Always, his morning routine includes the daily reflection that is part and parcel to who he is. When he gets in front of a mirror and looks into it, Bruce Chalas tells himself something he’s been saying for nearly 50 years.
“I wish I played the PGA Tour.”
With that, Chalas proceeds with whatever the day has in store for him, knowing he has reminded himself that though his dream never materialized, it was a lofty one that took him to places and put him in front of people and, oh, how it helped fulfill his life.
“The game is so elusive,” Chalas said. “That’s the lure of it.”
To him, no golf snapshot is too trivial. There is special meaning to all of them.
The big, black golf bag with the golf professional’s name – Charlie Sheppard, a 1958 Masters competitor – emblazoned on the side? “I saw that and I was in awe. This is me. I’m all in.”
Chalas was 11 and an unemployed caddie at a municipal course in Millis, Massachusetts. We say unemployed because day after day that summer, Chalas sat on the bench at Glen Ellen Country Club, but public golfers rarely took a caddie, so he didn’t get off the bench.
Still, in his eyes Chalas was a caddie, “and I loved the scene.”
Just in case his pro golf dream didn’t come to fruition, Chalas took some time off during his senior year at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to travel to Florida and interview with a leading glue manufacturer, Permatex.
Of course he had his golf clubs with him (remember his daily wish, to play the PGA Tour), but he’d need to hitch a ride to PGA National now that the interview was over.
When a car stopped and Chalas hopped in, he recognized the driver. It was Byron Nelson, then just shy of his 60th birthday. Chalas stumbled over some silly questions, but composed himself in time to ask: “Mister Nelson, when we get to the golf course, would you mind watching me hit a few balls?”
Lord Byron did, too, for about 30 minutes and the advice flowed. “Put some strength in that grip,” stuck with Chalas the most, but it was the overall aura of the man that resonated.
“He was so sincere, so willing to help, and things he told me I find myself telling my students.”
No, the dream of a PGA Tour career never happened. But Chalas did earn his way through local and sectional qualifying to play in the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol.
“It was my Walter Mitty thing,” said a laughing Chalas, who shot 77-84 and had company on the wrong side of the 36-hole cut. Mark O’Meara, Jeff Sluman, and Al Geiberger were among those who didn’t make it into a weekend during which Jack Nicklaus won his fourth and final U.S. Open.
Chalas also passed a Monday qualifying test in 1985 to tee it up in the Bank of Boston Classic on the PGA Tour. He shot 76-78 to miss the cut.
That is the extent of his PGA Tour career. Which isn’t to say the dream faded, “because it hasn’t gone away,” he said. “And that’s terrible.”
The joy of Bruce Chalas and the utter pleasure to his company is the fact that while, yes, he wishes he played on the PGA Tour, more than that he feels blessed to have had a life filled with golf.
To that point, his decision years ago to enter the world of coaching college golf has made him a massive success. Chalas, you see, has achieved the highest honor any golfer can reach. He has spread the joy of the game. He has taught golf and used it to connect to his players’ souls.
“Sometimes, I get choked up to think about the impact he has made on my life,” said Emily Tillo, who graduated from Boston University in 2016 and played four seasons for Chalas. “He is so rare, and I feel so lucky. Bruce cares about you as a whole person.
“What a fascinating life he has had.”
Coaching college golf entered Chalas’ world at a time when his competitive days as an amateur were winding down. There had been enough highlights to give healthy measurement to his talents – twice he teamed with brother-in-law Steve Tasho, a fellow Thorny Lea Golf Club (Brockton, Massachusetts) member, to win the Mass Golf State Four-Ball Championship, and Chalas was the Massachusetts Player of the Year in 1980. In 1985, Chalas won the New England Amateur.
Besides the 1980 U.S. Open, Chalas played in 13 other USGA championships, and as an independent marketer who works in the golf industry, he has been deeply plugged into the game for years.
The chance to coach the men’s team at his alma mater, Babson, was his entry into a new chapter in his golf life. There were five years coaching the MIT men’s team, and when Tillo points to Chalas’ “fascinating life,” there are plenty of stories he can regale you with regarding the MIT year.
“It was a great gig. I think in five years I only had two players who didn’t score 1,600 on their boards,” Chalas said. “Every kid was off the charts, but they loved golf. I mean, they loved it, and I think they loved it because it was so elusive and these were kids who figured things out easily, but with golf, they had to keep chasing it.”
“I’ve been in love with this game since I was 8. The game intrigues me. Coaching these women is fascinating.” – Bruce Chalas
One of Chalas’ MIT players was the world’s fourth-ranked Scrabble player. “I know I was the only college golf coach who had a player miss a tournament because of a Scrabble tournament.”
Another time, one of the MIT golfers was able to figure out what was wrong with a Cleveland HiBore driver. “He majored in acoustics and determined that there were seven metals involved, but Cleveland was using the wrong percentages,” Chalas said.
“It was outside the range of dispersion. This was 20 years ago, and Cleveland offered him a job. It was a fun thing to see.”
When the discussion one day on the range was built around the angle at which a golf club should descend, Chalas told his players to look at the previous day’s scores. “We were at Dartmouth and we played terrible. So I told them to forget the angle. Just play dumb and swing the club. We improved by 37 strokes. No angles,” Chalas said with a laugh.
“He has a unique coaching style,” said Tillo, who works for the PGA Tour in business and sponsor relations and credits Chalas for nurturing her passion for the game.
“I’m definitely a case study in how he unleashes your ability. After my freshman year, I asked him, ‘What do I need to do?’ He went over a few things, I worked on them all summer and the next year my average improved by five strokes.”
Interspersed into his coaching career are many sidelights to his rich life in golf. The time as a kid when he tugged at Arnold Palmer at a tournament and said, “I’m going to play with you one day.” Or the U.S. Open bid in 1980, when at the sectional qualifier Chalas got to the top of backswing just as a fellow competitor became so nervous he vomited. Or the time Nelson picked him up thumbing a ride. Or the fact that he adores the Pinehurst golf mecca so much he has a home there and commutes back-and-forth to coach the BU team. Or the quintessential story summing up Chalas’ unrelenting love of golf – how at 57 he turned professional to give lessons at Fresh Pond, a municipal golf course in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
BU players have heard them all and never tire of them.
“Whenever we’d let a bad shot bother us, Bruce would say something like, ‘What’s the matter? Did someone throw up in your swing?’ It never ends with him, because he understands us holistically,” Tillo said. “It was not just about being perfect on the golf course. He was always like, ‘How is Emily doing (off the course)?’ He takes the time to do that.”
Chalas is in his 15th year as the women’s coach at BU, and the landscape has changed substantially. His roster in recent years has become predominantly international, and Chalas has coached players from Iceland, the Czech Republic, Colombia, Mexico, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, China, South Korea, Australia, and Puerto Rico.
“I’m not sure how different my life would have turned out if I hadn’t met Bruce. If I had to find one word about him, it would be ‘incredibly selfless.’ ” – Emily Tillo
He is 72 and finds profound pleasure in what he’s doing. Mind you, it’s not the elite echelon of NCAA Division I women’s golf, but Chalas wouldn’t have it any other way. These are his type of golfers, the passionate ones.
We’re not talking future pros. We’re talking kids who care about playing good golf and want to keep the game in their lives.
“I’ve been in love with this game since I was 8. The game intrigues me. Coaching these women is fascinating,” Chalas said. “There are different backgrounds, different cultures, different languages . . . but what we all have in common is the love of golf.”
Said Tillo: “I’m not sure how different my life would have turned out if I hadn’t met Bruce. If I had to find one word about him, it would be ‘incredibly selfless.’ ”
She laughed, realizing she had used two words. But no worries. They both work, so put them on the Chalas scorecard. Incredibly selfless fits the man.
Top: Bruce Chalas is in his 15th season as coach of the Boston University women’s golf team. Photo: Andy Mead, ISI Photos, Getty Images
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