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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    Caddies drop lawsuit; Tour increases healthcare stipend

    By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2018, 3:33 pm

    After nearly four years of litigation, a group of PGA Tour caddies have dropped their lawsuit against the circuit.

    The lawsuit, which was filed in California in early 2015, centered on the bibs caddies wear during tournaments and ongoing attempts by the caddies to improve their healthcare and retirement options.

    The caddies lost their class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court and an appeal this year.

    Separately, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was not involved in the lawsuit but represents the caddies to the Tour, began negotiating with the circuit last year.

    “I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the APTC.

    In January 2017, Jay Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour and began working with the APTC to find a solution to the healthcare issue. Sajtinac said the Tour has agreed to increase the stipend it gives caddies for healthcare beginning next year.

    “It took a year and a half, but it turned out to be a good result,” Sajtinac said. “Our goal is to close that window for the guys because healthcare is such a massive chunk of our income.”

    The Tour did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the agreement or the end to the lawsuit.

    Caddies have received a stipend from the Tour for healthcare for some time, and although Sajtinac wouldn’t give the exact increase, he said it was over 300 percent. Along with the APTC’s ability to now negotiate healthcare plans as a group, the new stipend should dramatically reduce healthcare costs for caddies.

    “It’s been really good,” said Sajtinac, who did add that there are currently no talks with the Tour to created a retirement program for caddies. “Everybody is really excited about this.”

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    PGA Tour Latinoamerica moving season finale to Doral

    By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 2:36 pm

    PGA Tour Latinoamérica announced Wednesday that it will play its season finale, the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship, at Trump National Doral from Nov. 29-Dec. 2.

    The limited-field event will feature the top 60 players on the circuit's money list competing on Doral's Golden Palm Course.

    “We are very happy that we will continue playing the Latinoamérica Tour Championship-Shell Championship in South Florida, and Doral is a tremendous community that we know will open its arms to our players and this tournament,” PGA Tour Latinoamérica president Jack Warfield said in a statement.

    The PGA Tour ended its more than 50-year relationship with Doral and the resort's Blue Monster course back in 2016, when Cadillac's title sponsorship of the World Golf Championship lapsed as then-candidate Donald Trump was mounting his bid for the presidency.

    “We continue to stand by our earlier statement, and the statement of other golf organizations, that Mr. Trump's comments are inconsistent with our strong commitment to an inclusive and welcoming environment in the game of golf,” then-PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in December 2015, referring to Trump's campaign rhetoric concerning Mexicans and Muslims.

    The event was moved to Mexico City in 2017 and renamed the WGC-Mexico Championship.

    The Latinoamérica Tour Championship was staged the last two years at Melreese Country Club in Miami, where David Beckham is currently attempting to build a stadium for his Major League Soccer expansion club, Inter Miami.

    PGA Tour Latinoamérica's release states that the move to Doral "keeps the event in this part of the Sunshine State and allows the tournament to maintain its ties to The First Tee of Miami as a charitable recipient and sponsor." Melreese, the city's only public golf course, is home to the First Tee of Miami, which naturally opposes Beckham's efforts to close the facility and repurpose the land.

    A November referendum will ask voters to decide if the city should negotiate a no-bid lease with Beckham's ownership group, which seeks to create a $1 billion dollar complex comprising of the proposed stadium, youth soccer fields, a park, commercial and retail space, and a hotel.

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    Im wins Web.com Player and Rookie of the Year awards

    By Nick MentaOctober 18, 2018, 1:22 pm

    Sungjae Im on Thursday was named the Web.com Tour's 2018 Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year.

    Im won twice on the Web.com this year, taking the season opener in January, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, and the season finale in August, the WinCo Foods Portland Open, to become the first player in history lead the circuit's money list wire-to-wire.

    Im is the first Korean-born player to win the Web's POY award and, at 20 years old, its youngest recipient.

    In a player vote, Im bested Anders Albertson, Sam Burns, Kramer Hickok and Martin Trainer, 2018's only other two-time winner, for POY honors, and Burns, Hickock, Trainer and Cameron Champ for ROY honors.

    “My first year on the Web.com Tour was an incredibly happy time for me,” Im said, “and it’s pretty surreal that I was able to win the first and last tournament of the season. I honestly thought I would spend about two to three years on the Web.com Tour before making it to the PGA Tour, so I’m happy to have achieved my goal so soon. I’m grateful to have earned the Player of the Year honors and I hope to finish the remainder of the PGA Tour season on a good note.”

    In his first PGA Tour start, Im tied for fourth at the Safeway Open, earning $241,280, a little less than half of the $534,326 he amassed in 25 starts as the Web's regular-season money winner.

    Playing this week's CJ Cup in his native South Korea, Im opened with a 1-over 73 Thursday.

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    Former DJ advisor found guilty in embezzlement case

    By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 12:38 pm

    A federal jury has found Nathan Hardwick, a former advisor to Dustin Johnson, guilty of embezzling $26 million in funds from his now-bankrupt real estate closing firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider.

    Per Golf.com, citing Law.com, a 12-person jury convicted Hardwick of "one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 21 counts of wire fraud and one count of making false statements to federally insured banks."

    As for where exactly the money went, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach, once again citing Law.com, has the details:

    "The alleged spending included $18.47 million on gambling, private jet travel and women from 2011 through August 2014. The prosecution submitted two binders of documentation as evidence that Hardwick spent $4.39 million on “female social companions,” including one testifying witness who claimed to have met him through SugarDaddy.com."

    "Other alleged expenditures described in testimony include more than $7 million at casinos, more than $3 million with a bookie, $680,000 for a luxury condo at The St. Regis Atlanta, $273,000 on a diamond ring, $186,000 on a deposit for a party on a private island, and $635,000 on a trip to the 2014 British Open for golfing buddies that included a customized jet and round at St. Andrews."

    Johnson in 2014 sued Morris Hardwick Schneider over a $3 million loan he believed to be an investment. Instead, Johnson argued, the money was going to make up for shortages created by Hardwick's embezzlement. Johnson later amended his suit to argue that Hardwick, who previously served on the board of the Dustin Johnson Foundation, was being used as a "pawn" by the firm's other partners. 

    That suit was settled in 2016 for $2 million.