Column by Ken Cohen
The first week in July were the days the New York State Open used to be played at Grossinger’s. It was started by Mark and Mitchell Etess working with Charlie Robson of the Metropolitan PGA. For a run of 10 years from 1978 to 1988, it became the premiere tournament in New York and one of the top professional tournaments outside of a PGA Tour event.
It truly was a great four days of golf of which I have vivid memories. Working at Grossinger’s golf course in those days, I got to meet and watch many of the players as they came through. There was a guy named Jeff Grygiel who first came to Grossinger’s in 1981 and hit the ball as solid as anyone I had seen in person. I remember he was unaffiliated, which meant he was a young gun playing mini-tours and chasing the PGA Tour. He had a little cockiness and attitude to him, but was very kind to me, even had me come out and play a few holes with him.
He never won the State Open (I think he came in third one year, but he would go on to play on the PGA Tour, tying Paul Azinger for the first-round lead of the Las Vegas Invitational in 1986.
Then there was Joey Sindelar. I’ll never forget my dad coming home the day after the pro-am in which he was paired with the Ohio State All-American. He had played with some of the top players in the pro-am before, but never did he boldly proclaim that “the tournament was over,” like he did after playing with Sindelar. Never had he actually played with anyone that good and that nice. He immediately became Sindelar’s number one fan followed him around for the last two days of the tournament as he romped to an easy victory. My dad knew his talent!
Years later he would follow Sindelar at Augusta during the Masters and after one of the rounds went up to him to introduce himself. Amazingly, Sindelar remembered playing with my dad in the State Open pro-am and said he’ll never forget his win at Grossinger’s his first as a professional.
Other tour players came to play at the State Open at Grossinger’s as well including Jim Thorpe, George Burns and Bruce Zabriski. I can still see Thorpe’s one-iron from 230 yards out backing up on the old seventh green. With the old balata balls, no one imparted more spin than Thorpe. But like Grygiel, he didn’t win. Burns and Zabriski did as well as Jim Albus and Lonnie Nielsen who would go on to win on the PGA Senior/Champions Tour.
For the longest time, I followed the players I met at the State Open as they competed in other tournaments, including on the PGA Tour. That’s why it was so exciting when Sindelar won the 1985 Greater Greensboro Open, just two years after winning at Grossinger’s. When Grygiel led the Las Vegas tournament in 1986, I called my dad and said, “remember him?” “Isn’t he the guy you said was the best ball striker you ever saw?” he said.
But of all the memories I have of the New York State Open, none stand out more than my own personal playing experience. In my first attempt to qualify for the tournament in 1984, I was 8-over par with two holes to play. Grossinger head pro and my teacher Al Johnston came out to see how I was doing. I told him where I stood and he said I needed to make two birdies.
After calmly draining a 6-footer for birdie on No. 17, I proceeded to drive it in the fairway bunker on No. 18. I hit a very respectable 3-iron to the left fringe about 45 feet away from the hole. With Johnston still watching as well as a few other friends, I rolled in the 45-footer and jumped about that high in the air.
To this day, I’ve never been so excited about anything I’ve ever done on a golf course including winning the 1998 New Jersey State Mid- Amateur. There is something special about your first significant accomplishment, and there was something very special to me about the State Open at Grossinger’s.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.