Saturday, December 8, 2007

Grant Spaeth Interview - Part III of IV

INTERVIEWER: From say 1960 backyards, who was the finest Stanford golfer who you observed or played with or were a team mate of?
GRANT: Fred Brown was a very good player and he won the Broadmoor invitational more than once and that was one of the primary amateur events. Phil Getchell did very well after graduation. Chuck Van Linge was a very, very good golfer. He, over the years, has proven what a really good player he was.
INTERVIEWER: Did any of them play professionally?
GRANT: No, no professional golf seemed a long way away. Nicklaus was quoted as saying unless you’ve won your state amateur forget it. That was the test. When you haven’t proven that you’re the number one amateur, how could you possibly go on the tour? And I think that was the feeling that professional golf was not an option, except for a Venturi.
INTERVIEWER: Was Bob Rosburg an exceptional college player?
GRANT: Right, and he didn’t turn pro, he worked down in a clothing store in Palo Alto for three years, and then he decided to give it a go because he wasn’t enjoying that, and he made it. But as you know, he was a unique golfer with a baseball swing. He wasn’t long, but he was an awfully good chipper and putter.
INTERVIEWER: Did he surprise you when he won the PGA?
GRANT: No, because he nearly had won the US Open, I mean he lost to Moody by one stroke. He was a fighting winner. There’s just no question about it. I played a lot of golf with him – and, sure it surprised us, anyone who scores that well is going to surprise you, but he was good, he was good, I just didn’t know how good the rest were. So be sure to talk to Rosburg, he’ll be more colorful than I am, because he got angry at Stanford, the Stanford band. And they wouldn’t pay for the team to go to the national inter-collegiates in ’47. Dick McElyeas’ father financed it. So when they came back, they gave the cup to McElyea and they put it in his store on University Avenue, and said were not giving it to the Athletic Department. They wouldn’t support us!
INTERVIEWER: That’s a great story.
GRANT: [laughs] A true story. Rosburg will knock your socks off!
INTERVIEWER: Could you talk about Dick McElyea?
GRANT: Well, he was a very close friend, because as I’ve said, he was in high school. He was rather well to do, at least his father had lots of golf clubs. You know you got the thrill of seeing these clubs, because, remember, in 1946 they weren’t making golf clubs, or the grips were paper. It didn’t get going until sometime after the war, but Dick’s father had a lot of golf clubs. And secondly Dick loved Dixieland Jazz and he had records that wouldn’t stop. He lived in a lovely home in Palo Alto and he was a very gentle, nice fellow, and that was true all his life. He couldn’t hit the ball very far, and it was a surprise that he won the Pacific Coast Conference, but he was a meticulous golfer, and even though he couldn’t move the ball very far, he never was out of play. And he had a magnificent short game and he’d just would wear you down. Sort of reminded me of that, it wasn’t Jerry Barber, it was the other fellow who won the PGA hitting 4 woods 10 feet from the hole, from 50 yards behind Sam Sneed.
INTERVIEWER: You say it wasn’t Miller Barber?
GRANT: No, it wasn’t Jerry Barber, it was the other fellow in Southern California and won the PGA which was then match play. So Dick was gentle, never any trouble. He was kind, not showy. He was a modest fellow who went about playing golf as best he could and as best he could was very good. He wouldn’t shoot 66, but he’d rarely shoot 76. That sort of golfer. Just right there always. And a wonderful fellow in every respect.
INTERVIEWER: Could you speak about the other personalities on your teams?
GRANT: Warren Daily was kind of a nut, effusive. I told you he exploded with the ball. I’ve seen him, of course, since, and well, we all age, but when he was on the team, he was the fun, upbeat kind of guy. There was a fellow earlier by the name of Jack Knosher from Illinois, and he used to love to gamble. No one had any money, and we had IOU’s floating back and forth. Hopefully everybody broke even at the end, but we were playing for a lot of money, relative to what we had. Jack was an absolute character. Bobby Simms was another fellow on one of our teams and he became a pilot. He was always interested in the military and that was going to be his career and turned out to be his career. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it – he crashed at some point. So I can’t say that there were really characters. There were just good friends and there wasn’t any who did anything absurd, at least that I can recall. Pretty tame bunch.
INTERVIEWER: Except on the golf course.
GRANT: [laughs] Yes, we were good on the golf course! The high point for me, either when I was in high school or early in college, my dad got the wit of having the golf team and the alumni. The alumni match was a big deal, I mean an important match for the golf team, and the alumni showed up. So, you’d have Tatum, Berl, Seaver and a long line of them. They really went out and did battle, and then they’d come over to my house for lunch and a beer. You couldn’t have beer anywhere on the campus if you recall back in 1946. It was a dry place, but not at faculty homes. Anyway, that’s where we all got to meet and they started talking about Little, because Little was still on the tour then in the ‘40’s, early ‘50’s. And Seaver would get going and talking about the days of the first Stanford golf teams – ’33, ’32. I don’t know when the first team was.
INTERVIEWER: They actually had teams, I think, even before the course was built, that they would play like at Burlingame or at Peninsula or Menlo or whatever.
GRANT: Well, the really important golf started getting played, I think, with Little and Seaver in the early ‘30’s.
INTERVIEWER: There’s one fellow called Malcolm McNaughton who was 1931, and I’m just wondering if anyone had talked about him.
GRANT: Well, you might ask Tatum about him. Malcolm McNaughton was from Hawaii and one of those Scottish families that was very powerful in that community and I dare say he was into pineapples or whatever you’re into in Hawaii in a big way. I believe Malcolm McNaughton became the head of one of the big, what are there, four or five big companies?
INTERVIEWER: Like Dole or one of those companies.
GRANT: I forget, but Sandy could tell you, or Warren Berl can tell you, very important individual. I don’t know about his golf game.
INTERVIEWER: Could you talk about your career after you left Stanford? Obviously golf remained a very important part of your life because it led to your becoming President of the USGA. Could you talk about that transition?
GRANT: Well, I went to law school back East and then started practicing law here in Palo Alto about ’58, after a tour in the army. And then worked pretty hard, and then after about six years, organized my own law firm which stayed in existence for about 40 years until it merged into a larger firm. My recollection is that I started fitting golf in a bit, probably the third or fourth year of law practice, and I became a member here. I just played, nothing special. I played in the Club tournaments and I won it once here. It increasingly became important to me. I joined San Francisco Golf Club. Everybody else left this golf course to join Sharron, and I frankly didn’t like that golf course very much, so I waited around and wound up joining San Francisco. Then I decided to do some volunteer work, you know, like we all do, as a Marshall, at some event, or helping out the golf team here or the NCGA. Then just a series of circumstances. They wanted somebody from the West who was a lawyer who knew something about golf, and I wound up being general counsel. So, it wasn’t any organized campaign. It was kind of good fortune, meeting the right people. The combination of law and golf just seemed to be needed by the USGA at that time. Which a time when the golf ball, we had the self-correcting golf ball, which we had to stop, followed by Ping and the grooves, and golf became a litigious arena.
INTERVIEWER: What do you mean by the self-correcting golf ball?
GRANT: Well, two scientists in San Jose, ex-IBM, developed a golf ball which, if you sliced, would recoup and straighten out.
INTERVIEWER: Boy, that would help my game, I tell you that!
GRANT: Or if you hooked it, it would straighten out, and it worked.
GRANT: At a tremendous distance price, but it worked. We took the position that that was not a golf ball. But we didn’t have much underpinnings because we never thought of such a thing. You know, a round, and we basically said a golf ball has got to be consistent from every angle. We put that into effect, but we didn’t have it in effect when they sued us and the anti-trust laws, because we banned the ball. The ball would have failed. You wouldn’t have used it because even you Van can’t afford to loose 30 yards. [laughing] But anyway, so there was a need for a lawyer to oversee things. Not that the legal representation wasn’t strong beforehand.
INTERVIEWER: So when did you become President?
GRANT: 1990.
INTERVIEWER: And how long was your tenure?
GRANT: Two-year term. I was on the USGA for 13 years and you move up the chairs. So I got to see everything: Chairman of Rules of Golf, so that was a four-year, and Championship Committee, running the events and starting the mid-amateur. That was my favorite thing to have done. Serving on the myriad of committees that every charitable institution has.
INTERVIEWER: It’s a little unusual, perhaps, you were the second Stanford golfer who became USGA President, and there’s a third now, isn’t that correct?
GRANT: Walter Driver, that’s right, that’s right. Walter was on the golf team I think a little before Tom Watson. That’s my hunch. And he’s a very good golfer. He played in the mid-amateur when he was nothing in the USGA, but he qualified, which is an achievement. Big strong, long-hitting, good golf swing.
INTERVIEWER: He lives up to his name.
GRANT: Absolutely right!
INTERVIEWER: When Bob and Rich knew we going to be talking to you today, I looked back to “Fun and Games” and read again Alistair Cooke’s address, I guess you would call it.
GRANT: Well, yes, he stood up there.
INTERVIEWER: “The inauguration of President Grant”, he called it. [laughing]
GRANT: I got to know him through …
INTERVIEWER: That’s really quite funny.
GRANT: We played golf ever time he came out and he’d come out three times a year and stay up in the City. And then he learned I was going to be President and he called and rather coy about it, but he was essentially asking whether he might speak at the occasion. I couldn’t imagine that. I idolized Alistair Cooke. I still do. And I did then before I had ever met him, because mother being English, my mother being Scottish and my grandmother being English, we listened to him when I was right here, 14, 15. Anyway, he appeared and gave me the needle.
INTERVIEWER: Well that makes for segue. When did you first play in Scotland or the UK or Ireland?
GRANT: My first visit there, and I’ve been there a lot of times since, I had aunts in Scotland, and I negotiated with my parents to take the summer and winter, the fall quarters off. There were no Stanford abroad campuses. So I went to summer school, which enabled me to get six months, and I went to Scotland, and they conditioned it on my going up to see these aunts who were …
INTERVIEWER: So this was which year?
GRANT: 1952. And so I went up to this little town called Ballater and played golf at the little golf course every day, and then came down and played Carnoustie. I still have the score card. But my first Scottish golf course of any moment was Carnoustie for four days. The year before Hogan played. So when Hogan played, I was ahead of everybody, because I knew those holes backwards and forwards. So when he took a 6 on 17 in the third round, I said, my God, impossible. He hit it in the burn, no he didn’t hit the burn, he looked up on a second shot, blasted out and three putted. Anyways, so it was great fun to know what was happening because I knew the golf course. And then I went on down to St. Andrews where they had a tournament for college players and we stayed at the University dormitory and we played three rounds at the old course and one at the new, preceded by practice rounds. So that was my introduction. And that was followed by seven days in London with a famous man by the name of Gerald Micklem. Gerald Micklem was the caretaker of British amateur golf. Captain of the R&A, player who defeated Frank Stranahan in the British Amateur. He was on the Walker Cup team. He was a fabulous guy whose home was at Sunningdale. He took me around to all the London golf courses. That was my first trip – fabulous trip! [chuckles]
INTERVIEWER: So what are you say three or four favorite Scottish golf courses?
GRANT: Well I’ve got to say my favorite is Royal County down where I have just come from. I just think that is… have you been there?
INTERVIEWER: Yes, I’ve played there I think four times.
GRANT: Well I walked around it four times for the matches and I just couldn’t get over how perfect it was.
INTERVIEWER: Any others?
GRANT: I love Murfield. I have always had a ball at the Old Course, even though it’s a crazy golf course. But because Carnoustie was my first, it stays there, because of my memory, it’s a middle-class town, or lower-middle-class. I got to know the caddies. I got to know the members of the Club. It’s not a Club in the American sense. It’s just a place where – very modest, and I just fell for Carnoustie. Those are my four. But don’t tell others because I love them all. I mean the little courses like Panmuir and Ely, London Links.
INTERVIEWER: How does Dornoch rank?
GRANT: Oh, way up there. Way, way up there. It’s very, very special. That’s the trouble with your question.
GRANT: The top three or four – it’s hard to put Dornoch number 5, but I’ll leave it there for the moment. You have a strong dissent to that?
GRANT: No, you can’t take away my love affair with Carnoustie because it was so emotional.
GRANT: That first visit, plus Hogan.
INTERVIEWER: My experience at Carnoustie has not been so positive, but that’s just a completely personal thing.
GRANT: Sure, of course it is.
INTERVIEWER: Dornoch and County Down would be my two.
GRANT: If you keep going I’ll talk , to say Prestwick
INTERVIEWER: Prestwick is a lot of fun.
GRANT: As far as fun, just the fun of playing golf. Prestwick. Crazy.
INTERVIEWER: Cruden Bay is wonderful golf course.
GRANT: Oh, there we go.