Bobby Jones must have been looking over Jay Sigel's shoulder last week, reading the short ones. Sigel, father of three daughters, dutiful provider and as close in amateur spirit to Jones as a man can get without having a putter named Calamity Jane, struck a solid blow for working stiffs by successfully defending his U.S. Amateur Championship crown on Sunday at the North Shore Country Club in Glenview, Ill., outside Chicago.
Sigel is an anomaly in the upper echelons of amateur golf, a stratum heavily populated by long, lean types in their early 20s who are just passing through the neighborhood on their way to the pro tour. He's 39 years old, slow and precise of movement, and by all definitions a working man, a highly successful insurance salesman back home in Berwyn, Pa.
Sigel became the eighth player in the 88-year history of the U.S. Amateur to achieve back-to-back victories, and the first since E. Harvie Ward Jr. did it in 1955-56. Ward, however, subsequently turned professional, something Sigel is not at all likely to do.
Sigel splits his non-working hours between his family and the course; he's an assistant coach of the Palominos, his 8-year-old daughter Amy's softball team in the Berwyn-Paoli Girls Little League. Sigel's golf swing is slow and deliberate, similar to Gene Littler's, and it served him well in the scheduled 36-hole match-play final against 21-year-old Chris Perry, a senior at Ohio State. Perry lives in Edina, Minn., and he's the son of former major league Pitcher Jim Perry and the nephew of Gay-lord. Young Perry was all thumbs in Sunday's final as Sigel shot 3-under-par to win 8 and 7, the same margin by which he beat 22-year-old David Tolley in 1982. Sigel lost only three holes to Perry, not a single one of them during the afternoon when he broke things open by making three birdies and seven pars before closing out the match with a six-foot par putt on the 29th hole.
September 11, 1983
"You know he's not going to make mistakes," said Perry. "He's in total control. He's got 18 years on me. Maybe I should have had a handicap today."
Sigel capitalized on two key mistakes by his opponent. Perry had rallied with birdies on the 11th and 12th holes during the morning to go from 3-down to one-down, but at the 199-yard par-3 13th, he missed the green with a four-iron, took a bogey and lost to Sigel's par.
Then, on the 18th hole, Perry missed a four-foot par putt after Sigel had holed his from about twice that distance, and Perry went to lunch trailing by three holes. "I'm sure lunch was a little harder to digest after that," Sigel said.
In the afternoon, high winds made play more difficult, and that suited Sigel just fine. He's a straight hitter, while Perry never got comfortable with his driver and found himself in the rough, or worse, most of the way. And Sigel kept benefiting from his rock-steady putting. He three-putted only twice in his six match-play rounds—never on Sunday.
On the 23rd hole, after conceding Perry a two-foot putt for par, Sigel nailed a 25-footer for birdie to go 5-up. "I'm an oozer," was how Sigel described his putting. "I ooze the ball into the hole." Sigel is so stoic and composed on the course that he could convince you that golf really is an easy sport.
Match play, like life itself, can be unfair, and on Thursday, the opening day of head-to-head combat, its inequities resulted in the untimely departure of Nathaniel Crosby, the tournament celebrity and its 1981 champion, a 2 and I second-round victim of John Erickson of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. Another name that went off the board prematurely was Jim Hallet, the 23-year-old pride of Bryant College and South Yarmouth, Mass., who made something of a run at the Masters title last spring. Hallet lost in the third round to John Inman of Greensboro, N.C., brother of tour player Joe Inman. (Jerry Haas, brother of pro Jay Haas, was another third-round loser.)
As the tournament progressed, some of the best golf was played by Clark Burroughs, a brash kid from Tom Watson's neighborhood (Overland Park, Kans.) who attends Jack Nicklaus' old school (Ohio State), where he plays No. 2 behind Perry. Burroughs is tall (6'3") with a 30-inch waist and toothpick arms, but he led the 36-hole stroke-play qualifying on Tuesday and Wednesday with a 66-73—139 and then started knocking off opponents in match play. Upon meeting USGA Senior Executive Director Frank Hannigan, Burroughs blurted, "Always wanted to meet you, man. We got a guy named Hannigan back at the dorm and we nicknamed him Frank."
Both Sigel and Perry had rough trips to the finals. In his second-round match with George MacDonald of Virginia Beach, Va., Sigel was 3-down with four to play and wondering if he could make it back to the office by Friday. "I thought I was watching my own funeral," he said. But he birdied 15, 16 and 17, then sank a 12-foot birdie putt on the first sudden-death hole. The next afternoon, in the quarterfinals against Roy Bianacalana from Franklin Park, Ill., Sigel once more needed a 19th-hole birdie putt to win. After a good night's rest, Sigel dispatched Burroughs 3 and 2 in the Saturday semifinals after his young opponent, obviously tight, went 2-down after two holes.
Perry also became familiar with sudden victory. He qualified for match play in a playoff, and three times his matches went to the 19th hole, including his semifinal victory over Cliff Pierce of Lawton, Okla. He won on the first extra hole when Pierce drove into the trees, smacked lumber with his second shot and found a bunker with his third. With his determined demeanor and occasional outbursts, Perry cast himself as the tournament's villain. "I'm a fierce competitor," he said. "I give it 125 percent." He may have played like Nicklaus but his style was pure Woody Hayes. Perry yelled after good shots ("All Right! Yeah!") and once, when a drive headed for trouble, he screamed, "Hit a spectator," hoping for a good rebound.
People often ask Perry why he didn't become a pitcher like his father, who came to North Shore on Sunday, or his uncle, who was with the Kansas City Royals in Texas. Chris gave up baseball in the ninth grade, perhaps because Uncle Gaylord would not teach him how to throw the spitter. "I asked him once and he almost broke my arm," says Chris.
Unfortunately for Perry, on Sunday he was never in the ball game. He hit drives into the woods. He put iron shots into bunkers. He lipped putts. With that sort of stuff, he had no chance against Sigel, who doesn't let leads get away.
The U.S. Amateur was good enough for Bobby Jones, and it's good enough for Jay Sigel. Someone mentioned to Sigel late Sunday afternoon that he could become the only man in history to win the Amateur three straight years. Sigel's eyes brightened.
"I'm going to go home and start practicing," he said.