Longtime amateur golfer John Owens dead at 85

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. He was 85.

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).

Owens, along with fellow top amateurs Dale Morey and Ralph Bogart and Ed Tutwiler, founded the Society of Seniors in 1983, 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 – 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.”

Owens starred at the University of Kentucky, where he was captain of the golf all 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.

Owens was inducted into four Hall of Fames: 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 in Boynton Beach, Fla., where he was a member for more than 25 years.

“When I had the good fortune to play with Johnny, it was like being in the presence of a legend,” said Quail Ridge member Ronnie Grove, who has won the National Father-Son five times with his son, Hunter, “Johnny played in the Masters, he played with Jack Nicklaus, but you had to pick it out of him. He was always very modest, very unassuming for someone who accomplished as much in golf as he did.

“To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with better wrist action than Johnny, the way he could hold that angle through impact. He was a gentle killer on the golf course. When you look up the words ‘kind gentleman’ in the dictionary, you will see a picture of Johnny Owens.”

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