Michigan Golfer ON-LINE

Memories of 'Tommy'
By Jack Berry

To retired Walloon Lake Country club professional Ed Kelbel, five-time British Open champion (and twice Masters and once U.S. Open champion) Tom Watson always will be "Tommy."

"I still call him Tommy. I didn't know he'd win all those championships but I knew he was going to be very, very good. He'd be around the pro shop shortly after it opened each morning. He'd play with George and Johnny White from Gulfport, Mississippi.

"We had members from all over _ Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Florida, out west, downstate. And Tom Stewart (later pro at Lakewood Shores, Bay Valley and Petoskey Bayview and president of the Michigan PGA) was working for me," Kelbel said.

"They were all good golfers, the Whites and Tom Stewart and Tommy. George White is a pro now in Mississippi.

"But Tommy was the best and he was extremely confident. I remember one day he had a 40-foot downhill putt on the third green with a big curve in it. Tommy stroked it and it went right in the middle of the cup.

"I said 'Tommy, did you ever consider what would happen if you missed?' He said 'Yes, Mr. Kelbel. I'd have a 20-foot uphill putt and that's easy.'

"And he wasn't being smart!" Kelbel said, laughing.

"I've always been interested in mechanics and I knew Tommy was going to be very, very good. He always had a big powerful swing, high and upright like (Jack) Nicklaus.

"He used to practice at Walloon when he got older and many days he'd be out before 6 o'clock in the morning. And he'd shag his own balls."

Watson's father, Ray, said Tom "would play all day. The course was only nine holes when he was little _ it was a great 18 hole course when I was there in the 1920s and 1930s but they sold nine holes around 1940. They built another nine 5-6 years ago."

"I think Tommy owes most of what he is in golf to his dad," Kelbel said. "I met his dad in 1951 and caddied for him at Wequetonsing and he shot a 66. His dad is exactly 19 years older than me _ we were born on the same day _ and we've been golfing buddies since 1961 or 1962."

As a lifelong observer of "Tommy," Kelbel still marvels at Watson's skill.

"He really is a shotmaker. He'd hit a 3-wood, not disturb one blade of grass and still hit the ball square. He hit a shot on No. 13 at Belvedere (last summer) when we played, under the trees, picture perfect technique like it had been punched out by a machine.

"I remember shots he hit 15 years ago that he said Lee Trevino taught him, shots that took off low and stayed straight, took off low and climbed left or climbed right. It was a lot of fun to watch him. I know how to do it but to be able to do it is something else.

"He strikes the ball as well as anyone today and he's so competitive. I told him the thing that amazes me about him and Nicklaus is that they still can be competitive and keep their interest up after all these years. He said you have to love the game. Kelbel, 61, certainly has done that even though he's had a stroke and Parkinson's Disease. "I still play a little golf but not much else _ it ruins your short game, it ruins your feel.

Kelbel's three sons followed him into golf. Ed Jr. is professional at The Emerald at Maple Creek, Mark is professional at The Grand Hotel Golf Club and Pete is pro at Walloon Lake.

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