MAMARONECK, NY – With Amazonian fierceness and single-minded resolve Elizabeth Manor Golf and Country Club’s Adam Horton and Roger Newsom avenged last year’s heartbreaking loss and claimed the 79th Anderson Memorial at Winged Foot, the oldest and most venerable four-ball event in American golf.
“We had a long and disappointing drive home last year. We lost to the eventual champions when they birdied the last hole, and we said we did not want to have that feeling again,” stated 31-year old Horton, a project manager of an electrical contracting company by day. “This year the goal was to make that trip with the trophy seat-belted into the passenger seat,” he finished energetically.
Then he made the whole media center laugh. When someone asked, “What about your partner, where’s he going to be?” he laughingly replied, “Oh he’ll be driving…I’ll be asleep in the back seat.”
That’s the nature of the Anderson Memorial, a microcosm of Winged Foot Golf Club itself. It’s a wonderful tournament, but an exhausting one as well. The winner must survive six rounds in four days at the most devastating synergy of history and misery in American golf. With the quality of player the tournament attracts – the country’s greatest amateur and mid-amateur players – one mistake can spell the end of your title run. Now factor in that the venue is Winged Foot, ruthless and merciless from 1-18 on either golf course, East or West.
““Both courses have hurt my feelings – they are hard!” admitted Newsom, a 51-year old eye surgeon, a perfect foil for his far younger partner. “I thought I could play golf, but they just whip my butt.”
But for one weekend at least, if there was anything as relentless as Winged Foot, it was Horton and Newsom. A vengeful phoenix rising from the ashes of last year’s defeat, their march to victory was inexorable and implacable. There were times when, impossible as it sounds, they dominated Winged Foot.
They opened the tournament with a 63. On the East Course, granted, but it’s still a 63.
You’re not allowed to do that to Winged Foot, there are signs everywhere. Notice is well posted. Guys who do that are supposed to become cautionary tales. How’s the old ‘70s song go? “You don’t tug on Superman’s Cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask on the Ol’ Lone Ranger, and you don’t post a big crooked red number at Winged Foot.”
…something like that…
Somehow, the Golf Gods either looked the other way, or took a liking to their moxie. How could you not? After a 63 at Winged Foot, this time Horton and Newsom had every right to peel out of the driveway with the top down, tires spitting gravel, stereo blasting Led Zeppelin, and hollering, “Later, Dudes!” They earned it.
But that was just the beginning. It was iron-willed, steely-nerved mettle all weekend long in the white-hot crucible of one of golf’s amateur majors. They powered their way into Sunday’s semi-finals by smoothly drubbing of Mark Gauley and Bill Smith 3&1, then won the match of the day on 18 in the gloaming by succeeding in the same exact circumstances in which they lost the previous year.
This time it was Ray Floyd’s sons – Robert and Raymond, Jr. – who were the opponents, a pair of burly, brick walls thundering 300-yards drives and lasering short irons to mere inches in swashbuckling fashion. They wouldn’t let Horton and Newsom pull away, and on 18 nearly stole the match with a magic trick David Copperfield would envy. Deep enough in Winged Foot’s trees that he could shake hands with the Blair Witch, and with rough covering the tops of his shoes, Floyd, Jr. hit a long iron to the home hole that finished 18 inches from the pin: a sure birdie.
It was also déjà vu all over again for Horton and Newsom; that was exactly what their opponents did to them last year on the way to winning the tournament.
“We just said, we are not gonna let this happen again,” said Horton. Horton put his approach to 15 feet, and with a green light, Newsom could take dead aim.
“He’s so good in the clutch, I knew he’d come through,” admitted Horton.
Three feet dead. Game, set, match: Horton and Newsom. Talk about cashing in a second chance…
The semi-final was the match of the tournament, a 3-1/2 long highlight reel, the Once and Future Kings battling across the Gothic splendor of Winged Foot. Parker Smith and Dan Crockett, five Anderson Memorial titles between them, against the rising stars, Horton and Smith, out to settle some unfinished business.
“It’s a a pitched battle,” Newsom recalled. “They were fierce. There lots of birdies, even matching birdies on holes, and they got up and down from everywhere.”
Did they ever…Smith and Crockett alone are worth the price of admission. The entire tournament is a showcase off sublime golf under the most strenuous pressure, but talk about miraculous wedge shots, Smith got up and down from Larchmont, Sleepy Hollow, and Scarsdale at times.
“We got the lead, then they’d respond,” explained Horton. “We’d try to pull away, and they’d hang tight.”
“That match could have gone five or even eight extra holes. It was that tight,” admitted Newsom.
It was once again the incomparable 225-yard par-3 17th with its battleship green that finally proved Smith and Crockett’s undoing. They couldn’t muster one last par scramble. After flopping wedges form the deck of two different sinking ships, Crockett’s 20-footer never scared the cup, but Smith’s three-footer lipped out cruelly.
“You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy, let alone on a pair like Smith and Crockett. I was having too much fun, I almost wanted it to go extra holes,” said Newsom. Then he quoted Jack Nicklaus – “You want to win it with your own clubs.”
It’s that fiery competitive attitude tat defined their entire marcu to the title. After that war of a semi, the final was an all-but-foregone conclusion. Exhausted from a grueling semi-final of their own where they scored a huge upset over far more heavily favored Joe Saladino and Dave Boccia, (winners of the last three Travis Invitationals between them), 1-up, 9th-seeded Kris Devin and Craig Smith had nothing left for the final and fell meekly 6&5. Tired swing followed tired swing as balls ballooned left or right off the tee, leaving one partner or the other lone to hold off Horton and Newsom, by now almost mechanical in their precision.
Never behind, and keeping the pressure on at all times, Horton and Newsom took a 3-up lead to the 9th green where one final ignominy befell poor Kris Devlin. His ball moved upon addressing his putt to tie the hole. No one else saw it: not referee Gene Westmoreland, not either Horton or Newsom, nor any of the sharp-eyed spectators. But that’s the sporting nature of both golf and the Anderson field: altruism and camaraderie.
“I just wanted to go over and hug the guy,” said one spectator, “but he’d probably quote Bobby Jones back at me about hugging him for not robbing a bank either.”
Horton and Newsom’s idea of a hug was actually three birdies in a row to cinch the match in the clutch.
“After last year’s loss, we said in the car, ‘Let’s try this one more time,” stated Newsom.
“It was there for the taking last year, and we let it slip away,” agreed Horton. “But we knew we could hold our own.”
So as the Sun set over majestic Winged Foot for the final time in Anderson, there was the Good Doctor praising the sportsmanship of his opponents, graciously thanking all the dedicated staff who make the Anderson such a singular experience in amateur golf. They all deserved their curtain call: Mike Durkin and his handsome infant son Archie, club already in hand taking swings on 10 West, Gene Westmoreland, as amiable and affable an ambassador of golf as the game could ever ask, J.P. O’Hara, tournament director, who also celebrated not only the 40th anniversary of one of his three Anderson victories, but thee wedding of his beautiful niece, and everyone else, from Elke in scoring to bartenders Oscar and Cesar slinging Transfusions and Bloody Marias, (tequila, not vodka), and everyone else. The trophy meanwhile will be the spoils of the stately Elizabeth Manor Golf and Country Club, long-time home of the Eastern Amateur – won by such luminaries as Ben Crenshaw, Andy Bean, and Lanny Wadkins.
That’s some terrific company to share grill room glory with.
Still, the Winged Foot grill room is were Horton and Newsom’s names will also stand prominent, among the names of Bobby Jones, Davis Lovs, Billy Caspar, and Hale Irwin, among any others.
Now Winged Foot will materialize back into the mists of history yet again, before appearing twice more next year like the reverie she is: there will not only be the 80th Anderson memorial next year, but the new USGA four-ball will be there next May as well.
“It’s the most special place on Earth to me,” said a grateful tournament chair J.P. O’Hara in a touching closing ceremonies speech. “It’s paradise.”
For one weekend in June, for the greatest amateurs in the world, it certainly is.