Best of the Best—PGA Tour Q-School of 1971 (Part 3)

(Editor’s note: This is the third in a series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.)

By John Coyne


Copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Best of the Best—PGA Tour Q-School of 1971 (Part 3) 1
36-hole leader Lanny Wadkins.

IN THE ALL-DAY RAIN of the first round, Ken Harrelson, teeing off first, looking more hawkish than when he was playing baseball, his long blond hair dripping wet, went out in 34, birdieing the fourth and sixth holes. He instituted, for a handful of spectators, the Hawk Walk—strutting forward, arms stretched down, jaw jutting. The two birdie putts he holed were over 40 feet. He had a lot to strut about.

However, he triple-bogeyed number ten, hitting into the trees and the sand, then settled down to birdie the par-3 sixteenth, and finished with 38 and a par round of 72, the early leader in the clubhouse.

Everyone, most of all Ken, was overjoyed with his first round. He hung around the clubhouse telling baseball stories to Lou Strong, the club pro; Toney Penna, golf manufacturer, and others, but kept coming back to stand in the misty rain and read the leader board. His 72 didn’t hold up long. Sam Adams, a left-hander from Boone, North Carolina, was in with 69 and, later in the day, tall and thin and good looking Chuck Thorpe, an African-American from Detroit, Michigan, finished with a low for the day of 68. PGA Tour officials were also pulling for Thorpe and the other two African-American golfers who had made the school. The tournament circuit had only two black golfers playing regularly.

Meanwhile Spike Kelley of Shawnee, Oklahoma, who hadn’t been able to putt all summer because the greens had burned out on his home course, was one of the many shooting in the 80s in the first round. The only thing he had done right, he said, “was buy a Coke on the tenth hole.”

Tuesday morning the sun came out. Harrelson bogeyed his way around the front side—out in 43. He came back in 39 for a thirty-six hole total of 154. There was no Hawk Walk.

Harrelson was to have two more bad rounds—a 75 and an 82—before withdrawing, saying as he left, “I gotta get more experience before trying the school again.”

Other first-round leaders also faded. Left-handed Sam Adams went to 74. Chuck Thorpe to 76. Bruce Fleisher had a 77. But Bob Zender, 6 feet 2 inches and 210 pounds from Skokie, Illinois, a steady, unheralded golfer of twenty-eight, hitting every green, finished one under.

Lanny Wadkins, finished three under and was the second-round leader. Tom Watson, playing carefully, shot another 71.

Even Spike Kelley rallied, finished with a 74 and was philosophical about his chances. “If I don’t quality, at least by coming to Palm Beach I got to ride in a jet and see the ocean.”

(To be continued.)

John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest book is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.

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Neil Sagebiel

1 thought on “Best of the Best—PGA Tour Q-School of 1971 (Part 3)”

  1. I played some golf with Chuck and his brother Jim every once in a while if you’d stop by Chandler Park golf course he had the most beautiful hands he just had issues with self-medicating if he would’ve had Jim’s dedication to the game who knows how far he could’ve gone he had far more talent than his brother Jim he had $1 million game and a $.10 brain I remember watching him on the seventh hole at Chandler Park in Detroit there’s probably about 135 yards Jim could fly his nine iron to the middle of the green then he would grab a five iron And hit it to the middle of the green two different clubs same exact distance if ever there was someone with wasted talent it was Chuck Thorpe he was heads above everyone else just God given talent I’m sure if there is an After life he’s probably smoking a joint and knocking the flags down Rest well Chuck


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