It’s a cliché that golf is a game for a lifetime, but it is true, and it was proven again last week. Ninety-eight golfers aged 65 to 92 gathered at the storied Champions Golf Club in Houston to play in the Society of Seniors John Kline Super Seniors Tournament.
The 92 year-old was John Kline himself, affectionately known on SOS circles as “the general.” And that is not an empty nickname, as Major General John Kline had a distinguished 32-year career with the U.S. Air Force.
Born in Zanesville, Ohio, Kline entered the military in 1940 and received, at age 22, his pilot wings and commission in 1941. He became a command pilot, and in time a Two Star General. During the mid sixties, Kline flew B-52 bombing missions over South Vietnam. He retired in 1972 with multiple awards and recognitions.
Along the way, he was able to remain competitive on the golf course. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur four times between 1952-1959, and he qualified for the U.S. Open at Congressional in 1964. To qualify for the Open was special; to do so as an amateur while serving in the Air Force was unprecedented.
It was after he retired in 1972 that he was able to really focus on his game, and he became quite a competitor. He qualified for the U.S. Senior Amateur 11 times, the last coming at age 71. He also qualified for the U.S Senior Open four times. Records indicate that he won nearly 30 tournaments in his day and was runner-up in 40 more events. Kline became one of the founding members of the Society of Seniors, and he served as membership chairman for 20 plus years.
By his own account, John Kline was a self-taught scratch golfer. He was introduced to the game by his father at 7 years old, and he learned the game by watching him. “I hated to lose at anything” is how he told me he became a skilled player.
His on-course accomplishments while he was in the Air Force are all the more impressive when you realize he only played on weekends and practiced at night. Playing golf, he pointed out, was not likely to help advance his military career, and so he rarely exposed his talent as he climbed the military ladder.
Kline was a participant in one of the most unusual U.S. Senior Amateurs ever. At the suggestion of his good friend Keith Compton, a three-star general and Kline’s boss from time to time, they both entered the 1978 Senior Amateur. They rented a house together in South Florida, and both got through the 18-hole stroke play qualifier at Pine Tree Golf Club. They wound up on opposite sides of the 32-man draw, and sure enough, two active duty Air Force comrades faced off against each other in the final.
The match came down to the 18th hole, a par-4 of more than 400 yards with an uphill shot over water to a green that slanted severely back to front. As Kline recalls it, both hit the green and had identical 30-foot downhill putts. Compton, who has the unusual habit of putting while his head was turned to the hole, rolled his effort up close while Kline ran his six feet by. He missed the comebacker, and Compton was the champion.
Several years later, Compton and Kline teamed up in the Legends of Golf event, the precursor to the Champions Tour. They finished fourth, which Kline thought was not too bad for a couple of amateurs with unusual day jobs.
When asked, Kline says he is deeply honored to have an SOS tournament named after him. “I am proud as hell. It’s better than having a street named after you. And most people who have things named after them are dead. This is unreal.”
The legendary Jackie Burke, proprietor at Champions Club, was around all last week for the tournament, and he spoke at a dinner during the event. He called out Kline, citing him as an example of all that is good about the amateur game. Strong words from a man who only tells the truth.
Ted Smith, Wilkinson, Ind., slept on a five-shot lead before starting the final round of the Society of Seniors John Kline Super Senior event and at the end of 54 holes, his lead remained unscathed.
Smith fired a 1-under par 70 for a 54-hole total of 212, good for a five-shot victory over Jim Hays of Prosper, Tex. Don Addington of Dallas posted the low round of the event, carding a 4-under par 67 to lap the field in the over-75 group. Addington’s three day total of 217 was 11 shots better than Bill Stallings of Mclean, Va., at 228. Romie Holder, of Tulsa, Okla., won the 80-and-over division with a final-round 78 and 244 total, nipping Carl Ahrens, Houston, Tex., by a single shot.