Monday, November 26, 2007

Grant Spaeth Interview - Part II of IV

This interview took place at the Stanford Golf Course on Oct. 8, 2007. The interviewers were Lyman Van Slyke, Bob Stevens and Rich Peers, members of Stanford.

INTERVIEWER: So, the Stanford team won the NCAA in ’53.
GRANT: Yes, ’53 at the Broadmoor.
INTERVIEWER: Talk about that.
GRANT: Well, I don’t think we thought we could win, number one, but we knew we were good players. But it’s not as if we ran into other golf teams around the country the way they do today. I notice the Stanford team has been in Chicago, Florida, Japan and will go to Hawaii, meeting these other teams. That didn’t happen at all, only the west coast teams and we’d play matches against them. So there was no sense of comparison and we really didn’t know going in whether we were good, relatively good, or not. It was 36 holes, six players and four lowest scores, so we went out played and we practiced a lot and talked a lot about the golf course. It was up high and so you had to make some adjustments to your golf game because the ball went further and how do you calibrate that? So we just spent a lot of time talking about that. And we just went out and played. I don’t recall anything special about that first round. I remember on the second round I realized the pressure and I wrote a long letter to my dad and Sandy Tatum and said, I think we’re about there if we can really turn it on tomorrow. So I can remember having a lot of pressure and excitement, and it worked out.

INTERVIEWER: What was the buzz, if any, about who the hot teams where?
GRANT: Well, there was LSU with Eddie Merrins who was the pro down at Bel-Air Country Club. They were the hot team, but beyond that there were Texas teams. North Texas State had been the power and Houston hadn’t appeared, but there were a lot of good players kind of banging around in the Texas/Oklahoma world, but again, I didn’t really know that much. There weren’t that many amateur tournaments and certainly not a lot of tournaments where we were exposed to the good players, but LSU was the one we beat and it was the favorite by a wide margin coming in. And frankly, I think they had a better team then we did, but they didn’t those two days. [chuckles]
INTERVIEWER: So it was four days of medal play?
GRANT: Two days.
INTERVIEWER: Two days of medal play.
GRANT: And the low 64 went into match play, that’s the way it was structured then. I don’t think they can fit all the schools any more and that’s why it’s been reduced: the number of players and the number of scores.
INTERVIEWER: What shape was the course in?
GRANT: Perfect. Colorado Springs – the course has since been changed, but it was just a good, solid golf course, and happily enough the 17th hole was one you could get on in two.
GRANT: Par 5, yes.
INTERVIEWER: I take it you reached it in two.
GRANT: I did. I had a good round. I had 71-68.
GRANT: That wasn’t the medalist, but it was number 2 medal and we won by two shots.
INTERVIEWER: Who was the medalist? Do you recall?
GRANT: I don’t. I’ve got that stuff somewhere. I’ll find it for you.
INTERVIEWER: Was that your career best performance?
GRANT: Well, sure!
INTERVIEWER: Obviously, under the circumstances it was.
GRANT: Absolutely. The moment, you know, one of those special moments. One thing I do want to add here is that when I was in high school, I was very much involved with Stanford golf as a caddy. The NCAA was here [in 1948 – editor]. I had all kinds of jobs. I was in charge of measuring the long driving contest on the 10th hole, but as a result of being a kid and Eddie Twiggs being here and Sandy Tatum being a family friend, I heard all about Lawson Little, Charlie Seaver. I mean the idea, I learned that Charlie Seaver if he had won his semi-final match at Merion in 1930, he would have played Bobby Jones. That’s how good Charlie Seaver was. Maybe better than Lawson Little, who won the U.S. Amateur twice and the Amateur twice in Britain. And then there was Art Doering – who, I don’t know what happened to him, but he was on the professional tour for a number of years. And then there was the wonderful player who owned the course record.

INTERVIEWER: Bud Brownell?
GRANT: Bud Brownell from Monterey, who I don’t have a sense of, but everybody just thought he was the most wonderful golfer ever to appear and he had this extraordinary round of golf of 63. You can image what the clubs where that they used. And then, as a caddy, here I am caddying for Bob Rosburg, Bob Cardinal, Tom Lambie from Phoenix and a couple of others. And they won the NCAA in 1947. And they should have won in ’48, but Eddie Twiggs kicked Rosburg off the team.
GRANT: He kicked Rosburg off the team because Rosburg was bought in a Calcutta at the Peninsula Golf Club and so he had an obligation to the guy who bought him and so he played in the morning, as I recall against USC, because I was caddying, and he didn’t show up for the afternoon match against USC because he had this obligation, and so Eddie kicked him off the team and as a result San Jose State won the NCAA I don’t know whether you want to put that in the history of Stanford golf…
INTERVIEWER: We have to tell it all.

GRANT: Well, you want to verify it. Ask Rosburg. That’s someone you have to interview.
INTERVIEWER: Was Venturi on the San Jose State team?
GRANT: Later, that was later. Venturi is a year older than I am. So he would have been class of ’53 probably at San Jose State.
INTERVIEWER: Actually Dick McElyea confirmed that story. Before he died they did an interview with him and he has the same story about Rosburg being booted off.
GRANT: Oh good.. Booted off! And just think about that as a decision by a coach. Facing the NCAA at your home course. Think of the edge!
INTERVIEWER: So it was here at Stanford.
GRANT: Oh yes, yes. So I was all wrapped up as a kid before coming to Stanford in the traditions of Stanford. Remember that Sandy Tatum won the NCAA individual [editor – in 1942] and he was hired by my dad as an Assistant Dean.
GRANT: Sandy Tatum. Yes, and then he in turn knew Warren Berl and George Traphagen, another name, and Dee Replogle. These were fellows on the teams that won in ’41 and ’39, I think it was. So I was raised as a kid in the Stanford tradition.
INTERVIEWER: That’s neat!
GRANT: By virtue of Tatum and my dad, and just being here.
INTERVIEWER: Did Sandy always have that stop at the top of his backswing?
GRANT: Apparently, certainly as long as I’ve known him, but somebody said he might not have had it as a younger golfer, but basically he stopped for a long time.
INTERVIEWER: So, in those days, how far are the long hitters getting it out off the tee?
GRANT: Well, I can remember Warren Daily hitting it where the boys hit it today, maybe slightly shorter, but he was hitting 4 irons into one. So that’s 1953. He was very long, he exploded on the ball. It wasn’t a smooth piece of work, which, it’s my impression that club head speed is generated effortlessly these days and it goes a long way. Warren got away with exploding at the ball, but he was huge, huge. He got it out to the trees on 12. Knocked it on 15.
INTERVIEWER: From the tee?
GRANT: Yes. I wasn’t short. I won the NCAA driving contest. They used to have a driving contest. You got three balls. The one longest ball was one prize. Three in the fairway and length. I won that won. [laughs]
INTERVIEWER: How far did you hit it?
GRANT: I can’t remember. It was up there in the first hole at Colorado Springs.
INTERVIEWER: So what ball did you use?
GRANT: Well, my recollection is that we used Spaulding Dot. Then along came Maxfli and at the NCAA in Houston, I hit a shot that didn’t reach the green and I hit it out of the bunker and then hit a putt and it only went half way. And then I looked at the ball and it was oozing white stuff, so I never played a Maxfli again. [laughing]
INTERVIEWER: You literally creamed it! [more laughing]
INTERVIEWER: And what clubs did you carry? When did the 14 club rule go in? That isn’t so terribly old, is it?
GRANT: You know, I can’t tell you. All I know is that Lawson Little, Stanford graduate, triggered it by playing at Prestwick in the British amateur with something like 32 clubs.
INTERVIEWER: It was something like 1938.
GRANT: I believe it must have happened before the war, but I could be wrong. The big golf meeting occurred in 1952 in England, at which point the “stymie” was eliminated and the rules of golf of the two countries were unified, in other words.
INTERVIEWER: Except the two balls were still in play for a while.
GRANT: That’s right. And so the areas in which they didn’t agree, they called them kind of local rules or local options and they’ve spent the last ensuing 50 years getting rid of all those. So that now, I think the last agreement was we insisted on permitting the play of an embedded ball in the rough if the local golf course chooses to invoke that rule. The rule of golf is you can only get relief from an embedded ball if it’s in a closely mown area. So that’s the one, I believe to this day, residual difference, but it was settled by giving a local option.
INTERVIEWER: Isn’t there a similar difference on whether you get line of sight relief if you’re putting from off the green …
GRANT: That’s the other one.
INTERVIEWER: … and there’s a sprinkler head in your way.
GRANT: Sprinkler head in your way within two club lengths. If this Club were to choose to do so and it could choose to do so on the 3rd green. The new 3rd green has that problem, it’s a local option. And the reason is that in the United States you can get a lot of rough that is close to the green and the idea being it can permit someone to change the shot from being in the rough to putting. Seems too lenient, given American golf. In Britain, as you well know, it’s hardly ever an issue.
INTERVIEWER: You’re almost always putting.
GRANT: You’re putting from 50 yards. They were doing that at the Walker Cup at County Down, they were putting from enormous distances.
INTERVIEWER: So, what clubs were you carrying?
GRANT: I can’t remember. McGregor woods. They were the primo. I carried three woods, yes. No 4 wood.
INTERVIEWER: Did you call them driver, brassie, spoon?
GRANT: Well, I used to call them that, but I was raised by an English mother, but that’s what we called them. Though we used to fudge with the lofts. So I’ve got a hunch my 3 wood was a 3 _ wood. My brassy was 2 _.
GRANT: Slightly weaker – a little more height.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Interview with Grant Spaeth - Part I of IV

Grant ("Biggie") Spaeth. Stanford men's golf team letter winner 1952, 1953, 1954. Member of the
1953 national championship team. USGA President 1990-92.

Intro: As part of an ongoing project to create a new website for the Stanford Men’s Golf Team, and to preserve the oral history of Stanford golf, interviews with notable Stanford golfers will be made. This is the first of those interviews. On Monday, October 8, 2007, Grant Spaeth was interviewed overlooking the 18th green at Stanford University Golf Course. The interviewers were Lyman Van Slyke, Bob Stevens and Richard Peers. Dr. Van Slyke initiated the interview.

INTERVIEWER: So, thank you for taking the time to join us today.
GRANT: No, no, my pleasure.
INTERVIEWER: Well, I’ve been curious Grant, obviously when you arrived at Stanford you were already a competent golfer, maybe a very a good golfer already. How did golf start for you? When did you start playing? Was your dad an active golfer?
GRANT: My father became a golfer. He was good athlete in college at Dartmouth. He was stationed in Montevideo, Uruguay, and there were none of the American sports, and so no football, baseball or basketball. We lived across the street from a golf course, so I learned there. For a couple of years we were down there. I played golf every day as a kid. So I was then what? 11, 12 years old.
INTERVIEWER: Self taught?
GRANT: No, there was a wonderful pro at the course. As a matter of fact, I was in Mexico teaching rules of golf and came across a fellow from Uruguay and asked him about the name of my pro. His nickname was “Espinaca”, spinach, which is bizarre and I don’t know how he got that name, but in any event. The fellow answered he’s still alive and he’s down there and he’s close to 90 and he’s very, very famous in Uruguay. So he was my teacher.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go to high school in Uruguay?
GRANT: No, I went to high school at Paly High and, as a matter of fact, was a regular caddy for the Stanford golf teams. That’s why I have some feeling for the traditions, it going back earlier than my college years because I lived here on the campus and caddied for the golf team fellows. I was kind of a general workman around here on the golf course.
INTERVIEWER: As I recall, your dad became Dean of the law school in ’46, right after the War.
GRANT: ’46, that’s right.
INTERVIEWER: You were how old in ‘46?
GRANT: I would have been 14.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a golf team at Paly?
GRANT: That’s right, there was, one fellow who later was a golfer here at Stanford was Dick McElyea - Dick and I were on the Paly golf team.
INTERVIEWER: He just passed away.
GRANT: That’s right; he just passed away. He is in the Golf Hall of Fame. He was a wonderful fellow. He and I were on the golf team and his father had a station wagon and so we played here and Crystal Springs, Palo Alto Muni, San Mateo Muni. There are a lot more golf courses around here now than there were then.
INTERVIEWER: It’s interesting that there was high school golf in those days.
GRANT: Absolutely, and it was a league that then extended from Daly City to San Jose, and we played them all in head-to-head matches.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a hierarchy of tournaments?
GRANT: No, there was no hierarchy. That was it.
INTERVIEWER: Just kind of regional play.
GRANT: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: So you came to Stanford in?
GRANT: Class of ’54, so I came in ’50.
INTERVIEWER: The golf coach then was?
GRANT: Bud Finger. When I was in high school, the Stanford golf coach was Eddie Twiggs, who had been a golf coach for many years here and after the war, I can’t remember when he stepped down and when Bud came forward, but it must have been around 1950.
INTERVIEWER: ’48 to ’76, is what I have. Finger became coach in ’48 and Twiggs was coach from ’32 to ’47.
GRANT: Okay, yes, so Twiggs was basically the first golf coach, with a remarkable record, as you know.

Note: Coach Twiggs is shown with his 1939 national championship team including Bud Finger on his left.

INTERVIEWER: So you were on the golf team all fours years?
GRANT: Yes, I can’t remember whether freshman played on the varsity, I think we played on the Freshman team. It’s gone back and forth over the years. We played always with the varsity, I mean, there was no distinction as far as play, practice and so forth.
INTERVIEWER: That’s probably right, I know we are about the same age, I am couple years older than you are and in the Mid-West inter-collegiate sports there was always a freshman team.
GRANT: Uh-huh. It’s gone back and forth over the years.
INTERVIEWER: So who were your contemporaries/fellow team members?
GRANT: Well, I was thinking about that, the fellows, who, when we were good, the guts of the team were fellows named Fred Brown and Warren Daily. They were terrific. Fred Brown used to tackle Ken Venturi in our home-in-home matches against San Jose State. Warren Daily from Wisconsin was a very, very long hitter. Art Schroeder, who is still around here and works part-time at the golf course, was on that team. Stu Ledbetter and Bob Blackburn - the reason I’m good with the names right now is we had a reunion – 50th reunion - of our NCAA win and so that’s easy. In the earlier years there was Dick McElyea, Keith Beekman, who used to be a member here at Stanford; Dick Taylor from Arizona; Paul Palmquist, and I need to go back to the books to the get the names of some of the others. Phil Getchell was after us.
INTERVIEWER: Stewart Rhodes? Is that a name that rings a bell?
GRANT: It doesn’t.
INTERVIEWER: Phil was the fellow who was a friend of Bob……
GRANT: Yes, yes. Went into the church; into the cloth and spent a good portion of his life in Brazil, maybe as a missionary, maybe you wouldn’t describe him as that; maybe it was more sophisticated duty.
INTERVIEWER: So I think probably you fellows have the specific record of when titles were won and so on.
INTERVIEWER: Well, Grant played on the 1953 national championship team, so it would be great to hear some about that year and your experience of winning.
GRANT: The experiences of winning? Well, we were pretty good, vis-à-vis the rest of the Pac 10. I think we won every single championship and also the individual titles. McElyea. Art Schroeder won. I can’t remember the third year, but it was not very competitive as far as the Stanford golf team was concerned those years, with all due modesty.
INTERVIEWER: You were too good.
GRANT: [laughs] They were weak.

Note: The photo below of the 1953 national championship team includes Grant 2nd from left, top row.

INTERVIEWER: When we talk about a golf coach, I’m sure each one has his own style, but how did Bud Finger coach, how do you coach in golf? It’s not a team sport; it’s not like basketball or football.
GRANT: Well, I think the relationship differs one player to another. When Bud first became coach and I entered Stanford, I went and explained to him that I was taught by Art Bell at California Golf Club and that I really wanted to stick with Art Bell in terms of the golf swing, and Bud said “okay”. So our relationship wasn’t so much about the golf swing, except he was very good with the short game and was terrifically helpful with putting, chipping and all of the strategies associated with that. So we were kind of friends. But I had a sense that Eddie Twiggs, for the great teams that preceded, was very much involved in the golf swing, course management and the mental aspects of the game. So, you’d have to speak with others about what impact Bud Finger may have had on them because it wasn’t very great with me because we established this relationship when I was a freshman, and so it was understood and I abided by everything he did. We used to kid him a bit, because he was an easy mark for naughty undergraduates. We called him “Charles Bud” rather than “Mr. Finger”.
INTERVIEWER: Did he layout what he wanted out of the practice sessions, so much for short game and putting and so much for full swing, or did he work with each player one on one?
GRANT: As I say, I think it differed player to player, because he knew that I was in pretty good hands and I think they talked. Bud Finger talked with Art Bell, what should Grant work on? But it was not a highly disciplined arrangement as I sense is now the case. I remember Bud said he’d kick me off the golf team if I skied, because he was worried I’d get hurt. But there weren’t too many no’s and yeses and there was not much discipline of the sort that I see today.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have to dress in a certain way?
GRANT: Yes, we certainly did, on traveling. We were Stanford people who had to be a cut above everyone else.
INTERVIEWER: So you all wore the same blazers and slacks?
GRANT: Not so much the same. I don’t think we ever had uniform blazers. We all had to wear ties at almost all occasions where we would be seen as a group, unless it was on or near the golf course. That’s my recollection. But I don’t recall ever having been given a red coat. [laughs]
INTERVIEWER: Navy blue with a Stanford “S” on the back of it
GRANT: No, never got one of those. We’d occasionally get a golf shirt. It wasn’t a very fully funded program you understand.
INTERVIEWER: Where there scholarships?
GRANT: I guess there were. It was a different world and I really don’t know. I was the son of a faculty member, so I got to go to Stanford for nothing. I’ve never really inquired what the deal was with others, but it certainly was not loaded with scholarship money. Grants in aid, maybe, but I don’t know whether any of our teams needed it. Chuck Van Linge was after me and he came from a modest family and he may well have had a scholarship or some help of some sort, but I think it was more, it was kind of improvised and I don’t think the NCAA had a huge set of rules, the sort we find today.

EDITOR'S NOTE - To review the Stanford golf team members over the past 75 years go to:

Posted by Bob Stevens