Getting His Start in Salem
Kent Myers was introduced to golf as a junior at North Salem High School in Oregon. He took an interest in the game after he was given a set of Stan Thompson persimmon woods and Bobby Jones irons by a teacher at North Salem. The teacher's son had used them before he was killed in World War II. Myers said he "felt an obligation to play the game" after receiving the clubs.
Myers played his first rounds of golf with a future head professional at Salem Golf Club, Paus Sundin. Another golfing partner was Loren Lippert, who, by age 67 in 1998, had played over 1,000 different golf courses, including all of them in the Pacific Northwest. As high school students, the three would jump into Lippert's car and venture off to nearby golf courses. Other good golfers out of North Salem High School during this period included Gene "Bunny" Mason, a long-time club pro before becoming a prolific golf course architect in the Northwest, future PGA Tour player Patrick Fitzsimons, title-winning Northwest professional Chuck Milne, and Bob Prall, a two-time winner of the Oregon Amateur.
Upon graduating from high school, Myers attended Willamette University, where he was a Northwest Conference golf champion. After getting his Masters degree at Willamette, Myers taught school in Albany, Oregon, then served in the U.S. Army from 1956 to 1958. After his discharge from the Army, Myers worked as a school district psychologist for Grays Harbor County, then attended Stanford University where he earned a doctorate in School Administration.
During his three years at Stanford, Myers didn't play golf. But eventually launched a career that would span four decades, and lead him to become one of the region's most decorated amateurs. Myers called himself "a late bloomer, because I worked in my early years." In 1956 Myers qualified to play in the U.S. open at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. This event would be the first of 11 USGA championships Myers played between 1956 and 1996; the others included a U.S. Senior Open, three U.S. Amateurs, and six U.S. Senior Amateurs.
Myers enjoyed a long and successful career as an educator, retiring in 1991 as the assistant superintendent of the Bend, Oregon, school district. Myers eschewed the life of a golf professional. "I debated that. But I wanted to get my education and raise a family." He and his wife, Joan Marie, raised four daughters, Sally, Laura, Jill and Jane. Kent had his daughters caddie for him at golf tournaments. On occasion, this tradition-bending precedent was not easy. "My daughters all caddied for me, and they were probably the first female caddies in the Northwest," Kent said. "There were some clubs -- San Francisco Golf Club, Los Angeles Country Club and the Olympic Club in San Francisco were a few -- where I had to argue with officials to have them allow my daughters to caddie."
Home Sweet Home
In the 1968 PNGA Men's Amateur Championship, Kent Myers was playing on a course -- Illahe Hills Country Club -- that he knew very well; he was one of the club's original 100 founders. The William P. Bell-designed course opened in 1961. Prior to the PNGA, Myers had won 20 matches against only two losses at the course. En route to his Illahe Hills club championship in 1965, Myers set the course record, a 65 that still stands. By then a Lake Oswego, Oregon, school administrator, Myers also won three Illahe Hills Match-Play titles, making him 17-1 in that event (his only defeat was in 1996 to future Senior PGA Tour player, Bob Boldt. His other successes at the Salem club included three victories during the 1964 Oregon Amateur.
Going into the 1968 PNGA, Myers explained why he was successful at Illahe Hills. "The hardest thing to get used to over this course are the pin placements. Some of the greens are 40 yards long, and location of the pin can make a tremendous difference in the approach." Myers always played well here, presumably because of his early association with the course.
For eventual 1968 PNGA champion, Allen Brooks, the medalist and semifinalist in the 1967 U.S. Junior Amateur, it was a week of close calls. But Brooks' brashness carried him through to the final. In the opening round, he birdied the 20th hole to squeak past Seattle's Rusty Guernsey. In second-round action, Brooks sank a seven-foot birdie putt on the 25th hole to nip Medford's Dave Boals, then scored successive 1-up triumphs over Seattle's Mike Reasor and Elwin Fanning to reach the final.
In the other bracket's early rounds, Myers was more impressive, going five-under-par in the semifinal to nudge Spokane's Mahlon Moe in a superbly played match. But against Brooks, Myers couldn't get his game on track and ended up fighting an uphill battle. Brooks led 1-up at the morning break, then took command by winning three straight holes early in the afternoon, two with birdie putts of six and 15 feet. He closed out Myers with a birdie on the 32nd hole.
Stellar Play Reflected in Hudson Cup Selections
In the 1970's and 1980's Myers continued his outstanding play as an amateur. In the 1971 Washington State Open at Hangman Valley Golf Course, he placed second to touring pro and Spokane native, Al Mengert. He also sustained an amazing streak that will probably neer be duplicated. Beginning in 1965 at age 33, Myers was a member of the Hudson Cup Amateur team 19 times, leading his team to victories in 1969, 1970, 1977, and 1978 (the latter two as the playing captain), and a tie in 1971. Myers was also Captain of the Amateur Team 18 times.
Myers' lengthy amateur career is also illustrated by his place on the Senior Hudson Cup Amateur Team. He helped his team defeat its professional opponents in 1993 and 1997, while tying them in 1924. He played on the inaugural Senior Hudson Cup Team in 1992, and was its Captain in 1998. Furthering his place in history, Myers was named the Hudson Cup Charles Congdon Award Winner in 1965, 1974 and 1980. The award, which signifies the most valuable amateur, is voted on my members of the professional team.
Myers Marches to 1987 Finals
It would be nearly 20 years before Myers would again play in the final of the PNGA Men's Amateur Championship. The 1987 event at Tacoma Country & Golf Club was one for the record books, as all the ingredients for an outstanding championship were in place. First, Tacoma's grand old course was an excellent test. Secondly, over half the field boasted handicaps or two or less, with the contenders including defending champion, Jim Strickland of Mill Creek Country Club in Mill Creek, Washington. Strickland, fresh off a runner-up finish in the Pac-10 Conference golf tournament and a win in the Sunriver Oregon Open, was considered the odds-on favorite. Strickland didn't disappoint, electrifying the gallery with a superb seven-under-par 65 in the opening round. Many observers thought Strickland's performance couldn't be duplicated. But he shot another 65 in qualifying to finish a 14-under-par 130, the lowest medal score ever recorded for a PNGA event.
Strickland's hot streak ended abruptly. In the first round of match play, Steve Haynes, and 18-year-old UCLA freshman from Phoenix defeated him, 1 up. After two hard-fought matches against Gerry Norquist of Portland's Columbia-Edgewater Country Club and Jeff Jackson of Olympia, which he won 2-up and 3 & 2, respectively, Haynes reached the semifinals. Meanwhile, Myers advanced to the semifinal by defeating -- all by 1-up scores -- Michael Gugich of Bear Creek Country Club in Woodinville, Washington, Michael Wilkerson of Forest Hills Golf Club in Cornelius, Oregon, and Patrick Siver of Emerald Valley Golf Club in Creswell, Oregon. Eight players reached the quarterfinals including the 55-year-old Myers. The next oldest player in the final bracket was 23.
In the other semifinal, Scott Sullivan of Lewiston Golf & Country Club, runner-up in the 1986 Junior Boys', was pitted against Bill Albers of Carmel, California. In a week full of surprises, Myers and Sullivan both defeated their opponents from the south. Myers won by an unexpectedly easy 5 & 4 margin, while Sullivan, in yet another extra-hole cliffhanger escaped from the brink of defeat. Leading 1-up, Alberts had a birdie attempt to close out the match on the 17th hole of the afternoon round, but the ball hung on the lip and refused to drop. He then bogeyed the 18th and lost to Sullivan's birdie on the first extra hole.
In the 36-hole final, Myers drew first blood after sinking a couple of long birdie putts. Facing a delicate downhill putt on the 21st hole of the match for a half, Myers holed out with one of his patented "between-the-legs" putts (more on this later) to maintain a 2-up advantage. Though shocked at Myers' technique, Sullivan remained cool and fortunately, his putter caught fire at the right time. Beginning on the 22nd hole, Sullivan birdied six of the next 10 holes to close out the match, 5 & 4.
Finally, a PNGA Title
In the 1992 PNGA Senior Men's Amateur Championship at Seattle's Rainier Golf & Country Club, Myers shot a final-round, one-under-par 71 on a day when temperature soared to 95 degrees. His 217 total was one over par through 54 holes, enough to dethrone Tacoma dentist, Dr. John Harbottle, who'd won the event three out of the previous four years. Myers recovered from his only bogey in the final round, the the 10th hole, by birdying the 12th and 13th. After 25 years of trying, Myers had finally won a PGA title.
In 1994 Myers added a second PNGA championship to his trophy case; the PNGA Men's Master-40 Amateur, which was hosted by Sun Willows Golf Course in Pasco, Washington. Kent played steadily throughout the week in near 100-degree heat in defeating younger opponents. It was the 62-year-old Myers' first foray in the PNGA Master-40 event. In his final-round defeat of George Rose, a member of Richland's Meadow Springs Country Club, Myers went two-under-par through 16 holes, with only a solitary bogey at the third hole. Earlier in the event, Wayne Miller of Mill Creek Country Club captured medalist honors after shooting a two-under 70.
Myers & Match Play
Match-play golf was always Kent Myers' forte, and he loved it. He once told Bob Robinson, golf writer for the Oregonian, "Match play is like an athletic game of chess. In comparison, stroke play is like a free-throw contest, seeing who can make the most. It's not nearly as exciting.
Myers won four Oregon Amateur titles over the years, none more thrilling than his first, in 1965 at Portland Golf Club. He made a series of miraculous comebacks that year, and was 1-down with two holes to play in the 36-hole final against Bob Smith of Portland. When Myers hit his ball into a bunker at the 35th, a par three, and Smith put his tee shot 10 feet from the hole, the match appeared to be over. But Kent blasted out to six feet and, after Smith missed his birdie try, sank his par putt to stay alive. Myers then won the 36th with a par and claimed the title by sinking a 40-footer for a birdie on the first playoff hole.
More insight into Myers' competitive streak is seen in this anecdote by Robinson of the Oregonian. The story involved his return to Salem after playing in the U.S. Open and missing the cut. Bunny Mason, Salem Golf Club's head pro at the time, kidded him about his play in the Open. Mason recalled Kent's reaction. "Myers said, 'If you think I'm so bad, get your clubs and get your wallet, and we'll see you bad I am.' " Mason accepted the challenge and Myers made birdies on the first seven holes. After Myers tromped him, Mason wrote in his weekly column in Salem's Statesman Journal, "Kent literally took the hide off my wallet." Mason should have known. During a friendly match at Salem Golf Club, Myers once went 17 under par over 27 holes. "I shot 29 and 33 in the first 18 holes. My opponents didn't think I could continue that hot streak, and challenged me to another nine holes. I shot another 29 on my third nine."
That Discombobulating Putting Style
In the semifinals of the 1965 Oregon Amateur, Myers was 3-down after 27 holes to Bruce Cudd. But he turned the match his way at the 28th hole by switching to his unique putting style, which he used from time to time because he said, "I was good at it." With it, Myers holds the putter behind his back and extends the shaft down between his legs. Many observers felt Myers used his behind-the-back putting method to rattle an opponent. But Myers demurs on this account. "I didn't use that stroke to shake people up. After all, if I didn't make the putts I'd look foolish. But if I make them and it shakes people up, there's nothing I can do about that." Regardless, in his match with Cudd, Myers sank a 10-footer to birdie the 28th hole, and Cudd's game came unglued. Myers won the 28th, 29th and 30th holes before going on to win the match.
Myers got the idea for his "optional" putting style while stationed in the Army in Texas in 1956. He'd been winning a lot of money on the putting greens used by military personnel, who banned him from the games. So Myers experimented with the behind-the-back technique, and asked his buddies if he could rejoin the putting games if he putted that way. The others acquiesced and let him back in the competitions. "It wasn't long before I was winning all the money that way, too," he chuckled as he related the story to Robinson.
Dale Johnson, former Executive Director of the OGA, loved to tell the following tale, one later clarified by Myers. The incident happened during the first Pacific Coast Amateur Championship in 1967 at Seattle Golf Club. Jow Dey, the USGA's legendary Executive Director for many years, spent a day at the event. "I was putting on the 16th green and I knocked in a 20-footer behind my back. Someone in the gallery yelled, 'I thought I got 'em all.' It was Joe Dey, who recently had banned (Portland golf pro) Bob Duden's croquet-style putter and was cracking down on alternative styles of putting. Dey called me in afterwards and interviewed me. They (USGA officials) took my picture and it appeared in the USGA's Golf Journal. They weren't miffed, but Dey thought it highly unusual and warranted being in Golf Journal."
One year, Golf Digest did an article on the putting styles of several noteworthy golfers. Myers said, "They had Nicklaus and other top pros, each getting a half page of explanation and a photo. They devoted a full page to my behind-the-back style." A humorous incident happened during the 1996 PNGA Senior Men's Amateur Championship at Kitsap Golf & Country Club in Bremerton. Myers noted what happened next. "After seeing me putt, a PNGA volunteer, Midge Patten, got on her walkie-talkie and said soberly to tournament director, John Bodenhamer, 'I think Myers has lost it.' "
In the 1991 U.S. Senior Open at Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, Michigan, Myers was faced with a 20-foot side-hill putt on the slick 18th green. "The spectator stands by the green were full," he recalled. "I thought, 'What the heck, I'll only get here once.' Darned if I didn't make it. One guy in the crowd yelled, 'That was worth the price of admission!' " During another tournament in Anderson, Texas, "I putted in my normal style," Myers said. "And one guy hollered, I drove 50 miles and then you putted regularly!' " Myers said, "I often watched while driving from the course as young golfers on the practice green were all using that style. At nearly every tournament people would take pictures of me."
Kent Myers may have received considerable notoriety for his mind-boggling putting style, which he'd use only on occasion. His peerless record as an amateur champion -- with wins in 150 golf competitions -- indicates that he was much, much more than a novelty act, and his exceptional play over four decades is one for the record books.