Bill Campbell, 90, lifelong amateur champion
William C. Campbell, who died Aug. 30 at the age of 90, was an imposing man.
At 6-foot-4, he was a lean, mean golfing machine. The winner of dozens of national, regional and statewide amateur golf tournaments, including one U.S. Amateur,
He was more than a player. By any definition of contributions to the game, Campbell was a giant. Figuratively speaking, he cast a long shadow over golf and the manner in which the sport is perceived and governed.
Despite all the praise aimed in his direction, Campbell continually tried to deflect it by talking about what was most important to him -- that golf remain a game of honor, dignity and self-respect. He was a lifelong amateur, and he cherished his role as a keeper of the flame.
Campbell is the only person in the history of golf to serve as president of the U.S. Golf Association and captain of the R&A. He took these positions very, very seriously.
Serving the game of golf is not a contest -- keeping score, if you will, to see who does it best -- and Campbell would scold me mightily for what I am about to say.
He is unmatched in modern golf if we are to combine the ability to play the game with the disposition to govern and regulate the sport. He was a gifted player, qualifying for 37 U.S. Amateurs, 19 Masters and 15 U.S. Opens. In the spirit of international competition, he played in eight Walker Cup matches against Great Britain and Ireland, compiling a record of 11-4-3. He was an astounding 7-0-1 in singles.
Still, his contributions to golf perhaps were greatest off the course.
Consider the glory years of the 1970s and early 1980s when Frank (Sandy) Tatum, Will Nicholson and Campbell served consecutively for two years each as USGA president. Tatum went to to become the voice of golf (“We’re not trying to embarrass the best players in the world, we’re trying to identify them,” he said while defending the U.S. Open course setup in 1974 at Winged Foot); Nicholson became one of the most important and influential figures among the Augusta National braintrust that ran the Masters; and Campbell was the quiet man who lobbied behind the scenes to bring the USGA and R&A together, to convince them to listen carefully to one another when discussing any rules changes.
Born and raised in Huntington, W. Va., Campbell developed a sense of fair play that would serve him well as an insurance agent (he founded Campbell Insurance in 1947), a West Virginia state legislator (1948-51), and the leader of each of worldwide golf’s two rulesmaking bodies.
Rightfully he was the conscience of golf. At a time when the past presidents of the USGA held enormous power within the organization, it was Campbell who was viewed as a peacemaker with a clear view of the future of golf. Others relied heavily on him, and eventually he became the most influential figure in the rulesmaking collaboration between the USGA and R&A.
For everything he did, he was enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990.
Campbell was designated by Jack Nicklauas as an original member of the Captains Club at the Memorial Tournament. Scott Tolley, vice president of the Nicklaus Companies, passed along these comments from Nicklaus:
"I first ran into Bill Campbell in 1955, when, at 15 years old, I was playing in the US Amateur qualifier at Camargo in Cincinnati. I managed to qualify for the US Amateur and Bill must have evidently been impressed with something he saw in me, because the next year, he called the Sunnehanna (Amateur Invitational) people and got me an invitation there at age 16. He said to them, “This young man won’t embarrass you.” Thanks to Bill, I went to Sunnehanna and finished fifth.
"I became good friends with Bill back then, although he was 17 years my senior. Bill was a wealth of knowledge, and if Bill saw something I needed to do, or he had advice for me, he didn’t hesitate to call me. I appreciated that very much. He always had a good word to say -- he always was a great supporter, and always a good friend.
"Bill had a resume that was unparalleled in the game of golf, so he provided a uniquely qualified perspective. His whole interest was whatever is good for the game of golf. To my knowledge, I don’t think Bill Campbell ever thought of Bill Campbell one time. He always thought of others in the game of golf.
"He was such an intelligent and thoughtful man. He was successful in business. He served his country as an Army Captain in World War II. And he served our game for a lifetime. I thought he was the ultimate amateur in the game of golf. The game was never any purer than Bill Campbell. He absolutely did it all the right way."
Occasionally I played golf with Campbell at Seminole Golf Club in North Palm Beach, Fla., and he always was talking about fair play, insisting that all points of view be considered.
I believe he felt -- he knew, somehow -- that golf was in danger, that participation would grow stagnant, that golf would need to attract more players to stimulate its growth, and that educating these new golfers would present huge challenges.
As Campbell reached his 90th birthday, these intuitions became real. Now he is gone, but I’ve flipped backwards in my book of Bill Campbell qutoes. After all, these were the reflections of a golf giant.
“Everybody should do something to help the game,” he said, “even if it’s just introducing one person to golf. It is our obligation, as golfers who love the game, to do everything in our power, to volunteer our time and our talents, to leave golf better than it was when we found it.”
Campbell did, that’s for sure.
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