After a long illness, Bob Lewis passed away on March 23, 2021. We reprise this story from the Feb. 22 issue of Global Golf Post.
That was the word that came up continually last week as I spoke to former Walker Cup players about their comrade, Bob Lewis, who was selected by the USGA as the 2021 recipient of the Bob Jones Award.
The honor, bestowed annually since 1955, recognizes an individual who demonstrates the personal character and respect for the game exhibited by Jones, the winner of nine USGA championships whose integrity and spirit are considered the gold standard in golf. Past recipients include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Mickey Wright, Nancy Lopez, President George H.W. Bush and Se Ri Pak. It is the highest honor the USGA awards each year.
Lewis is recognized deservedly for his character as well for his on-course performance during a four-decade amateur career. Central to that performance was the Walker Cup, the biennial competition between the United States and Great Britain & Ireland. Said outgoing USGA chief executive officer Mike Davis in announcing this award, “The Walker Cup Match is the embodiment of sportsmanship in the game, and Bob Lewis is a quintessential Walker Cupper, both as player and captain.”
“The Walker Cup was a big part of my life, and probably the most satisfying part of my life,” Lewis told Global Golf Post in June 2018 when he was inducted into the National Senior Hall of Fame.
Lewis came late to the amateur game after playing professionally in the mid 1970s. Amateur reinstatement rules were harsher in those days, so Lewis had to sit out for more than four years. He didn’t begin to play competitively until 1978, and when he announced himself on the national amateur stage in 1980, he was 35 years old.
It was his runner-up finish at that year’s U.S. Amateur Championship at the Country Club of North Carolina that launched his amateur career. Beset by bad blisters on his feet, he lost in the final to future PGA Tour great Hal Sutton, who was 14 years his junior. That led to a berth on the 1981 Walker Cup squad, the first of four consecutive appearances for Lewis in the most important of all international amateur competitions. During that stretch, he would post a 10-4 record, ranking him sixth all-time among American players. All four of the teams he played on came away victorious.
Lewis’ maiden appearance in Walker Cup competition came when the American side won, 15-9, at the Cypress Point Club in Pebble Beach, California. He won his first foursomes match, but then he lost a singles match and a foursomes match before sitting out the final-day singles competition.
“He would always find a way to beat you. You just didn’t want to have to play against him”. – Brad Faxon
Two years later Lewis was a member of the team that won at Royal Liverpool in Wirral, England, along with Jim Holtgrieve, a good friend and a competitive nemesis. Holtgrieve had defeated Lewis in the final of the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in 1981, but at Hoylake they teamed for a 7-and-6 victory in the opening-day foursomes. That stood for 34 years as a United States record for largest winning margin.
In 1985, Lewis and his American teammates prevailed at Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey. Lewis won his final-day singles match to record the clinching 13th point in the closest competition in many years.
The competition of 1987 marked Lewis’ final Walker Cup appearance as a player, and he went out in style. He won all four of his matches on the Old Course at Sunningdale Golf Club in Berkshire, England, and propelled the American team to an easy 16½-7½ victory.
Lewis’ history with the Walker Cup still had two more chapters to be written; he would serve as captain in 2003 and 2005. His 2003 team lost to GB&I in a spirited competition at Ganton Golf Club in North Yorkshire, England. Ahead 9-7 after three sessions, the home team staged a furious rally in the final day singles session to win, 12½-11½.
The final score was the same two years later at Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton, Illinois, but this time it was in Lewis’ favor. Lewis’ 2005 team was made up entirely of college players who, collectively, would go on to post numerous wins on the PGA Tour.
Yes, Lewis was a tenacious competitor. Observed Brad Faxon, a teammate of Lewis on the 1983 squad, “he would always find a way to beat you. You just didn’t want to have to play against him”.
However, Lewis was the ultimate sportsman. “His graciousness in defeat was impeccable,” said Rand Jerris, senior managing director at the USGA. Added 1986 U.S. Amateur champion Buddy Alexander, who played with Lewis in 1987, “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Bob Lewis. And that is surprising, given his competitiveness.” Kyle Reifers, who played for Lewis in the 2005 Walker Cup, said that, “he wanted to win, but he wanted to win the right way.”
Jay Sigel, the all-time leading American points leader in Walker Cup competition with 20½, played with Lewis in each of his four appearances. He called his friend “inspirational.”
“You could sense his keenness for competition,” Sigel said. “Afterward, the intensity would melt away; he would have a glass of wine and laugh.”
Former USGA president Fred Ridley, who captained Lewis’ 1987 team, observed that, in life, “sometimes you can size a man up by their friendships. Lewis has legions of loyal friends around the world.”
And by that measure, Bob Lewis stood tall in life and in golf, and he is a most deserving recipient of the Bob Jones Award.
© 2021 Global Golf Post LLC
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