Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Rick Cleveland: Mississippi & the U.S. Open

They will play the United States Open Golf Championship for the 116th time later this week at storied Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa..

No native Mississippian has ever won the event, and that will remain the case this week. No Mississippian made the field.

Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Johnny Pott, who grew up and learned to play golf on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, probably finished highest of all Mississippians by tying for ninth at Congressional in 1964.

But did you know that a future Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer did twice win the U.S. Open?

Dr. Cary Middlecoff, the famed golfing dentist, won the U.S. Open in both 1949 and 1956. He won the 1955 Masters and played on three Ryder Cup-winning U.S. teams for good measure.

Middlecoff, who died in 1998, was born in Halls, Tenn., about 65 miles north of Memphis. He played his high school golf in Memphis and then became the first All America golfer at Ole Miss in 1939.

Middlecoff was easily one of the top golfers of his era. When he retired from playing competitively in the early 1960s he was the leading PGA Tour money winner of all-time, having made more than the likes of Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.

Middlecoff's story is an interesting one. As good as he was as a player, he was perhaps even better known as the sport's top TV broadcaster in his later years. He surely chose the road less traveled: from dentist, to golf champion, to acclaimed broadcaster.

Middlecoff learned the game from his father, Dr. Herman Middlecoff, a dentist and club champion amateur golfer. Born on Jan. 6, 1921, Emmett Cary Middlecoff began to play the game at age 7, By 17, he was the Memphis city champion. By 18, he was an All American at Ole Miss.

After Ole Miss, he attended the Tennessee College of Dentistry, graduating in 1944, just in time to become a U.S. Army dentist. Get this: He filled 12,093 teeth in 18 months as an Army dentist. I don't know what is more impressive: his filling that many teeth or the Army's keeping that detailed a record?

Somehow, he also found time to play golf. In 1945, while still in the Army, Middlecoff became the first amateur golfer to win the North and South Open in Pinehurst, N.C.

His father wanted him to continue as a dentist. Cary Middlecoff wanted to play golf.

He is reputed to have said, “When I got out of the Army, I didn't want to see any more teeth.”

Herman Middlecoff actually enlisted the legendary golfer Bobby Jones, who famously remained an amateur for life, to help him convince young Cary to continue as a dentist.

But in 1955, after Middlecoff won the Masters, beating Hogan by seven shots, Jones quipped, “The way he filled those 72 cavities during the last four days makes me think I may have been wrong.”

Middlecoff's two Open victories came on two of America's greatest tests of golf: in 1949 at Medinah and in 1956 at Oak Hill in Rochester. At Oak Hill, he defeated the great Hogan by a single shot.

Apparently, Middlecoff considered the 1956 Open championship his greatest accomplishment. He won with a one-over par, 72-hole score, never breaking par in a single round. Afterward, he famously said, “You don't win the Open. The Open wins you.”

It still does. As was the case in 1956 (and 1957 when Middlecoff lost in a playoff to Dick Mayer at Inverness, par remains, for the most part, a winning score.

Young Jordan Spieth won last year at Chambers Bay at 5-under. There are similarities between Middlecoff and Spieth. Like Spieth, Middlecoff famously, fiddled, fidgeted and fretted over club selection in his lengthy pre-shot routine.

Middlecoff, a fine gentleman according to seemingly all who knew him, admitted to a career-long bout with nerves. Said Middlecoff: “I don't deny I'm nervous. I have always maintained that a man who is not nervous is either an idiot or has never been close enough to winning to get nervous.”

Sounds about right.

Rick Cleveland is a syndicated columnist and historian at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. His email address is

1 comment:

Yawwnnnnnnnn said...

Isn't it about time JJ learns that the blog-crowd here is not interested in Rick Cleveland's articles? I like Rick and read his stuff elsewhere but don't read him here.

I'm standing in for the yawner.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS