looked like the program might fold. The Wildcats have a tournament named after him – the Johnny Owens Invitational.

Mr. Owens was inducted into four Halls of Fame: the Kentucky Golf Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, the Southern Golf Association Hall of Fame and the Quail Ridge Hall of Fame.

Last year, the Kentucky Golf Association announced that its amateur player of the year award will be called the John C. Owens Award. 

Mr. Owens remained competitive into his 70s, winning the Canadian Super Seniors Championship in 1996 and 2000.

“Even though he was used to winning, he was always a gentleman on the golf course,” said Moss Beecroft, a Quail Ridge member who is a six-time Virginia State Golf Association seniors champion. “He played the game like it’s supposed to be played.”