A plain man's fancy

August 29, 1976

Few of the commuters driving home from work pay the Birchwood Country Club much heed as they cruise by on Kings Highway South in Westport, Conn. Fewer glance at the lone golfer on the practice range, the man wearing the white visor, white shirt and dark slacks. If they slowed down, they might notice his precise, rhythmic swing. Some might even be impressed. But no one would recognize the golfer as Dick Siderowf, a local resident who in June at St. Andrews won his second British Amateur championship in the last four years. Among celebrities, Siderowf ranks with losing vice-presidential candidates, astronauts and faded rock stars.

Suddenly a Volkswagen pulls to the side of the road. Siderowf finishes a swing and looks over expectantly, his hands and club frozen high in the air. The driver rolls down his window and looks at Siderowf. Pleased, thinking perhaps he has been recognized, Siderowf tees up another ball, smartly taps it into place with his club, waggles a bit and starts his backswing. When it reaches the top, the cry comes from the Volkswagen. "Fore," the man bellows as he pulls away in a spray of gravel. "Forrrre...."

Dick Siderowf is an amateur golfer. He is one of only 14 men who have won the British Amateur twice, having also captured the 1973 championship at Royal Porthcawl, and next week at the U.S. Amateur at the Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles he will try to join Bobby Jones and three others as the only players to win both major amateur championships the same year.

Now 39 years old and a vice-president of the brokerage firm of Blyth, Eastman, Dillon & Company, Siderowf plays the only game that offers status to its aging amateurs. Tennis does not, nor do baseball, basketball or football. Historically, our games are for the young, particularly those gifted enough to perform as professionals. So Siderowf is called a "veteran," meaning he is a businessman and a family man playing a game in which most of his rivals are young, thin and blond, with their shirttails hanging over a pair of jeans and their minds mulling over the riches of the pro tour.

For Siderowf, golf is lonely hours spent on the practice tee, racing the shadows of twilight. Golf is 18 holes on Saturday, then hurrying home to spend time with the family. Golf is feeling guilty for taking time off to play in a tournament, feeling chagrined for having to make business phone calls after playing nine holes. Golf is the $1,500 it cost him to play in the British Amateur and the $1,500 it probably will cost him to play in the U.S. Amateur.

To Siderowf, though, golf is like smoking: you quit cold turkey or keep puffing away. There is no happy middle ground. Miss a couple of days on the practice tee and suddenly the club feels strange in your hands. So Siderowf leaves his Bridgeport, Conn. office a few minutes early, hurries to Birchwood, pounds golf balls for 90 minutes and hopes everything will be all right.

Siderowf lives unnoticed in Westport, a community about 60 miles from Wall Street. His comfortable, well-appointed home reflects his success in the business world. Inside it is filled with golf memorabilia, including the large silver British Amateur trophy. Birchwood, where he has been a member for 15 years, is nearby, and he has a running feud with the greenkeeper of the nine-hole course about the patchy condition of the practice tee.

As a ranking, middle-aged golfer, Siderowf also makes unusual demands on his family. For instance, he had to play in a club tournament on Mother's Day this year but promised his wife Topsy he would be home in time to help entertain some guests. The tournament was delayed, and when Siderowf arrived home four hours late, most of the guests were leaving. Topsy understood. After all, on their honeymoon the Siderowfs went to the Hollywood (Fla.) International Four-Ball where Dick played golf and Topsy was the tournament queen.

Back in the early 1960s Siderowf was tempted to play the pro tour; in fact, he was a professional for three days before changing his mind and regaining his amateur status. He has never regretted that decision. "Kids today win their club championship, turn pro, get a sponsor and try the tour," says Siderowf. "Then they get to be 28, and they find out that playing the tour isn't such an easy deal after all. Probably the most difficult time for an amateur golfer is when he gets out of college and has to decide if he's going to play golf or go to work—or combine both. It's a bitter time for a young guy. If you can get your business going and then get back into golf, it's not bad."

"Dad's older than most of the pros," said 11-year-old Andrew Siderowf. Dick and Andrew had just played in a father-son tournament in nearby New Canaan, and now they were sitting at home with Topsy and 8-year-old Caroline. The family was planning a trip the next day to watch Dick play in the opening round of the Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Hartford Open, a round in which he would shoot a two-under-par 69. But Andrew's comment was perceptive. Siderowf is older than most of the pros.

"I always felt I could do better in business," says Siderowf. "I felt I could build up something to do better every year, rather than play the tour where the average age is about 35. When a guy out there gets to be 40, he has to look to get into something else. In business, when you're 40 you're just starting to have your good years. When you think of a pro winning $40,000 in one swoop, it looks pretty good, but a lot of guys do that on one business deal. And they do it for years and years."

In a way, golf goes with Siderowfs profession the way lemon goes with iced tea. It does not hurt to be introduced to a client as "the British Amateur champion," then play golf with the guy and drill a one-iron shot at the flagstick. That impresses people. The one-iron! They think, "How does he get it off the ground?" In fact, most of the top over-30 amateurs have professions where birdies can help close deals—players like lawyer and athlete's agent Vinny Giles, insurance man Bill Hyndman, auto dealer Ed Tutwiler, and furniture-hardware salesman Dale Morey. Still, they all would like you to believe there is no relationship between business and pleasure. "It's pretty hard to mix golf with business," protests Siderowf. "People think you go out and play golf with a client, and the guy buys 10,000 shares the next day. But it doesn't work that way. During the summer I'm in the office early, and I always put in 10-hour days in the winter."

Siderowf no doubt would be more of a celebrity if he needed down-range tracking on his tee shots or his putter were a deadly weapon. His game is not spectacular, just solid through the bag, and because Siderowf is an admirer of the unpretentious Ben Hogan, his raiment is as unspectacular as Ben's. Even his golf gloves are black. "Whenever I buy a new suit," he says, "Topsy accuses me of keeping the same old one; all my suits are either dark blue or gray. Once I went to my barber and asked him to give me the contemporary look. Well, he used one of those blowers and fluffed my hair all up, but it looked terrible and we both knew it."

"We decided the wet look was better for him," Topsy says.

So, wet head and plain, Siderowf will be playing in his 17th U.S. Amateur next week—and still seeking his first championship. And he will be one of the few contestants for whom the tournament has special meaning. You see, he is an amateur, and always will be.


Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)