FAR HILLS, N.J. – William C. Campbell, a West Virginia native who rose to become one of the most accomplished amateur golfers of all time and a leader of golf’s major governing bodies, died today at his home in Lewisburg, W.Va. He was 90.
“Mr. Campbell was one the game's great champions and finest gentlemen,” said USGA Executive Director Mike Davis. “His contributions to amateur golf and to the USGA have been many and profound. We owe a great debt of gratitude for his outstanding example and generosity of spirit. In so many respects, he represented all that was best about our game.”
Campbell was born in Huntington, W.Va. on May 5, 1923. Following a stint in the U.S. Army during World War II, he graduated from Princeton University in 1947 and promptly began compiling an outstanding record at all levels of amateur golf.
His biggest win was the 1964 U.S. Amateur, which he captured at age 41 at Canterbury Golf Club in Cleveland. Campbell played in 37 U.S. Amateurs, including 33 in a row from 1941 to 1977. He also won two USGA Senior Amateurs, in 1979 and 1980, along with four North & South Amateurs, 15 West Virginia Amateurs and three West Virginia Opens.
The Walker Cup Match, the biennial team competition between the U.S. and Great Britain & Ireland, was another event in which Campbell distinguished himself. He played on eight Walker Cup Teams – 1951, ’53, ‘55, ’57, ’65, ’67, ’71 and ’75 – and served as the playing captain in 1955. He compiled an individual record of 11-4-3, including 7-0-1 in singles matches, and was never part of a losing team (the 1965 Match ended in a tie).
Though he remained a lifelong amateur, Campbell had many opportunities to compete against the best professionals of his era. He played in 15 U.S. Opens (best finish, tie for 23rd in 1954) and 18 Masters Tournaments (best finish, tie for 36th in 1955 and ’66).
When he was 14 years old, Campbell was introduced to fellow West Virginian Sam Snead, who would become Campbell’s mentor. Campbell first saw Snead at the 1937 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club outside of Detroit, when he traveled to the championship to watch his local club professional, who had qualified. When he missed the cut, Campbell decided to follow Snead for the final 36 holes. Snead would be the runner-up by two strokes to Ralph Guldahl, the first of four heartbreaking second-place finishes for the future Hall of Famer.
“I saw it through Sam’s eyes and also his disappointment through the years,” said Campbell in a 2011 interview for the 2011 U.S. Open program.
Campbell later edged Snead for one of his three West Virginia Open titles.
Campbell also had a special relationship with four-time U.S. Open champion Ben Hogan.
“One year I arrived in Fort Worth, Texas for the Colonial and I was paired with [Texans] Ben Hogan and Jimmy Demaret for the first two rounds,” said Campbell. “Half of Texas came out to watch them. I missed the first shot to the left and it was headed for a woman’s face. Luckily, a man stuck out his hand and deflected the ball, but he hurt his hand pretty badly. So you can imagine my state for the next several holes.
“The fourth hole is a par 3. Hogan walked over and put his arm over my shoulder. And understand, pros don’t want to play with amateurs as a general rule. He said, ‘Bill, you have as much right to be out here as Jimmy and myself. Now slow down and take your time. We’re with you.’
“I shot 77 and made the cut right on the nose. On the weekend, I had 69-72 and was low amateur. I was very lucky that Hogan took pity on me, as it were. But he was always very courteous to me.”
Campbell returned the favor to Hogan in a huge way.
“In that day, there was a little scoring table,” he said. “People were all trying to get his photograph and his autograph, and he really was distracted. As he was about to turn his card loose with his signature, I said, ‘Ben, that’s not right. You marked down a 3 and you had a 4. And he won the tournament later, but he would have been disqualified [had he not corrected the error].”
Campbell’s success in the highest levels of competition was matched only by his service to the game. He sat on the USGA Executive Committee from 1962-65 and again from 1977-84, serving as treasurer in 1978-79, vice president in 1980-81, and president in 1982-83. In 1987, he was elected Captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, just the third American to hold the post and the only man to lead both governing bodies.
His dignity, sportsmanship and benevolence touched many people, including a young Jack Nicklaus.
“I first ran into Bill Campbell in 1955, when at 15 years old, I was playing in the U.S. Amateur qualifier at Camargo [Club] in Cincinnati. I managed to qualify for the U.S. Amateur and Bill must have evidently been impressed with something he saw in me, because the next year, he called the Sunnehanna [Amateur Invitational] people and got me an invitation there at age 16. He said to them, ‘This young man won’t embarrass you.’ Thanks to Bill, I went to Sunnehanna and finished fifth.
“Bill Campbell was such an intelligent and thoughtful man. He was successful in business. He served his country as an Army Captain in World War II. And he served our game for a lifetime. I thought he was the ultimate amateur in the game of golf. The game was never any purer than Bill Campbell. He absolutely did it all the right way.”
Campbell received the Bob Jones Award, the USGA’s highest honor, in 1956, and in 1991 the Golf Course Superintendents of America bestowed upon him the Old Tom Morris Award. He was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990 and the West Virginia Golf Hall of Fame in 2009.
Campbell is survived by his wife of 59 years, Joan; by four stepchildren, Diana Dourif Cole of Summit, N.J., Patricia Dourif Amenta of Lewisburg, W.Va, Bradford Dourif of Calif. and Christiane Dourif Friedman of Charlottesville, Va.; two children, Victoria Campbell Collins of Glyndon, Md., and Colin Cammack Campbell of Denver Colo.; 15 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
A service will be held on Tuesday, September 10, at The Old Stone Presbyterian Church, Lewisburg, W.Va., starting at 11:00 a.m.
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