For the first dozen years, the Radix Cup wasn’t a competition. It was a walkover, with the best pros in the Illinois PGA Section clobbering the top amateurs rounded up by the Chicago District Golf Association.
That was not what Harry E. Radix had in mind. Radix, golf’s No. 1 fan, had suggested the pro vs. amateur team competition similar to the Ryder and Walker cups in 1962.
It was not Harry’s first suggestion in the game. Three decades earlier, as the American tour began to grow from a winter vacation for club pros into a yearlong quest for dollars, Radix thought a trophy was in order – not for the leading money winner, but for the low scorer on the circuit.
Presto! The Chicago-based jeweler had the Radix Trophy made up and awarded it, through the PGA of America, to Ky Laffoon in 1934. It was awarded for four years, until Radix was blindsided. PGA tournament manager Bob Harlow and PGA president George Jacobus got into a prolonged argument that saw Harlow bounced.
Radix was a friend of Harlow. His trophy also was bounced, the one replacing it named after Harry Vardon, the old British pro who then was clinging to life in a London nursing home. Radix took his trophy and eventually awarded it again, this time through the good offices of the CDGA.
Meanwhile, the man who saw his first U.S. Open in 1920, attended 45 straight PGAs and had Masters Tournament badge No. 1 continued to boost golf in the summer and figure skating in the winter. Radix, a fine skater in his youth, was the captain of five consecutive U.S. Olympic figure skating teams. (The U.S. Figure Skating Association still awards the Radix Pin to deserving skaters.)
While Harry was handing out silverware, he picked up a nickname: Uncle Krausie. Herb Graffis, the golf innovator with a sailor’s tongue, told the Chicago Tribune in 1977 that he came up with the moniker “because no one knew what the heck kind of a name Radix was.”
We digress. Radix’s concept for a local garden party, modeled on Arizona’s Goldwater Cup, inspired his friends at the Illinois PGA, led by North Shore’s Bill Ogden and Oak Park’s Errie Ball, and at the CDGA spearheaded by tournament chairman Art Hoff, to name the gala in his honor.
Delighted, he donated the trophy the sides would play for. As cups go, it’s an odd-looking one, the lip turned down all the way around, as if Andre the Giant had used it as a seat cushion.
Radix, who died in 1965 – leaving a bequest in his will to continue the competition and the post-round dinner – never saw the amateurs come close, much less win. And, while more interested in the camaraderie the day would engender, Uncle Krausie wanted a good show.
Since 1974, when the amateurs, led by Phil Kenny and Joel Hirsch, first triumphed, it has been just that. In the past 38 years, the pros have won 20 matches, the amateurs 16, and there have been two draws. The amateurs have an 8-5 advantage since 1999, including a 12½ – 5½ victory last year at Oak Park Country Club.
Most of the Radix Cups, and all since 1972, have been played at Oak Park, a sturdy Donald Ross design, which along with Ridgemoor was one of Radix’s regular haunts. Wednesday afternoon’s 51st renewal probably won’t attract many spectators – there were a handful of years when friends of the game bankrolled prime-time telecasts on WGN and interest rose – but the competition is splendid.
“I think it’s the premier event in Chicago golf,” Hirsch said some years ago.
Hirsch, a lifelong amateur, noted that just being selected to play was an honor, and while both sides use point systems now – likely a reason the amateurs have improved their lot in recent years – getting into that team picture is an achievement in itself.
That makes Hirsch’s feat of playing in the Radix in five different decades exceptional. He’s joined in that lofty class by pro Mike Harrigan. Many others, including Steve Benson, who played as an amateur and as a pro, and seemed to team with Harrigan every year as a pro, have had long runs in the Radix.
One of the more dramatic finishes came in 1999, by Erik Ciotti in the last of his three Radix appearances. The previous two years, the Northwestern standout was paired with D.A. Points, but the duo dropped their matches. Points couldn’t make the 1999 Radix, so Tim Jacobs took his spot and was paired with Ciotti against Jim Sobb and Doug Bauman. Their match and the entire Radix came down to Ciotti staring at a devilish 15-foot putt on Oak Park’s 18th green.
When it tumbled in, the amateurs had won for the first time in nine years. It was also the last stroke of Ciotti’s amateur career. He had qualified for the U.S. Open at Oak Park two days earlier, and turned pro before the Open’s first round.
Uncle Krausie would have loved it.