In the golf world, left-handed players haven't always received the acceptance they deserve. But Jack Walters was instrumental in breaking down such barriers. Furthermore, his accomplishments in life exceeded those he achieved in golf. Walters' achievements as an exemplary citizen were recognized in 1963 when he was inducted into the Tacoma-Pierce County Hall of Fame. The honor was bestowed for his golfing prowess and his unselfishness in performing civic duties in the local community. Among other items on his résumé, Walters served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Tacoma Elks Lodge and President of the Tacoma Lions Club.
The long-hitting lefty from Tacoma was introduced to golf as a caddie at Fircrest Golf Club, soon after it opened in 1925. Shortly after acquiring four battered left-handed clubs, Jack won the club's caddie championship. He later joined Fircrest and went on to become its president and a six-time club champion, winning the first time in 1932. Walters also won the Tacoma City Amateur title on six occasions.
Jack's first experience in tournament play came at age 16, when he won his first Washington State Left-Handers tournament in 1929. That event would later become the Pacific Northwest Left-Handers tournament. He entered his first National Association of Left-Handed Golfers (NALG) Championship in 1937, which was held at Olympia Fields Golf Club in Chicago.
He later recalled this initiation and subsequent forays in the national tournament. "I didn't fare too well and was eliminated in the quarterfinals [of the first event]. It was still a big thrill for me, and I was determined to participate in as many national tournaments as possible. I felt that some day I would have a lucky streak and bring that big trophy home to Tacoma."
Walters continued, "In 1943 I was drafted and spent a hitch in the infantry. After the war in 1946, I was laid low with malaria. In 1948 I managed to travel to Cog Hill Country Club for the event. In 1950 I was finalist to Bob Buchanan at Bloomington, Illinois. In 1953, I achieved my goal and brought the trophy home. The 1953 tournament was at French Lick Country Club in Indiana, and I defeated Norman James of Hickory, North Carolina, 5 & 4."
Almost from the time he began winning local and regional southpaw events, Walters' goal was the national trophy. In Golf World magazine, his wife, Jeanne Walters, shared an amusing story after Jack's breakthrough triumph in 1953.
"I can't resist writing a postscript as I think some of the golfing widows will enjoy it. When Jack won the 1953 event he called home and said we had just won a trip to Mexico City. I was overwhelmed and asked excitedly, without thinking, if that was first prize. Of course it was not, but he said he had finally won and that from now on he would be taking his little family on nice vacations instead of playing in the National every year. He was not home a week when I heard him talking on the phone with a friend. The two were making plans to attend the next year's event together. I reminded him of his commitment to go to Mexico City.
"And so Jack didn't miss a National tournament since he won it in 1953. Now we know that the only way we will get to go to Mexico City is if the organization changes its name to the 'International Left-handers' and holds its tournament there. I am not complaining, but it does show that some people do say such peculiar things when they are in a state of shock caused by winning a national event."
Golf was not a sport, but rather a way of life for Walters and his family. His wife and daughters, Janet and Joyce, were golfing enthusiasts, and he and Jeanne became the first husband-and-wife winners of the Men's and Women's Tacoma City Amateur Championships.
In 1960 Jack Walters accomplished what every athlete dreams of – to win a national sports event in his hometown before friends and family. As the NALG President in 1960, he hosted the National Association of Left-Handed Golfers Tournament at Fircrest Golf Club. One would think the pressures of running such a large event would have been insurmountable for Walters. But his organizational skills, nurtured through his position as Tacoma's representative for Carling Brewing Company, helped carry him through. Walters shot 69, 74, 77, 72-292 over his home course, tying Bob Wilson of Auburn, Washington. In an 18-hole playoff, Walters shot 74 to Wilson's 80.
Walters described the win as his "end-of-the-rainbow victory." The long-hitting southpaw essentially retired from competition after that win in 1960. Presumably, a trip to Mexico with is wife wasn't too far behind.
Jack Walters served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Association of Left-Handed Golfers an amazing 25 years, from 1960 to 1985. In recalling his good friend, PNGA past President and fellow southpaw, Dick Kanda, said, "In my opinion, Jack Walters was the Arnold Palmer of lefty golf. It was a proud moment for me when I was president of the NALG in 1983 and hosted the national tournament at Olympia Country & Golf Club. At the banquet that year, I presented a wristwatch to Jack which had engraved on the back, 'Mr. Lefty.' Upon accepting the watch, he removed the one he was wearing, a coveted prize from a past 'Crosby Clambake' (later called the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am), and then wore my gift until he died. To this day, Jack's name is still synonymous with lefty golf."