Sept. 23, 2009
NORMAN, Okla. -- Throughout the year, SoonerSports.com will take a look back at memorable events in the history of the OU men's golf program. This week's installment features legendary amateur golfer Charles Coe, who won medalist honors at three consecutive conference championship's for the Sooners before snagging almost every Masters amateur record.
Penned by many as the greatest amateur golfer of all time, OU legend Charlie Coe attended the University of Oklahoma from 1946-48 and from the start portrayed the immense talent that would eventually lead him to nationwide stardom.
Coe took home medalist honors at each of the three conference championships he competed in, and led the Sooners to the team crown all three seasons as well.
Born in Ardmore, Okla., on October 26, 1923, to Ross Wallace and Nellie Knaur Coe, Charlie would make the short trip from Ardmore High School to Norman to compete for the Sooners after serving as a pilot during World War II.
After his collegiate career, Coe turned to the oil business instead of the golf course for a living, never choosing to turn professional.
"When I was growing up, golf was a gentleman's game," he said in 1998. "It was played by the amateur. You didn't think of it as a pro sport. Besides, I also was married and my wife said she didn't want to live out of a suitcase, so that settled that. I have no regret I never turned professional."
With his wife Elizabeth and three sons having an influence on his decision not to turn to the travels of professional golf, Coe would still make a name for himself in the sport as an amateur.
A year removed from the Sooners, Coe won his first of two U.S. Amateur's in 1949 at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. The Oklahoma native defeated Rufus King in the finals by a 11 and 10 margin - the greatest winner's margin since the first National Amateur in 1895. Coe was 5-up after the first 18 holes and won the match with a conceded seven-footer for birdie at the 26th.
In 1958 he captured his second USGA victory with a 5 and 4 victory over Tommy Aaron at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif.
Coe narrowly missed becoming a three-time U.S. Amateur Champion the following year, dropping a 1-up decision to a young Jack Nicklaus at the Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado Springs. Coe would catch an unlucky break on the final hole of the match, when his chip shot from behind the green would stop a revolution short of the hole on the downhill slope. After the near chip-in by Coe, Nicklaus drained a seven-foot birdie attempt for the title.
Coe had success in amateur competitions from coast to coast, including a stretch of 27 consecutive match-play victories. The former Sooner won four Trans-Mississippi titles (1947, 1949, 1952, 1956) and the Western Amateur (1950). Coe played on six Walker Cup teams from 1949 to 1963, including playing captain on the 1959 team, and was non-playing captain on a seventh team in 1957.
Coe's great play was not limited to just amateur events though, as he had strong outings in the U. S. Open and most notably, the Masters. Coe made 19 appearances at Augusta National and still holds many Masters amateur records including: most cuts made (8); top-24 finishes (9); top-10 finishes (3); eagles (6), rounds played (67) and most times low amateur (6). He also holds the amateur records for best finish (2nd in 1961), lowest third round score (67 in 1959), and lowest 72-hole score (281 in 1961). The Ardmore, Okla., native finished a single shot behind Gary Player in 1961, rallying from six shots back after a final-round 68, placing second with Arnold Palmer.
His level of play gained widespread attention as Coe was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated on Sept. 14, 1959.
The 1964 recipient of the Bobby Jones Award (one of golf's most prestigious accolades in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf), Coe still holds course records at many local tracks, including a 59 at Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club. Coe was inducted into the second class of the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 and was posthumously named an honoree at the 2006 PGA TOUR Memorial Tournament.
In 1998 OU honored him with the dedication of the University of Oklahoma's Charlie Coe Golf Learning Center, OU's exclusive practice facility on the south end of the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club.
When he died in 2001, the Rocky Mountain News quoted a Castle Pines golf club member saying, "Charlie Coe was an amateur at everything except life."
OTHER MEMORABLE QUOTES ON CHARLES COE:
"As exemplified by his Walker Cup captaincy a few months previously, my opponent in the final, Charlie Coe, was at that time not only America's leading amateur but, in the opinion of many analysts, one of the finest golfers in the world of any stripe. Unquestionably his greatest achievements among many over the previous decade and more were his victories in the 1949 and 1958 National Amateurs. In 1959 he had also placed sixth and finished top amateur in the Masters, only four shots back of Art Wall. Two years later at Augusta National he would tie for second with Arnold Palmer, only a stroke behind Gary Player.
"A tall lean self-contained Oklahoma oil broker, with a look and manner that made me think of western movie heroes, Charlie had treated my nicely at Muirfield, but with a certain reserve that was probably accounted for more by our age difference - sixteen years - than any other factory. From that experience I knew him to be an elegant swinger of the club, with a fully stocked arsenal of shots, and also an extremely determined and disciplined competitor."
- Jack Nicklaus - In his autobiography titled "Jack Nicklaus: My Way."
"Beating Charlie Coe in the Amateur would be like beating Arnold Palmer on Tour."
- Ward Wettlaufer- Walker Cup teammate of Coe.
"Coe confessed to being 'mentally fatigued' and looked worn-out physically. But Charlie Coe has the stuff of a champ. Doggedly he put his swing back in joint, and poured on the pressure. By the 26th hole, the Georgia kid (Tommy Aaron) was three-putting greens, wallowing in sand-traps, ricocheting off trees. Coe eased his aching bones home to win, 5 and 4, by dropping a 25-ft. putt on the 32nd green. 'I'm a lot tougher than most people think,' said Champion Charlie Coe."
- Time Magazine article | Monday, Sep. 22, 1958