This is one in a series of stories celebrating 100 years of the IHSA Boys Golf State Finals. Click here to view the other stories and here to order commemorative 100-year state final gear and pin flags.
State Finals Have Hosted Many Greats
by: Jim Ruppert
Back in the day, post-World War II, Bob Goalby was a man for all seasons. He quarterbacked the Belleville High School football team in the fall, was captain of the basketball team in the winter and then was a pitcher and outfielder for the baseball team come spring time.
But Goalby was a closet golfer. Growing up within walking distance of St. Clair Country Club, he spent many a summer day caddying and watching. Then when he was finished carrying the bag, he would mimic what he saw on the course, using his mismatched set of clubs.
By the time he got to high school, the best athletes played football, basketball and baseball, not golf. Goalby said Belleville athletes were permitted to play just one sport per season.
During the spring of his senior year in 1947, Goalby had been moved to catcher on the baseball team. But just prior to the golf postseason — golf was a spring sport in Illinois until 1974 — Goalby asked if he could enter. “The coach probably didn’t even know I played golf,” the 87-year-old Goalby remembered 69 years later. “But the kids knew I played.”
Goalby remembers shooting a 72 to win the sectional, earning a spot in the next weekend’s state tournament in Urbana. But there was a problem: the Belleville baseball team would be playing in the state tournament, and that was Goalby’s spring sport.
He was in the lineup for a 12-2 quarterfinal win over Bloomington and a 7-1 victory over LaSalle-Peru in the semifinals. And when Lee Wolters pitched the first no-hitter in the history of the Illinois High School Association in Belleville’s 1-0 victory over Peoria Woodruff that made the Maroons the first two-time state baseball champ in Illinois history, Goalby was the catcher.
When the celebrating was over, the team headed back to Belleville. All but Goalby. He hopped on a Greyhound bus in Peoria and headed to Urbana to play in the state golf tournament, spent the night sleeping in the Armory and then played in the state tournament.
He doesn’t remember what he shot — Goalby was not among the top 10 finishers — but he said, “It wasn’t too bad considering I hadn’t played all spring.” That’s how the tournament career of the man named the greatest golfer Illinois has ever produced by golf.com began.
Goalby, who played baseball at Southern Illinois University and was a quarterback on the University of Illinois football team, won 11 times during a professional career that spanned five decades. He is the only golfer from Illinois ever to win the Masters (1968).
J.C. ANDERSON won the 1979 Class AA state title in a playoff with West Frankfort Frankfort’s Randy Lewis when Anderson was a Springfield Griffin senior in 1979. Anderson had placed second in 1978 and tied for fourth in 1977.
“I have played in thousands of golf tournaments,” said Anderson, who turned professional in 1988 and has played on just about every circuit there has been. “I still remember the shots I hit in the state tournament, in the playoff.”
Anderson, a teaching pro in St. Charles, Mo., who still plays on the PGA Winter Series, said being a state champion had its positives. “It opened a lot of possibilities,” Anderson said. “It opened options for college and scholarships.”
Anderson signed with North Carolina out of high school but later transferred to Lamar, where he earned all-conference honors. “I ended up choosing to be a little fish in a big pond,” Anderson said. “But you learn as the Illinois state champion that there are 49 other state champions. There are a lot of good players out there.”
TODD HAMILTON is golf’s Little Engine That Could.
Hamilton, a native of tiny Oquawka in west central Illinois, won back-to-back Class A state titles at Biggsville Union in 1981 and 1982. He received a scholarship from Oklahoma and played there.
He turned professional in 1987 but wasn’t able to get his PGA Tour card, so he played internationally, eventually spending 12 years on the Japan Golf Tour and earning more than $6 million there. He tried eight times to earn a spot on the PGA Tour, and finally at the age of 38 he made it in 2003 after surviving the grueling PGA Qualifying School.
Hamilton won the Honda Classic in 2004 for his first PGA victory, and later that year he pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Tour history when he beat Ernie Els in a four-hole playoff to take the British Open title at Royal Troon Golf Club.
“Not to be conceited or anything, but I think it’s a pretty neat story,” Hamilton told USA Today in a 2004 story.
Hamilton was named the 2004 PGA Rookie of the Year.
WE HEAR IT ALL THE TIME. A baby is born and two dads are talking about the kid’s future.
“You going to get him into baseball?” one dad will say.
“No, golf,” the other will say. “That’s where the money is.”
If only it were that easy.
“Being a professional, you have to be really good,” JC Anderson said. “‘He’s a club champion, he can play on Tour.’ You’re jumping up a level. That’s what people don’t fathom.”
State champions like Jay Haas and Jerry Haas — the nephews of 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby of Belleville — have had successful professional careers. So have D.A. Weibring and Gary Hallberg.
“It’s really hard,” Goalby said, “because we don’t only have Americans on the tour, we have the world. There are players from 70 different countries. You’re getting the best in the world.”
“The difference between a scratch player and a tour player...it’s not even close,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to do it day in, day out.”