A SEARCH WAS ON FOR REDLANDS GOLFER PHILLIPS FINLAY

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

The 2018 U.S. Amateur Golf Championship, now 102 years old this year, is scheduled this year for Pebble Beach, beginning August 13. Eighty-eight years ago, a Redlands golfer took on a legend at this course in the same event.

It’s not really known when Phillips Finlay learned how to play golf – or from whom.

Phillips Finlay, 1929
Phillips Finlay, whose golfer career started in Redlands, made a name for himself, both at Harvard University and in major amateur championships while playing against the likes of Bobby Jones and Francis Ouimet. He’s shown here at the Chevy Chase Club in 1929 (photo credit, Shorpy Historic Picture Archive).

Maybe it was George Lawson, who served as Redlands Country Club’s head professional from 1901-1937, that taught him. That Finlay, from Redlands, was a student at famed Harvard University was one thing. That he was a contestant for some of golf’s grandest prizes is yet another.

Finlay seemed to have disappeared after showing up prominently, not only on Harvard’s golf team, but also as a stalwart challenger to some of golf’s major tournaments in his day. After a stretch from 1927 through 1930, the older brother of Redlands’ Madison Finlay was nowhere to be found.

A motivated sports writer from the Redlands area was searching.

Following the 1930 U.S. Amateur, Finlay was seemingly nowhere to be found – at least in major tournaments. Only adding to the curiosity is that Finlay had become a prominent golfer.

Amateur golf raged during the 1920s. Professional golf had yet to catch on.

There was no Masters Championship yet.

The PGA Championship, which would eventually become one of golf’s greatest prizes, was a tournament without much tradition.

Bobby Jones won the 1927 United States Amateur, which was played at the Minikaha Club of Minneapolis.

Finlay, who made his presence felt, traveled from Harvard University, engaging in medal play for the qualifying round of that year’s Amateur Championship.

A New Jersey golfer, Eugene V. Romans shot 71, making headlines as the low medalist.

The youthful Finlay, who had just passed his Harvard entrance examinations, was one shot behind.

It’s eerie to think how close Finlay came to such prominence. At the time, he lived on Long Island. Jones, Francis Ouimet and Chick Evans – three of the 1927 semifinalists – began with rounds of 75.

On the second day, Jones got rolling, shooting a course record 67, winning the medalist (that’s low stroke score) trophy for the tournament with 142. George Von Elm, who beat Jones in 1926, barely qualified with 79-75-154.

Onetime champions who qualified included Evans, Ouimet, plus Max R. Marston.

A Minneapolis insurance man, Harry G. Legg, a Minneapolis resident that graduated from Yale, knocked off Von Elm, 1-up, on his home course.

Third day: Jones, trailing Maurice McCarthy, Jr. of Long Island, by a hole at the turn, had three holes remaining. McCarthy missed a short putt, squaring the match; overshot the 17th green, losing the lead; overshot the 18th green, losing the match two down.

Ouimet beat Max R. Marston, 3 & 2.

Finlay kept battling, perhaps in the manner that Ouimet had done, depicted years later in the motion picture, “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

But Finlay was cut down by Ouimet, who had written a favorable article about the Redlands product, even displaying some of the matches between the two in a book called “A Game of Golf,” which was published in 1932.

IVY LEAGUE ATHLETES WERE PROMINENT

Was this truly A Redlands Connection? Jones? Ouimet? Both were impressed with the youthful Finlay, whose long driving skills were attributed to the unusual length of his swing.

(During the Roaring ’20s, Ivy League schools – baseball’s Lou Gehrig and, earlier, Eddie Collins, both from Columbia; Penn dropout Bill Tilden, a tennis legend; football’s John Heisman for both Penn and Brown, to name a few – produced prominent athletes that were the kingpins of sports.)

A year later, 1928, Finlay would rise again at the U.S. Amateur, played at Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton, Mass. It wasn’t far from his Harvard digs.

Bobby_Jones_1930_winnaar_US_Amateur
Legendary amateur golf champion Bobby Jones had his hands full with Harvard’s Phillips Finlay during the Roaring 20s when the Redlands golfer squared off against some of golf’s greatest players (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Jones knocked off J.W. Brown, 4 & 3 in the opening round.

Ray Gorton took Jones to the 19th hole in the second round before tumbling.

Jones had his way with John B. Beck, 14 & 13, before coming up against Finlay in the semifinals.

Finlay, a long-hitting Harvard sophomore, got quite a whipping. He lost decisively to Jones, 13 & 12.

On the other hand, A Redlands Connection had struck early. An 18-year-old from Redlands had played the legendary Bobby Jones in the 1928 U.S. Amateur semifinals?

This was news!

Jones claimed his fourth U.S. Amateur title, 10 & 9, over reigning British Amateur champion T. Philip Perkins. Two weeks earlier, Jones beaten Perkins, 13 & 12 at the Walker Cup.

Jones, for his part, had been national champion – winning either the U.S. Open or Amateur championship – for six straight years. During that span, Jones won four U.S. Amateurs, two U.S. Opens, two British Opens.

Jones tied for first two other U.S. Opens, those he subsequently lost in 36-hole playoffs, each by just one stroke. Jones had forever established himself as one of the greatest golfers. Without a doubt, he was the world’s greatest amateur player.

Finlay was chasing a legend.

JONES WRITES OF FINLAY IN HIS BOOK

There were 162 entries in the 1929 U.S. Amateur field. Finlay, for his part, tried the event at Pebble Beach. It was the first time the tournament had been played west of the Mississippi.

In a major upset, Jones fell to John Goodman, a caddy from Omaha, Neb., in the first round.

A documented quote, however, was lifted from “Pebble Beach: The Official Golf History,” had the youthful Finlay going up to Jones with an apology. “I’m so very sorry you lost this morning, Mr. Jones. I was looking forward to beating you this afternoon.”

Finlay lost to 18-year-old Lawson Little, a Northern Californian who won the U.S. Amateur in 1933 and 1934. It was Little who eliminated Jones-killer, Goodman.

Harrison R. “Jimmy” Johnston won the 1929 title.

Prior to the event taking place, Jones spoke of playing with Finlay at Pebble Beach in his book, “Bobby Jones on Golf.”

“There had been so much talk about Phil’s long driving ability,” Jones wrote, “that the publicity given that part of his game must have affected the boy’s play.”

Critics may have affected Finlay’s approach, said Jones.

“Whether Phil was aware of it or not,” said Jones, “this sort of thing had an effect upon his game … so that he immediately eased up on his stroke in an effort to hit the ball straight.”

Jones, in his book, had referred to Finlay in Chapter 8, “Hitting Hard.” Jones held up Finlay’s style of long driving as an example.

“On this day we played, he had quite a bit of trouble on the front nine, getting a little farther from his normal stride at each tee shot as he held himself back more and more.”

After losing his ball on a duck-hook on the ninth hole, Finlay sought Jones’ advice. The four-time U.S. Open champion told him straight out that he thought he was holding back, “that I thought he would do better if he would take a good healthy wallop instead.”

On the tenth hole, Finlay blasted a drive, losing it into the Monterey Bay.

After that, said Jones, “He drove very well, indeed.”

Check out this Pebble Beach foursome:

British Amateur Champion Cyril Tolley and Francis Brown of Honolulu. Jones shot two-under par, 70, while Tolley, Finlay and Brown shot rounds of 79, 80 and 82.

JONES, OUIMET: LONG DRIVING WAS KEY TO SUCCESS

Then there was Ouimet, the upset U.S. Open champion of 1913 that inspired the Disney movie, “The Greatest Game Ever Played” (portrayed by Shia LeBeouf), and after regaining his amateur status that had removed controversially from him by the USGA, he won two U.S. Amateur titles

Ouimet knew of Finlay, having authored an article, “The Art of Long Driving.”

FrancisOuimet1913
Frances Ouimet, the unexpected winner of the 1913 U.S. Open, was one of golf’s top players in the late 1920s when a youthful Redlands-based golfer, Phillips Finlay, was bursting onto the amateur golf scene. Ouimet even wrote about Finlay in his book (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

The first words of that piece were right to the point: “One cannot watch Phillips Finlay hit a tee shot without becoming just a bit envious, for this capable young man makes the game seem simple.”

It seemed a far cry from the troubles Finlay – whose photograph featured a knickers-clad youth, hair combed neatly, while following through on a tee shot – was having during his Pebble Beach round with Jones.

Wrote Ouimet: “Finlay is not yet 20 years of age, and when he reaches his full growth there is no telling how far he will drive a ball.”

Long hitting, concluded Ouimet, was an advantage.

“I am wondering what will happen if a standardized ball is introduced. Perhaps it will bring these boys back on earth, for I must confess on some holes Finlay can miss a shot and arrive on the green as quickly as I do.”

At a match played at Wollaston Country Club in Milton, Mass., Ouimet caught a prime example of Finlay’s lengthy drives.

“I was driving well for me, but (I was) yards and yards in back of my young friend, who was having a field day.”

At Wollaston’s 17th hole, a 500-yard hole against the wind, “my tee shot was a good one, but at least 60 yards in back of his prodigious knock. A perfectly hit brassie (No. 2 wood) gave me a look at the green.”

Finlay smashed a two-iron, his shot carrying a big sand bunker guarding the green.

Said Ouimet: “It seemed a bit too much to expect of his number two iron, but that is the club he used and his ball landed on the green. I threw up my hands. He could have missed that shot and gotten to the green in the same number of shots I required.”

Ouimet, noting a round played by Finlay at North Carolina’s famed Pinehurst Country Club, felt there was no limit for the Harvard golfer. He had read an account of Finlay’s 290-yard average drives on 14 of the 18 holes.

“When he was attending Exeter (Academy in New Hampshire, Finlay’s college prep school), one of his professors wrote a friend of mine saying Phillips Finlay was the longest driver in the game.

“Apart from Finlay’s long driving ability, he has other excellent qualifications to make him a leading golfer.”

Ouimet had predicted quite a future for Finlay – A Redlands Connection.

FINLAY’S CRIMSON CAREER WAS TOPS

A Harvard golfer, as Finlay was at the time, meant he was among the nation’s elite — that’s both student and golfer. If there was ever a pre-eminent sport on that Boston-based campus, it was golf. He was a three-time letter winner (1929-31).

In case it’s escaped anyone’s attention, consider that Finlay was battling the likes of Jones, Quimet & Co. before he became a Crimson letterman.

Finlay would captain the Crimson’s team in 1930 and 1931. During his junior season (1930), Harvard won 11 of its 13 matches convincingly, losing only to Princeton, 8-1, on May 10, then a season-ending loss to Yale, 5-4, at Myopia Hunt Club.

By 1931, his senior year, Harvard had returned to beat Yale, 6 ½ to 2 ½. The Crimson split back-to-back matches against Princeton, losing 6-3 and trouncing the Tigers, 9-0. There was a 5-4 loss to Dartmouth at Belmont Springs Country Club on May 9, 1930.

Finlay, a 1931 Harvard graduate, kept charging. The long-driving hitter, the captain of Harvard’s golf team, was beaten in the opening round of the 1930 U.S. Amateur at historic Merion (Pa). A narrow 2 & 1 loss to 1926 British Amateur champion Jess Sweetser didn’t quite reflect Finlay’s early round lead.

Sweetser birdied the 16th and 17th holes to take control of the match.

After that, not much showed up in the golf world on Finlay.

His family continued on.

His brother, Madison, in 2007, was “still riding around on his cart every night with his dog,” said C.L. Simmons, the longtime Redlands Country Club golf professional.

Madison died later that year at age 94, long having outlived his older brother.

The Finlays came to Redlands in 1918, bought a home at the corner of South and Fountain.

When it came time for high school, it was back east to the private academy for the both of them – Phillips, who was five years older than Madison (who wound up at USC). Neither brother showed up at Redlands High School, which was about a quarter-century old during their high school days.

FINALLY LOCATING PHILLIPS FINLAY

Phillips Finlay was a Navy man, eventually serving in the South Pacific. In fact, that had been my guess as to his disappearance. The military. Killed in the war? Would’ve been a sad fact. Imagine a budding golf career coming to an end like that. But it was not true.

“He gave up playing serious golf,” said his niece, Joanne Craig, of Redlands, “after he got back from the war.”

Settling in Pasadena with his wife, Elizabeth, Craig described that Phillips only occasionally played golf. His niece had one settling recollection about the sport. His length off the tee never failed.

“The 17th tee is not at the same place it is now,” she said, referring to Redlands Country Club, “but my uncle drove the green. That was almost unbelievable to me at the time.”

Joanne and her cousin, Fredrica, Phillips’ daughter, both attended Stanford. Eventually, her cousin’s family left Southern California.

“They moved,” recalled Craig, “to 17 Mile Drive.”

That’s up by Spyglass Hill Golf Club – near Pebble Beach.

 

PRO GOLFER DAVE STOCKTON GAVE A LESSON OF A LIFETIME

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Here it is, August 16, 2018. On this date in 1976, another major golf championship was awarded. On Aug. 13, 1970, a previous major title had been awarded.

Pro golfer Dave Stockton taught me a lesson about sports I never forgot.

I’d never met the San Bernardino native. I’d interviewed him a couple times – years ago – by telephone. A onetime Pacific High School star, who won the 1959 CIF-Southern Section championship, had a stalwart golfing career.

Dave StocktonJACQUELIN DUVOISIN SI
Dave Stockton, a San Bernardino native now living in Redlands, holds the Wanamaker Trophy, symbolizing victory in one of professional golf’s grandest prizes — the PGA Championship (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

He’s won the PGA Championship twice, in 1970 and 1976. He’s a Senior U.S. Open champion. There have been other championships, including the Los Angeles Open and a few other prominent tournament titles. Around these parts, Stockton’s considered a General among those who’ve achieved at the highest levels in any sport.

The seeds of my life’s lesson were planted in August 1970. That’s when  Stockton, who was in contention at the 1970 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Golf Club in Tulsa, Okla. was taking on a rather large challenge.

Arnold Palmer – not to mention Arnie’s Army – was the hurdle standing in Stockton’s pathway.

(A curious note, perhaps: About 15 miles from Redlands, the city of Beaumont includes a housing complex dubbed Tournament Hills. Street names include Trevino Trail, Woods Way, Casper Cove, Hogan Drive, Nicklaus Nook, Palmer Ave.

Other streets are named Crenshaw, Bean, Miller, Mickelson, Runyan, Irwin, Bean, Venturi, Shore (as in Dinah) and Pepper (Dottie), among others, plus parks named for Trevino, Palmer and Nicklaus.

Get it?

I happen to live on the corner at Stockton Street.)

At age 15, I’d only caught a minor glimpse on how formative Arnie’s supportive fans could be. I also had no idea how rugged they could get against a player who was challenging Palmer’s run to a memorable golf championship.

The PGA Championship is the fourth major golf tournament, following the Masters, U.S. and British Opens. I believe only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and, eventually, Tiger Woods have won the Grand Slam of Golf.

Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus, who is receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom (photo by Wikipedia Commons), was very close to Dave Stockton in both of his PGA Championship victories, which came in 1970 and 1976.

Nicklaus and Woods are multiple ’Slam winners.

My Dad, Neal Brown, and I watched Palmer go after that elusive fourth major in 1970, a title he’s never won despite an otherwise illustrious career. Dad was such a fan of Palmer’s that he actually fashioned his own golf swing after Arnie’s, whose swing was often a source of discussion among the sport’s purists during his days.

In August 1970, Dad and I sat and watched, rooting for Arnie. We were definitely part of Arnie’s Army, TV-style.

Stockton stood up under the heat and the pressure.

Pressures of a major golf championship are immense. It included the likely possibility that gallery members – Arnie’s Army supporters – were doing things to irritate him.

Like Dad, I was disappointed that Arnie didn’t win.

INSIGHT INTO THAT 1970 PGA TITLE

Fast forward a decade, or so.

I was now working for the Redlands daily sports section.

The Stockton family had moved back to Mentone, a neighboring community next to Redlands. I got the telephone number where Stockton was staying while he was playing at a tournament in Canada.

He was obliging, honest and frank in his answers. I could hardly wait to hit him up with my remembrance on how he knocked off Arnold Palmer at the 1970 PGA Championship.

I was certain he could fill in some of the gaps from that experience.

It was likely the highlight of his career. When the subject came up, the onetime Pacific High and University of Southern California golf star was ready.

Arnold Palmer? The missing link in his trophy case? The destiny with history? Golf’s Grand Slam?

Arnold_Palmer_(cropped)
Arnold Palmer’s chances of winning golf’s Grand Slam was cut off by Dave Stockton at the 1970 PGA Championship in Tulsa, Okla. (Photo by Wikipedia Commons).

“My family,” said a serious Stockton, without missing a beat, “needed it more.”

Palmer, who was a remarkable golfer for decades, had won four Masters titles, two British Opens and the 1960 U.S. Open. He tied for second at the PGA Championship on three occasions — including 1970.

For the record, veteran golfer Bob Murphy tied for second with Palmer at one-over par. Stockton was two-under.

Jack Nicklaus was four shots back.

Johnny Miller held the first-round lead.

Stockton shared the second-round lead with Larry Hinson.

After three rounds, Stockton held a three-shot lead over Raymond Floyd heading into the final 18 holes. Palmer trailed by five.

Stockton, who shot a final round 73, shared the experience of holing out a 125-yard wedge shot.

He’d also shared that the media referred to him as an “unknown.”

After he notched the victory, he was no longer that unknown.

“I hit a tee shot into the trees,” he recalled, “and I heard (an Arnie Army reserve) holler, ‘go get ’em, Arnie.’ That made me hot.”

Said Stockton: “I had some work to do. That (final round) wasn’t easy.”

That was the lesson, folks. Who cares if there was a blank spot in Palmer’s trophy case? Palmer needed that championship about as much as the Yankees needed another World Series trophy.

The esteemed Palmer seemed to do quite well, I noticed, never having won that fourth major. It might be a blank space on his trophy case in 1970, but no matter. His bank account probably didn’t suffer all that much in 1970.

Neither did his career.

ONE MORE WANAMAKER TROPHY ADDITION

Stockton, however, added a jewel to his trophy case, which also included the L.A. Open. At Riviera Golf Club, Stockton outdueled another golf legend, Sam Snead a few years earlier.

Since learning that lesson from Stockton, I don’t necessarily root against the Yankees. Or against Notre Dame’s football machine. Or against the Lakers or the Celtics pulling out another NBA title.

I love the Final Four when a mid-major like Gonzaga or Marquette or George Mason or Butler, challenges for that elusive prize ahead of North Carolina or UCLA or Duke or Kentucky.

What I do love are the good stories coming from unexpected winners.

That lesson came via Stockton.

“My family needed it more,” keeps shooting through my mind.

The Wanamaker Trophy, symbolizing the PGA Championship, found its way back into the Stockton family six years later.

On the 72nd hole in 1976 at Congressional Golf Club, Stockton connected on a 15-foot par putt to beat Floyd and Don January by a single shot.

The ever-dangerous Nicklaus, defending champion and looming closely to the top, was beaten by two strokes.

Let’s not overlook Stockton’s other top finishes at major championships.

He tied for second place at the 1974 Masters, trailing Gary Player by two shots alongside Tom Weiskopf.

In the 1978 U.S. Open, he tied for second place with J.C. Snead, one shot behind Andy North at, of all places, Cherry Hills (Colo.) Country Club – the site where Palmer notched his only U.S. Open victory.

Stockton’s best finish at the British Open, a tie for 11th place, came one year after winning the 1970 PGA Championship. Lee Trevino won at Royal Birkdale.

As for the San Bernardino native, Stockton moved to Mentone in the 1980s. A couple decades later, his family moved again — this time to Redlands, near the traditional country club.

Gerald Ford
President Gerald Ford is one of a handful of honorary members at Redlands Country Club (photo by Wikipedia Commons) that also includes golfer Dave Stockton.

Along with comedian Bob Hope, President Gerald Ford and Dodger owner Walter O’Malley, Stockton was presented as an honorary member at Redlands Country Club.

He told me, again by telephone, “I had no idea there were honorary members at Redlands.” Stockton seemed moved. This wasn’t an Arnie’s Army remembrance party.

It was part of that Redlands Connection.