Tony Lema

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Tony Lema
— Golfer —
Personal information
Full name Anthony David Lema
Nickname Champagne Tony
Born (1934-02-25)February 25, 1934
Oakland, California
Died July 24, 1966(1966-07-24) (aged 32)
Lansing, Illinois
Nationality  United States
Spouse Betty Cline
Career
College None
Turned professional 1955
Former tour(s) PGA Tour
Professional wins 22
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour 12
Other 10
Best results in major championships
(Wins: 1)
Masters Tournament 2nd: 1963
U.S. Open T4: 1966
The Open Championship Won: 1964
PGA Championship T9: 1964

Anthony David Lema (February 25, 1934 – July 24, 1966) was an American professional golfer who rose to fame in the mid-1960s, but lost his life at age 32 in an aircraft accident. His most prestigious victory was his only major title, the 1964 Open Championship at the Old Course at St Andrews.[1]

Early life[edit]

Lema was born in Oakland, California, to parents of Portuguese ancestry.[2] His father died when Tony was three years old, and his widowed mother struggled to raise the family of four children on welfare. He began playing golf as a boy at Lake Chabot municipal golf course and learned different aspects of the game from a variety of people. Noted African-American golf coach Lucius Bateman helped develop his swing, Oakland policeman Ralph Hall taught him course strategy, and the golf pros at Lake Chabot, Dick Fry and Bill Burch, trained him to use a square stance.[3]

At age 17, Lema enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in Korea. After his discharge from the military in 1955, he obtained work as an assistant to the club professional at a San Francisco golf club.

Eddie Lowery, a wealthy San Francisco businessman, who assisted talented amateur players in the area, helped to sponsor and encourage Lema.[4] Lowery is best known as the 10-year-old caddy of champion Francis Ouimet during the 1913 U.S. Open. Lowery's sponsorship gave Lema $200 a week expense money, to be repaid, in addition to splitting his winnings: Lema received two-thirds, Lowery one-third. One additional detail was that all debts at the end of the year were to be carried forward.[3]

PGA Tour[edit]

By 1957, Lema had developed his skills sufficiently to earn his way onto the PGA Tour, winning the Imperial Valley Open in memorable fashion: Assuming he was out of contention, Lema headed to the clubhouse bar, where he had three highballs. Told that he would face Paul Harney in a sudden-death playoff, a relaxed Lema won the tournament on the second extra hole. The following year, he began developing friendships with a trio of fellow golfers: Johnny Pott, Tommy Jacobs and Jim Ferree, and during 11 tournaments in 1958, Lema finished in the top 15, winning $10,282 for the year.

The following year, Lema's winnings dropped to $5,900, followed by an even worse year in 1960, when he collected a mere $3,060. A raucous, off-the-course lifestyle was taking its toll until he began talking with television producer Danny Arnold, who helped him improve his composure and bolster his confidence.[3]

While Lema's struggles continued in 1962, along with his debt to Lowery reaching over $11,000, his luck would finally change for good. On the eve of his victory in October 1962 at the Orange County Open Invitational in Costa Mesa, California, Lema joked he would serve champagne to the press if he won the next day.[5] From then on he was known as Champagne Tony, and his handsome looks and vivacious personality added to the legend, such that Johnny Miller has stated that at the time of his death in 1966, Lema was second only to Arnold Palmer in fan popularity.

That win sparked an impressive performance over the next four years that saw him win 12 official PGA tour events, finish second on 11 occasions, and third four times. From 1963 through July 1966, Lema finished in the top-10 over 50% of the time and never missed a cut in a professional major, finishing in the top-10 in 8 of the 15 majors in which he played. He was a member of the 1963 and 1965 United States Ryder Cup teams, and his Ryder Cup record (9–1–1) is the best of any player who has played in two or more.

Friend and tour colleague Jack Nicklaus wrote that Lema's play also stabilized and improved greatly after he married his wife Betty, a former airline stewardess, in 1963.[6][7] One additional reason for Lema's more relaxed play that year was the end of his agreement with Lowery.

In 1963, Lema finished second by one stroke to Jack Nicklaus at the Masters, and missed the playoff for the U.S. Open by two shots, bogeying the last two holes, believing he needed birdies. He won the Memphis Open Invitational later that summer.

Lema won two other tournaments that fall and was named 1963 Most Improved Player by Golf Digest. That winter, he wrote, with Gwylim S. Brown, "Golfers' Gold", an autobiographical account of his eight-year apprenticeship in the competitive cauldron of the PGA Tour.

Major champion[edit]

In 1964, Lema won the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach Golf Links, and then three tournaments in four weeks: the Thunderbird Classic at Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, the Buick Open Invitational at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club in Grand Blanc, Michigan, and the Cleveland Open at Highland Park Golf Course in Cleveland, Ohio (in a playoff with Arnold Palmer).

Two weeks later he captured his only major championship at the British Open, held at the Old Course at St Andrews, Scotland. He won by five shots over runner-up Jack Nicklaus. Before teeing it up in the first round, Lema had only played nine practice holes.[7] Lema had hired Arnold Palmer's regular British caddy, Tip Anderson, since Palmer was not competing that year. Anderson, a descendant of a past Open champion, Jamie Anderson, had grown up on the course.

In the matchup of the four major champions of 1964 in the World Series of Golf, Lema won $50,000 (then the largest payoff in golf) at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, over Palmer (Masters), Ken Venturi (U.S. Open), and Bobby Nichols (PGA Championship).

Due to his recent success, Lema guest-appeared in an episode of the TV series Hazel that aired January 7, 1965.[citation needed]

In 1965, Lema won the Buick Open for the second consecutive year, and the Carling World Open, finishing second in prize money to Jack Nicklaus. In fall 1965, Lema and Nicklaus formed the U.S. team to the World Cup of Golf.[7] Lema's last victory came in May 1966, in his wife's hometown at the Oklahoma City Open. A few weeks later he came back from an opening round 78, to almost capture a third consecutive Buick Open, finishing in fourth place three shots behind Phil Rodgers.

Death[edit]

Following the 1966 PGA Championship at Firestone Country Club in Akron in late July, Lema and his wife chartered an airplane to fly them to an exhibition tournament south of Chicago, the Little Buick Open at Lincolnshire Country Club in Crete, Illinois. The twin-engine Beechcraft Bonanza, piloted by Doris Mullen, ran out of fuel and crashed in a water hazard short of the seventh green of Lansing Country Club in Lansing, Illinois, less than a mile from their destination, Lansing Municipal Airport. During the fatal plunge, Mullen swerved left to avoid a group of people standing near the clubhouse. In addition to Mullen and the Lemas, Dr. George Bard, the co-pilot, was also killed. Bard and Mullen's husband, Wylie, were owners of the ill-fated plane.[6][8]

Lema, 32, and his wife Betty, 30, were buried in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward, California, after funeral services at St. Elizabeth's Church in his hometown of Oakland, California.[9]

In 1983, a San Leandro public golf course bordering San Francisco Bay was named in his honor, the Tony Lema Golf Course, now part of the Monarch Bay Golf complex.

In Ludlow, Massachusetts, the road accessing the local country club is named Tony Lema Drive. There is a collection of photographs and other items in the club house of Ludlow Country club which features Tony Lema.

Professional wins (22)[edit]

PGA Tour wins (12)[edit]

No. Date Tournament Winning score Margin of
victory
Runner(s)-up
1 Sep 30, 1962 Sahara Invitational −14 (69-67-66-68=270) 3 strokes United States Don January
2 Oct 28, 1962 Orange County Open Invitational −17 (68-66-64-69=267) Playoff United States Bob Rosburg
3 Nov 18, 1962 Mobile Sertoma Open Invitational −15 (67-68-68-70=273) 7 strokes United States Doug Sanders
4 May 27, 1963 Memphis Open Invitational −10 (67-67-68-68=270) Playoff United States Tommy Aaron
5 Jan 19, 1964 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am −4 (70-68-70-76=284) 3 strokes United States Gay Brewer, United States Bo Wininger
6 Jun 7, 1964 Thunderbird Classic −12 (68-67-70-71=276) 1 stroke United States Mike Souchak
7 Jun 14, 1964 Buick Open Invitational −11 (69-66-72-70=277) 1 stroke United States Dow Finsterwald
8 Jun 28, 1964 Cleveland Open −14 (65-70-70-65=270) Playoff United States Arnold Palmer
9 Jul 10, 1964 The Open Championship −9 (73-68-68-70=279) 5 strokes United States Jack Nicklaus
10 Jun 6, 1965 Buick Open Invitational −8 (71-70-69-70=280) 2 strokes United States Johnny Pott
11 Aug 23, 1965 Carling World Open −5 (71-71-67-70=279) 2 strokes United States Arnold Palmer
12 May 29, 1966 Oklahoma City Open Invitational −17 (69-68-69-65=271) 6 strokes United States Tom Weiskopf

PGA Tour playoff record (3–1)

No. Year Tournament Opponent(s) Result
1 1962 Orange County Open Invitational United States Bob Rosburg Won with birdie on third extra hole
2 1963 Memphis Open United States Tommy Aaron Won with par on first extra hole
3 1963 Cleveland Open United States Tommy Aaron, United States Arnold Palmer Palmer won 18-hole playoff (Palmer:67, Aaron:70, Lema:70)
4 1964 Cleveland Open United States Arnold Palmer Won with birdie on first extra hole

Other wins (10)[edit]

this list is probably incomplete

Major championships[edit]

Wins (1)[edit]

Year Championship 54 holes Winning score Margin Runner-up
1964 The Open Championship 7 shot lead −9 (73-68-68-70=279) 5 strokes United States Jack Nicklaus

Results timeline[edit]

Tournament 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966
Masters Tournament DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP 2 T9 T21 T22
U.S. Open 50 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP CUT T5 20 T8 T4
The Open Championship DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP 1 T5 T30
PGA Championship DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP WD T13 T9 T61 T34

DNP = did not play
WD = withdrew
CUT = missed the half way cut
"T" indicates a tie for a place.
Green background for wins. Yellow background for top-10.

Summary[edit]

Tournament Wins 2nd 3rd Top-5 Top-10 Top-25 Events Cuts made
Masters Tournament 0 1 0 1 2 4 4 4
U.S. Open 0 0 0 2 3 4 6 5
The Open Championship 1 0 0 2 2 2 3 3
PGA Championship 0 0 0 0 1 2 5 4
Totals 1 1 0 5 8 12 18 16
  • Most consecutive cuts made – 15 (1963 Masters – 1966 PGA)
  • Longest streak of top-10s – 2 (three times)

U.S. national team appearances[edit]

Professional

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "1964 Tony Lema". The Open. Retrieved October 18, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Distinguished Americans & Canadians of Portuguese Descent". Retrieved January 9, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c Brown, Gwilym S. (March 25, 1963). "Champagne Tony Has A Winning Look". Sports Illustrated: 26–31. Retrieved June 19, 2012. 
  4. ^ Frost, Mark (2007). The Match: The Day the Game of Golf Changed Forever. Hyperion Books. ISBN 978-1-4013-0278-8. 
  5. ^ "Historical information from Mesa Verde Country Club online library". 
  6. ^ a b Fimrite, Ron (July 31, 1995). "The Toast Of Golf". Sports Illustrated: G14–20. Retrieved July 11, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c Nicklaus, Jack; Bowden, Ken (1978). On & Off the Fairway. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-22568-1. 
  8. ^ "Lema Plane Crash Probed". Milwaukee Sentinel. United Press International. July 26, 1966. p. 1-sports. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Find a Grave – Tony Lema". Retrieved July 12, 2012. 

External links[edit]