BOB WEST — Jackie Burke Jr. still kicking 67 years after Masters win
Published 12:06 am Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Among my indelible memories in nearly 50 years of writing about and being exposed to successful big name professional performers was the day in 1966 I met Jackie Burke Jr.
Anyone under 50 reading this, maybe even 60, may not know who Jackie is/was but your golfing dad will. Burke, to the Baby Boomer generation, was an early day PGA Tour icon. The long-time Houstonian came from eight strokes back the final round to win the 1956 Masters, then a few months later won the PGA Championship when it was still match play.
Overall, he won 16 times, was a force on five Ryder Cup teams and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000. His peers were Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead and good friends included Hall of Famers Jimmy Demaret and our own Babe Zaharias.
Burke and Demaret teamed in 1957 to found Houston’s internationally famous Champions Golf Club. Over the years, Champions hosted Houston Opens, the Ryder Cup in 1967 and a rare U.S. Open in the South in 1969.
With its two courses — Cypress and Jackrabbit — and a no-frills clubhouse, Champions was all about serious golf. You could be a millionaire, but one of Burke’s infamous quotes made it clear you better not be a hacker and expect to be accepted as a member.
“We don’t want to run a yacht club where nobody knows how to sail a boat,” Burke once noted.
With that prelim out of the way, my first chance to shake Burke’s hand came via my roommate at Lamar, Cesar Sanudo. Cesar had enough game to qualify for the 1966 Masters by finishing second in the 1965 U.S. Amateur and would ultimately go on to win on the PGA Tour. That he didn’t become a force still baffles me.
Somehow, and I’m fuzzy on this, he got hooked up that first fall at Lamar with the son of a millionaire oilman who owned a home on one of the courses at Champions. Said oilman was fascinated with the free-wheeling Cesar, his ball striking and his cool and started backing him in seriously heavy-duty money games against out-of-town gamblers.
Cesar didn’t own a car at the time, so whenever the guy would call our dorm room and say he had a game lined up, I was the chauffeur for the 90-minute drive. My compensation was lodging, all the golf I wanted to play at Champions and getting to meet, visit and hang out on the fringe when Burke was regaling with golfing tales.
That was then, this is now and I’m actually a couple of weeks tardy with the latest on Mr. Burke. On Sunday/Jan. 29, he was feted by scores of Champions members with a 100th birthday party. That’s right, 100th.
The golf world took note. Jim Nantz acknowledged him on a CBS telecast. Noted instructors Butch Harmon and Jim McLean flew in, Ben Crenshaw came from Austin and Astros owner Jim Crane showed up with the World Series trophy.
Burke is still chipper enough at 100 to enjoy a party and swapping tall tales with golf buddies from a long-ago era. He reportedly still spends up to six days a week at Champions, occasionally even dropping by the putting green and driving range and offering a tip or two.
In one way or other, Burke touched generations of golfers beyond his own. According to a story in Golf Digest, he gets credit from Tiger Woods’ for planting the seed for his signature “stinger” at the 1993 U.S. Amateur. He was reportedly a major factor in improving Phil Mickelson’s putting at a key point in his career.
Burke was even kind enough in the mid-1990s to bring the West thrill full circle by giving a kid from Southeast Texas named Grayson West a putting lesson at Champions. As with his dad, it is an indelible memory.
Happy 100, Jackie. Here’s hoping you celebrate many more.
Golf news should be e-mailed to Bob West at firstname.lastname@example.org.