By: Hayden Lewis, PGA
In Celebration of the Alabama – NW Florida PGA’s 50th Anniversary
PELHAM, AL (SEPTEMBER 4, 2019) – It’s not often you run across an individual who has as much knowledge of the game as they do the history. Richard Crawford is one of those rare individuals. Raised in southern part of Arkansas in small town called El Dorado, Crawford was introduced to the game at the age of twelve when a neighbor asked his parents if Crawford would be interested in caddying for him on Saturdays. The two would meet at eight o’clock every Saturday morning and Crawford would caddie for eighteen holes and receive sixty cents. From there, Crawford’s interest in golf grew as he was exposed to more facets of the game just by being around other players. He eventually worked his way up to cart-boy and from there was introduced by the head golf professional to other operations surrounding the facility.
In high school Crawford enrolled in a P.E. class taught by the same head golf professional. “Another golfer who came out of this program, and probably a little more famous than myself, is Davis Love,” says Crawford lightheartedly. From there, Crawford would continue his passion for golf by playing for the University of Houston from 1957 to 1962. “I was very blessed to be affiliated with the program during that time – when you are able to sit down at the same table with the likes of Jacky Cupit and Phil Rodgers, that’s pretty special.” The University of Houston, beginning in 1956, would win eleven out of the next thirteen NCAA Division I National Titles.
Since 1932 there have only been four players to have won the Individual NCAA Division I Championship more than once: Ben Crenshaw, Scott Simpson, Phil Mickelson and Richard Crawford. All this plus an appearance as an Amateur in the 1960 Masters Tournament.
This just barely scratches the surface of the accomplishments and decorations Crawford has received as an amateur. After pursuing the game professionally for about eleven years, he and his wife finally settled down and Crawford decided to start a career in the club professional side of the industry. Crawford then retired after spending over fifteen years as a club professional at multiple facilities across the southeast. Crawford and his wife currently reside in Birmingham along with their two children and two grandchildren.
Can you tell me about the time you played in the Masters, what was that like?
RC: Well in 1959, as an amateur, I had won the Southern Amateur, the NCAA Division I Championship and the Memphis Colonial Invitational. Additionally, I was chosen to serve on the America’s Cup Team (a competition between the U.S., Mexico and Canada) – unfortunately I was not able to attend because I had an appendectomy done the week before. At that period of time, the past U.S. Amateur Champions got to vote an amateur in to the tournament and I was voted in to play in the 1960 Masters.
How many other Amateurs were there with you?
RC: There were about eight to ten. A number of us were staying in the Crow’s Nest there at the club along with one of my good friends by the name of Ward Wettlaufer. We kind of got bored there the Tuesday night of tournament week, and we decided to go to a late movie downtown, and might I add, Augusta was not that big of a town back in 1960! We got out of the movie and there weren’t any taxi cabs running and we were still three or four miles from the club so we had to walk. Once we got back to the club, all of the gates were closed and there was no way of getting in! Ward turns to me and goes, ‘Well the only way to get in is to climb the gate!’ He climbed the gate and was able to get inside. I’m on top of the gate and then BOOM, the headlights hit us! I climbed down off the gate and we started talking to the guard and told him who we were and what we were there for. Our names were on the list (thank God) and he escorted us back up to our quarters in the Crow’s Nest, but before he let us go, he told us to report to Mr. [Clifford] Roberts’ office tomorrow morning first thing before breakfast.
So needless to say, you both didn’t get much sleep that night?
RC: Not a single minute. We get up the next morning and head down to Mr. Roberts’ office and sit down in front of his desk. The first thing out of Ward’s mouth is, ‘Sir, should we go pack our bags and head home?’ Mr. Roberts looked up and says, ‘Boys, the gates close at ten o’clock. Be on the compound before ten o’clock. I hope you both have a good tournament, have fun.’ So, you talk about a big release of pressure – one of the most nervous times of my life and I remember it like yesterday.
That’s an incredible story! What’s one of the biggest things you learned during your time at the University of Houston?
RC: The golf coach at UH the time I was there was Dave Williams. Dave was an engineering professor at the university. He couldn’t break ninety to save his life, but he had a really profound background in managing people. He would have us as players turn in a scorecard every time we went out and played – he would check and see where we made the most mistakes. I learned a lot about managing my head and my attitude during that time because he did not want to see any double bogeys on any of our scorecards. His focus was more on managing our mistakes as players and how important it is to focus on making the lowest score possible on a hole. He passed along this mentality to all of our players and it made the game a lot simpler for me.
What makes you most excited about the game?
RC: The game has not changed – golf still provides the player an opportunity to do the best they can do during a round. I understand the Rules of Golf have changed and there has been a lot done by the USGA and the R&A over the last few years to make the game more accommodating to new players, but the essence of the game has been the same since the very beginning. I think as long as the integrity of the game remains the same there is still great opportunity for success.
What do you think is the most important attribute a PGA Professional can have in today’s industry?
RC: Developing intimate, personal fellowship and relationships with their members and players is so crucial today – it’s just something that needs to be instilled for every golf professional. Promoting enjoyment in the game is so rare because the common PGA Professional may be so focused on their day-to-day routines. Some of my most favorite times of being a golf professional was when I got to be involved with a player and help them learn a game which is meant to be played.
What inspires you?
RC: No matter if I’m eighty years of age or if I’m eighteen years of age, after I finished a round of golf I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and say to myself, ‘Did you give one hundred percent of your best physically and mentally?’ If the answer was yes, then what more could I do? If the answer was no, then there’s a problem. I’m always inspired by the opportunity to get better – no matter what you are doing. Everyone is going to face adversity, but it’s how you react to those situations that determines what your next step in life is going to be.
How does the 50thAnniversary of the Section resonate with you?
RC: Fifty years is a long time and I can remember when the Georgia Section split from the then “Dixie” Section. It’s because of those individuals that the Section is where it is to this day – they were the ones who laid the foundation . The Professionals in our Section are some special people, and I’m very lucky to call many of them my friends.
ABOUT THE ALABAMA – NW FLORIDA PGA 50TH ANNIVERSARY
The Alabama – NW Florida PGA Board and Staff is excited to commemorate the Section’s 50th Anniversary with the PGA of America! In celebration of this year, the Section is launching a campaign focused on highlighting PGA Professionals and Associates who are driving the game forward in the state of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The campaign will be headlined by a series of articles and interviews centered around PGA Professionals and Associates who are willing to share their “golf testimony” – or in other words – answering the question, “What does the game of golf mean to you personally?” Learn More 〉