- Bill Fields
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The 2006 golf season produced the usual share of memories -- sad to happy, dramatic to dubious.
The golf world lost some big names in 2006, most notably Byron Nelson and Earl Woods. But others passed away who are also worth acknowledging:
Patty Berg, 88
She favored many outfits -- they made it easier to live out of a suitcase -- but Berg's personality was more like her red hair. One of the 13 sparks who started the LPGA in 1950, she was a 5-foot-2 package of optimism and tenacity who achieved much but gave more. "If you don't give in life, you don't receive," Berg told Golf Digest in 1966. "Only the person who pours out all his energies with spirit and a smile will reap returns."
Berg, who died Sept. 10 in Fort Myers, Fla., from complications with Alzheimer's disease, was a champion, ambassador and an open spigot of enthusiasm. That wasn't a bad trait for someone on the ground floor of her sport to possess. Several years before the formation of the LPGA, Berg was instrumental in starting its predecessor, the Women's Professional Golf Association (WPGA).
By any acronym, it was the sleepy dawn of a new day for women who wanted to play for pay. Along with Babe Zaharias, Berg led a tiny sorority of pros who competed for barely a fistful of money. "Love of the game" wasn't a manufactured motivation in those days; it was a necessity. And the sports-minded Berg was enthralled with competition since her speedskating and sandlot football days growing up in Minneapolis.
"The Green Bay Packers lost a great safetyman the day Patty Jane Berg found she wasn't a boy," columnist Jim Murray mused of Berg's time with the "50th Street Tigers," which also featured future Oklahoma coaching legend Bud Wilkinson. "I was about 10 or 11 years old and hardly ever went to school without a black eye," she recalled. "My clothes were always torn, and my hands and knees were always sore."
Berg's golf beginnings were bruise-free but meager, including a desultory round of 122 in one of her first competitions, the 1933 Minneapolis Ladies Championship. Humbled but determined, Berg set off on a year's worth of work to improve her game. "That's a long time to spend on one endeavor, isn't it -- 365 days? But I'll tell you, it was worth every freckle on my face," Berg recounted in the book "Gettin' to the Dance Floor." Berg won the 1934 city title and was on her way, dominating a sport even as she helped invent it.
She would win 60 LPGA titles and a still-record 15 major championships en route to the hall of fame, her gaze forever on tomorrow. Berg was the queen of instructional clinics, cocking her visor this way or that as she curved shots at will. She barked out tips and cracked up the gallery, who inevitably left feeling better about their games and themselves. Berg knew everyone couldn't master golf like she did, but there could be a lot of fun in the trying.
Bradley Johnson, 17
The future was out there, as if illuminated by neon. Johnson was a young man who seemed to have it all. He was a star golfer and student and a person of modesty and manners. "He had just unlimited talent, but more important he was just a great individual to be around," said Al Del Greco, golf coach at Spain Park High School, which was reeling after Johnson was killed March 25 when his SUV collided with a tractor trailer outside of his hometown of Birmingham, Ala. "He was just a great kid to coach." An honors student who loved the Auburn Tigers and dreamed of playing for them, Johnson was an AJGA All-American and U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up in 2005, losing 5 and 3 to Kevin Tway in the final, the best run by an Alabaman in the event's history. Johnson's Spain Park golf teammates took a while to recover from the tragedy, but wearing bracelets and caps honoring his memory, beat the odds and qualified for the state high school championship. The Jaguars, led by Trey Del Greco's medalist effort, finished third. "It was a huge accomplishment on their part," Al Del Greco said. "It makes you shake your head and think Bradley was looking down, shining good stuff on us."
Dick Harmon, 58
Whether he was teaching veterans Craig Stadler and Lanny Wadkins, or an up-and-comer such as Lucas Glover, Harmon had an effective way of making his point. The linchpin of one of golf's foremost families, Harmon died Feb. 10 in Palm Springs from complications with pneumonia, and his death shocked scores of people who had been touched by his insight, kindness and wit -- none more than his surviving brothers and fellow professionals, Bill, Craig and Butch. "If he had been a nicer guy, there might be more people here," Bill, the youngest of the Harmon brothers, joked during Dick's memorial service, which was attended by more than 1,200 people at St. Michael Catholic Church in Houston. "Surely he must have given a bad lesson to somebody." Harmon, survived by his wife, Nancy, and children Heidi, Mary, Rick and Chris, was the director of golf at Redstone GC. He spent most of his 24-year career at Houston's River Oaks CC. "If you knew Dick, you're going to miss him," 1956 Masters champion Jackie Burke Jr. told the Houston Chronicle. "It isn't just his teaching. He never got too involved in these systems. He taught 'people' instead of some stupid system."
Theodore Jorgensen, 100
The professor emeritus of physics at the University of Nebraska was vivid proof that a very smart person can get very hooked on golf. A Harvard-educated scholar, Jorgensen worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II, charged with measuring the size of the atomic test blast in New Mexico. He took up golf when he was 60 and spent the rest of his life on a quest to understand the swing. Convinced most instruction books lacked substance, Jorgensen decided to write his own. "The Physics of Golf," first published in 1994, was his scientific take on the elusive game that fascinated him until his death on April 4 in Lincoln, Neb.
Wade Cagle, 77
The PGA Tour lost a fixture when cancer claimed Cagle on Feb. 8 in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla. A rules staff member from 1967-2005, Cagle was the organization's longest-serving employee, one of the cadre of officials in charge of the traveling circus that is pro golf. "He thought better on his feet than anyone I've known," said PGA Tour tournament director Slugger White. The son of restaurateurs, Cagle knew the road well before he began tending to tournament sponsors, tee times and temporary immovable obstructions through his band, "Wade Cagle & The Escorts." In 1992, Cagle led the formation of a union for the field staff, the Professional Association of Golf Officials (PAGO), to get better wages and working conditions.
Bill Fields is a senior editor for Golf World magazine.
The golf world lost some big names in 2006, most notably Byron Nelson and Earl Woods. But others passed away who are also worth acknowledging, writes Bill Fields.