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August 2011

An Inspirational 87 Years Young — and Can Still Shoot His Age

Jack Webb — 1965 North Dakota State Open Champion

At the time Jack Webb started playing golf, Herbert Hoover was President, the U.S. population had just surpassed 123 million persons, Hostess introduced Twinkies, Prohibition was the law of the land and Americans were on the cusp of the Great Depression.

Jack Webb

Jack Webb, winner of the 1965 North Dakota State Open.

Jack’s long and celebrated career in golf began as a caddy at Brooks Country Club, located in Okoboji, Iowa, a job he relished every summer for five years before he started working at the Club in 1935. From that point forward, there was no turning back.

“My parents were starting to play golf in 1930 and that’s when I caught the bug,” Webb recalls. “We played sand greens back then. I played a lot of amateur golf in the 1940s, after serving in World War II. When I got out of the service I attended Iowa State and competed there for four years before moving to Atlantic [Iowa] to teach. I was also golf coach, in addition to assistant basketball, football coach. And here we are some 80 years later, and I’m still teaching golf!”

Jack’s affection for the Fargo community dates back more than a half century. He first became acquainted with the area when playing in the Pine to Palm Tournament held in Detroit Lakes, Minn., a tradition that continued for many years. In 1960, Edgewood Golf Course located here, approached him about taking over as course professional. Then age 37, Jack admits struggling a bit with the decision to leave academia and go into professional golfing.

“We decided to try it,” Jack says. “I moved the family to Fargo in 1961 and made the transition from teacher to golf professional at Edgewood Golf Course. Later I became golf professional and sports director for the Fargo Park District followed by three wonderful years at Fargo Country Club as head golf professional. Needless to say I became very familiar with the course during that time.”

In 1967, in was back to Iowa for the Webb family when Jack accepted the offer as course pro at Wakonda Country Club in Des Moines, a position he would hold for the next 19 years. He’s been teaching at Des Moines Golf and Country Club for the previous 26 years and is still helping out today.

“I get out to the club three or four days a week and play with some of the members,” Jack says. “Everyone treats me very well. I’m happy to have such a wonderful career. I still enjoy it all very much.”

A Classic Finish by a Class Act

With the exception of the purse amount awarded him as the 1965 North Dakota State Open Champ, Jack’s recollection of the victory is as vivid as the dramatic fashion by which he won the tournament. Tied with the previous year’s winner, Ed Langert as the duo stepped onto the tee box of the 18th and final hole, Langert’s drive fell just short of taking a dip in the Red River. A miraculous second shot put Jack’s opponent on the green in two. Jack’s drive was safely in the fairway, although his second shot fell just short of the green. Then, the miracle happened.

“I hit one of the shots of my life then,” Jack recalls with a sheepish grin. “My pitch shot rolled into the cup for a birdie on the 18th, while Ed two-putted giving me the win by a single stroke. That birdie shot was shown many times on Fargo television, and I still get a big grin when I watch it. That victory will remain etched in my memory with great fondness.”

A classic finish, not unlike that of a Hollywood screenwriter, Jack and 10-year-old son John, his caddy for the tournament, embraced on the gently sloping 18th green and humbly tipped his cap to the crowd of golf enthusiasts who had surrounded the finishing hole.

“It was a memorable event for both my son and me,” Jack says, “but I have no recollection of how much I money I received as top prize for winning the tournament. In those days, we felt fortunate if you’d win $500 in a tournament victory."

Recalling the uniqueness of Fargo Country Club

Jack reiterated that having played the course often in advance of his ’65 Open victory was an advantage, and underscores for all golfers the importance that being familiar with a golf course can have on a scoring round, especially in tournament play. He cites several design features of the course that make Fargo Country Club unique.

“It’s a very interesting course to play,” Jack says. “The front and back are two totally different nines, one very flat, then along the river, very narrow but not too long. The 18th is a very interesting hole. It’s not all that long, but it is very narrow and runs right along the river as it comes back up toward the clubhouse. The elevated green for your second shot is very difficult, definitely a finesse shot. I hit it up, rolled back a bit and happened to pitch it in from there. On that day in ‘65, it worked out well for me.”

Over the more than eight decades that Jack has played golf, most of us can imagine the many changes he has experienced in the game of golf over those 80-plus years. Among the most notable, from Jack’s perspective has been the innovations in club design and materials fabrication that have allowed golfers to drive the ball further and with more accuracy. That said, Jack points out that course architects course designers have responded to equipment technology, extending the length of holes, adding challenging fairway obstacles and more challenging green construction, factors that collectively have resulted in creating more frustrations for golfers.

“Metal heads, titanium shafts, ball composition and compression … there are so many advancements that enhance the game,” Jack says. “The equipment manufacturers have done a lot to supposedly make it easier to play. But I’m sorry, the game is never easy. Players today are more athletic, strong and fit and really work hard on their training, not only physically, but psychologically. Having a psychologist along when I was playing was unheard of.”

Shooting his age … at 87!

Among the many highlights on Jack’s golfing dossier — the many birdies, countless middle-of-the-fairway drives, and yes even the miraculous birdies to secure a championship — there is one accomplishment (aside from bettering his brother to capture the State Amateur title in 1949) that remains among the most rewarding for him.

“I shot my age the first time when I was 67 years old,” Jack recalls. “That was 20 years ago. I actually shot a 66 at a tournament that same year and have shot my age every year since then. As they say so many times, it gets easier every year, you know. That number just keeps getting higher.”

Career Highlights of a Golfing Legend

• Began playing golf in 1930 at age 7
• Won State Amateur Title [Iowa] twice (1949 and 1960)
• Golf coach at Atlantic High School [Iowa]
• Golf Pro at Edgewood Golf Course [Fargo] in 1960 at age 37
• Golf Pro at Fargo Country Club in 1964 for 3 years
• Course Pro at Wakonda Country Club [Des Moines] for 19 years beginning in 1967
• Golf instructor at Des Moines Golf & Country Club for 26 years
• U.S. National Amateur Tournament
• Two-time qualifier for the U.S. PGA Tournament (1968 and 1969)
• Played in the USGA National Senior Open Tournament four times
• First shot his age at 67 and has done so every year since