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“The Match” and Harvie Ward

He’s arguably the best golfer you have never heard of…or at least the best one I have never heard of anyway.  It’s probably a little presumptuous of me to say that you have never heard of him, but before reading “The Match” I hadn’t and I’ve a pretty good knowledge of golfers and golf history.  His name is Harvie Ward. 

I read “The Match” a couple of months ago.  A friend gave me the book to read knowing I would enjoy it.  And I did enjoy it, very much – so much so that I bought a copy after returning the book to my friend.  Mark Frost documented the true story and he does a terrific job of framing the title match between the professionals, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan, and the amateurs, Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward, by weaving the match hole by hole with a biographical treatment for each golfer.  It is a once in a lifetime meeting of two of the greatest professional golfers of all time, albeit in their waning years with Nelson having already been retired from tournament golf, and two of the best and most promising amateurs.  It is the moment and the vehicle for illustrating the inevitable transition from the heyday of amateur golf to the world of professional golf we know it today.  Harvie Ward and Ken Venturi were among the best amateurs in the world at a time when the game was still searching for a replacement for Bobby Jones – long since retired.  Harvie Ward could have been that man, but for the ascendency of professional golf and associated growing purses and notoriety it garnered with the public – and some heartbreaking setbacks caused in part by actions taken by the USGA attempting to maintain a firm line on the rules of amateur status.  The outcome of the match?  Read the book, but I bet you can guess.

I, of course, know Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan – again, two of the best professional golfers who ever walked the links.  I also know Ken Venturi, but as the professional he ultimately became, winning the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional in a storybook manner, PGA Player of the Year in 1964, and Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the year in 1964 and several other professional titles.  He was also a regular golf commentator throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s with CBS.  I learned of his amateur prowess in the book.  I had never heard of Harvie Ward. 

Harvie Ward had an impressive amateur career.  He won the North and South Amateur at Pinehurst in 1948, the NCAA Championship in 1949, the British Amateur in 1952, and the Canadian Amateur in 1954.  He also participated in three Walker Cup teams (1953, 1955 and 1959) and won many city, state and regional amateur events.  His presence was also felt at many U.S. Open and Masters tournaments finishing high in both on several occasions.  Then the USGA challenged his amateur status and the bottom fell out for Harvie.  “After losing his amateur status, Harvie Ward spent the better part of twenty years, by his own admission, wandering in a wilderness of sorrow, confusion, and loss.”  (The Match, 2007)  He resurfaced years later, ultimately becoming a teacher and legend in Pinehurst, NC. 

Harvie’s story is compelling, I searched for more information on him, there isn’t much out there.  There are some obituaries and he is mentioned in some books I have yet to read, but not much more.  This story introduced me to him and I am glad I know him now.  Read the book, it is entertaining whether a golfer or not.  But, if you are a golfer, it is a must read.