This is a second in a series of articles on past USGA championships that have been held at Congressional Country Club, site of this year's U.S. Open. The first story was on 1995 U.S. Senior Open champion Tom Weiskopf.
The U.S. Junior Amateur Championship was in its infancy when the championship came to Congressional Country Club in 1949.
Although the 1924 Devereux Emmet design in Bethesda, Md., had been in operation for 25 years, the Blue Course had never hosted a national championship. In future years, Congressional Country Club would become recognized as one of America’s top courses, hosting two U.S. Opens, one U.S. Senior Open and a PGA Championship. And in 2011, a revamped Blue Course will again be the site of the U.S. Open.
As the 1949 U.S. Junior approached, Gay Brewer of Lexington, Ky., was among the pre-championship favorites. A year earlier, he had been among the 127 competitors to qualify for the inaugural Junior Amateur, reaching the second round of match play before losing to George Bruno Jr. of Berkeley, Calif., 2 and 1.
Now 17, Brewer would have one final chance to participate before becoming age-ineligible for this event that is open to male golfers under the age of 18. That week in July, the affable Brewer roomed at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with 15-year-old Mason Rudolph of Clarksville, Tenn. Rudolph not only had qualified at the same sectional in Louisville, Ky., as Brewer, he had also competed in the 1948 U.S. Junior at the University of Michigan Golf Course in Ann Arbor, advancing to the quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Dean Lind, 5 and 3. Lind defeated Ken Venturi in the championship match. Venturi would later win a memorable 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club.
Accompanying the two youths to Washington that summer was Junior Championship Committeeman Col. Lee S. Reed of Louisville. And as fate would have it, Brewer and Rudolph each won six matches to reach the championship match, where Reed would serve as the referee.
Brewer, who had been taken to the 18th hole just once the entire week (2-up win over Robert Sisk of Charlotte, N.C.), easily defeated Rudolph in the final, 6 and 4. Rudolph would use that defeat as motivation for the following year, where he defeated Charles Beville, 2 and 1, at Denver (Colo.) Country Club to take the third Junior Amateur title.
The 1949 Junior Amateur final portended a strong professional future for both Brewer and Rudolph. Each finalist won multiple times on the PGA Tour, with Brewer claiming the 1967 Masters a year after he bogeyed the 72nd hole (missed a 6-foot par putt) and lost a three-way 18-hole playoff to Jack Nicklaus (1951 U.S. Junior champion Tommy Jacobs was also involved). Brewer called his Masters triumph his “greatest victory in golf.” He would also play on a pair of Ryder Cup Teams, in 1967 and 1973.
As an amateur, Brewer won three consecutive Kentucky State Boys Championships from 1949-51 and the 1952 Southern Amateur. He also won the 1951 Kentucky Open as an amateur.
Rudolph, meanwhile, won the 1956 Western Amateur and Tennessee Open (as an amateur) and was on the victorious 1957 USA Walker Cup Team before turning professional and winning five times. Rudolph, who later coached the golf team at Vanderbilt University, died on April 18 at 76.
An interesting fact about both individuals is each played collegiately – Brewer at Kentucky and Rudolph at Tennessee (and later Memphis) – on athletic scholarships not based on their golf skills. Because the USGA at the time considered anyone on a golf scholarship technically a professional, both players found a loophole to compete in golf without jeopardizing their amateur status. Paul “Bear” Bryant, then the head football coach at Kentucky, recruited Brewer to be a holder for placekicks on the football team, while Rudolph got the first “golf” scholarship at the University of Tennessee when Robert “General” Neyland, then the athletic director at the school, recognized his basketball talent and recruited him to play hoops. He spent a year at Tennessee before transferring to Memphis.
Brewer was a long hitter with an unusual swing – the result of a broken elbow sustained as a child – that often made it difficult to consistently play well. Some thought he bore a resemblance to Hall of Fame baseball player Babe Ruth.
He joined the PGA Tour in 1956, but it would take five years for him to break into the winner’s circle. He won three times in 1961 and finished seventh on the money list. From 1962-73, he was a solid contender in the U.S. Open, finishing in the top 10 seven times. When the Open came to Congressional in 1964, site of his Junior Amateur victory, Brewer carded a final-round 68 to share fifth place with 1960 champion Arnold Palmer.
Brewer’s final pro triumph came at the 1984 Citizens Union Senior Golf Classic on the Champions Tour. He officially retired from the game at the 2001 Masters and died six years later from cancer at the age of 75 in his hometown of Lexington.
David Shefter is a senior writer/content manager for the USGA. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.