Tony Lema

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Tony Lema
Personal information
Full nameAnthony David Lema
NicknameChampagne Tony
Born(1934-02-25)February 25, 1934
Oakland, California
DiedJuly 24, 1966(1966-07-24) (aged 32)
Lansing, Illinois
Nationality United States
SpouseBetty Cline[1]
Career
CollegeNone
Turned professional1955
Former tour(s)PGA Tour
Professional wins19
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour12
Other7
Best results in Major Championships
(Wins: 1)
Masters Tournament2nd: 1963
U.S. OpenT4: 1966
The Open ChampionshipWon: 1964
PGA ChampionshipT9: 1964
 
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Tony Lema
Personal information
Full nameAnthony David Lema
NicknameChampagne Tony
Born(1934-02-25)February 25, 1934
Oakland, California
DiedJuly 24, 1966(1966-07-24) (aged 32)
Lansing, Illinois
Nationality United States
SpouseBetty Cline[1]
Career
CollegeNone
Turned professional1955
Former tour(s)PGA Tour
Professional wins19
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour12
Other7
Best results in Major Championships
(Wins: 1)
Masters Tournament2nd: 1963
U.S. OpenT4: 1966
The Open ChampionshipWon: 1964
PGA ChampionshipT9: 1964

Anthony David "Tony" 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.

Contents

Early life

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

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] 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

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.[6] 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.[6] 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

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.[7][1]

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.[8]

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.

PGA Tour wins (12)

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

Other wins (7)

this list is probably incomplete

Major championships

Wins (1)

YearChampionship54 holesWinning scoreMarginRunner-up
1964British Open7 shot lead−9 (73-68-68-70=279)5 strokesUnited States Jack Nicklaus

Results timeline

Tournament19561957195819591960196119621963196419651966
The MastersDNPDNPDNPDNPDNPDNPDNP2T9T21T22
U.S. Open50DNPDNPDNPDNPDNPCUTT520T8T4
The Open ChampionshipDNPDNPDNPDNPDNPDNPDNPDNP1T5T30
PGA ChampionshipDNPDNPDNPDNPDNPDNPWDT13T9T61T34

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.

See also

References

External links