When Gary Player won at Missouri, he  gave away his entire winnings - $25 000 - to cancer research and US junior golf. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters
When Gary Player won at Missouri, he gave away his entire winnings - $25 000 - to cancer research and US junior golf. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters
Wanna make it big? Then tee it up at the 100th PGA, suggests Grant Winter.
Wanna make it big? Then tee it up at the 100th PGA, suggests Grant Winter.

CAPE TOWN – In golf they say if you “wanna make” a name for yourself then win the Wanamaker Trophy. 

Get it? Of course you do and, okay, it’s a bit of a corny old saying.

The golf pros know that if they want to make a name for themselves they must win any Major, or any big event on the PGA or European Tours.

But this time we’re talking specifically about the Wanamaker Trophy which goes to the winner of the US PGA Championship, the 100th edition of which starts tomorrow at long, uncompromising Bellerive in St Louis, Missouri.

So “wanna make” is particularly relevant right now. And Bellerive has a strong South African connection for two good reasons.

Firstly, when our own Gary Player arrived at Bellerive in 1965 for the US Open, he also had this “wanna make” idea in his head.

A victory would mean him becoming, at the time, the third golfer in history after Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan to complete the career Grand Slam of claiming all four Majors.

Well, Gary did win and complete the Slam over a layout measuring 7190 yards, in those days the longest layout in US Open history - a real monster.

According to Los Angeles Times correspondent Jim Murray, it wasn’t just 18 holes, it was “18 holes of capital punishment.”

For Player it turned out to be 90 holes of Grand Slam bliss, as he tied Kel Nagle at the top of the leaderboard before beating the Australian in an 18-hole play-off.

And, just as an aside, Gary gave away his entire winnings - $25 000 - to cancer research and US junior golf.

The second South African connection to Majors at Bellerive was when Nick Price (Durban-born but playing as a Zimbabwean) captured the 1992 US PGA Championship there.

Price’s bagman that year (and for most of his career when he campaigned overseas) was Jeff ‘Squeeky’ Medlen, so-called because of his signature high-pitched voice.

The story goes that Squeek became a regular on the PGA Tour in 1985, when John Mahaffey hired him.

One day Mahaffey asked him something about a course. Sheepishly, Squeek replied: “Uh, I don’t have the answer for that.”

“Not a problem,” Mahaffey countered. “But in future, be able to give me that answer.”

Squeek then swore to himself that never would he be unprepared again.

Durban-born Nick Price is another South African with a strong connection to the US PGA Championship. Photo: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters
Durban-born Nick Price is another South African with a strong connection to the US PGA Championship. Photo: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

He became golf’s super-caddie. And because he knew his job so well and read the lines on the greens so skilfully, the players and his fellow loopers swore that tiny blades of grass were whispering secrets to him.

A year earlier, Price had opted to miss the PGA at Crooked Stick because of the birth of his son, Gregory.

With the golfer’s blessings, Squeek decided to hang around just in case somebody needed a caddie.

That’s when a little-known-at-the-time, blond-haired, hell-raiser called John Daly skidded into the parking lot, after an all-night drive just in time to make his first round tee-time.

Daly was the last alternate and a most improbable potential winner.

He had never played Crooked Stick before.

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But Squeek took his bag, pointed him in the right direction, and - it is said - read the greens as if they were a bedtime story.

Medlen soon cottoned on to what Daly did best, hitting monstrous drives.

Squeek would hand him his oversized driver and just say one thing in his high-pitched voice: “Kill!” And Daly did kill, all the way to a memorable victory - and a legend was born.

Sadly, Squeek succumbed to cancer in 1997 aged just 43.

Price said he hadn’t lost a caddie, but a brother.

And of the Daly-Price PGA double he observed: “Maybe Squeek had the golden touch, not us.”

Like Player in 1965, Jordan Spieth is at Bellerive this week with a chance to complete golf’s career Grand Slam.

The American is clearly on a “wanna make” mission to win the Wanamaker, as are our boys - Oosthuizen, Schwartzel, Grace, Dylan Frittelli, Brandon Stone and Justin Harding - all looking for that Medlen golden touch, and blades of grass whispering secrets to them.

Grant Winter


Cape Times

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