Catching Up With...Mike Killian September 15, 2012 By David Shefter, USGA

Galloway National's director of golf, Mike Killian, represented the USA in the 1973 Walker Cup Match. (Courtesy Mike Killian)

Mike Killian, the director of golf at Galloway (N.J.) National Golf Club, had the privilege of playing for the USA Walker Cup Team in 1973 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Killian posted a 1-2-0 record, winning a foursomes match with Bill Rogers, but dropping his two singles matches. The USA reclaimed the Cup from Great Britain and Ireland, 14-10. Killian briefly tried professional tour golf after graduating from the University of Florida, later becoming a club professional. He has been at Galloway National since 2001. USGA senior staff writer David Shefter talked with Killian, 62, at media day for the 2012 USGA Men’s State Team Championship, which will be contested at Galloway National Sept. 19-21:

How honored were you to be selected to the 1973 USA Walker Cup Team?

Killian: I would have to rate it No. 1 for me. Playing the [U.S.] Open and the Masters were cool, but you stand on the first tee and they are playing the National Anthem, you realize you are representing the whole United States. I think that was my greatest thrill.

Before the USGA called you, did you have a good idea you were going to be selected?

Killian: I was considered one of the cusp guys. We didn’t know what [Ben] Crenshaw was going to do.  You have to say he was going to be the No. 1 selection. Even though I was close to him, I wasn’t sure [if he would stay amateur]. So I figured I had to be anywhere from eight to 12 [on the list]. And when Ben turned pro, I said, Wow, now we know we’ve got a shot. And I still didn’t think I was truly going to make the team. There were a couple of guys who could have easily made it. You just don’t know.

What caused you to be anxious about being selected?

Killian: I had one real strike against me. And it was a real weakness. I wasn’t any good at match play. I was a [stroke] play player. You give me four days and I could play. I had Ben Crenshaw 5 down at the 1971 Western [Amateur] through nine holes in an 18-hole match and lost. I had Jim Simons 6 down in the 1968 Western Junior finals at the seventh tee and lost. I qualified like four times to get into match play [at the Western]. I had Rik Massengale a couple down at the turn [in the Western Amateur] and Rik wound up winning the tournament [in 1968].

Why did you struggle so much in match play?

Killian: I was a watcher. I was one of those guys if you hit before me and knocked it on the green, I was a watcher. If we were playing medal play, it was different. I was focused on my own game and who cared what you shot. I honestly thought that was the thing that kept me off the team. But I also was fortunate that it was the era of medal play in the [U.S.] Amateur. I had a nice medal-play record in the Amateur. I finished seventh one year (1972), tied for 18th another year (1970). In 1973 [at Inverness Club] in Toledo, I get a bye in the first round. (The Amateur was all match play in 1973 with no on-site qualifying). And I get Curtis Strange in the second round, who is 17. I’ve got to be [favored] to beat him. He’s 17 years old and I am coming off the Walker Cup. He drilled me. He beat me 6 and 4.

But you had to have a decent stroke-play record to be selected for the Walker Cup?

Killian: Ben [Crenshaw] won everything. I finished second to Ben at the Southern [Amateur]. I finished second to Ben at the Southeastern. I finished second to Gary Sanders in the Southwestern. I qualified four times for match play at the Western [Amateur], so I was always in the top 16. I had two good Porter Cups, three good [U.S.] Amateurs. I had three good NCAAs. I think I finished third, seventh and 10th.

Did you play singles at the Walker Cup?

Killian: I did. I lost to Willie Milne [on Sunday, 2 and 1]. He played the European Tour for awhile and then became the head professional at Carnoustie [in Scotland]. And now he is in Travel Golf out of Germany. I hadn’t heard from Willie in 38 years. He called me a year ago and said he was going to be in the States to play Pine Valley on Monday, could we come and play Tuesday at Galloway? He came and played here. And he just rubbed it right in. He just gave it to me when he walked in the door.

How about in foursomes?

Killian: Bill Rogers and I did [win on Sunday, 1 up over Milne and Hugh Stuart].

That Walker Cup would have been the 60th anniversary of Francis Ouimet’s U.S. Open triumph at The Country Club?

Killian: And [our captain] Jess Sweetser won the Amateur there [in 1922]. It was neat.

Did Sweetser give you the call or was it someone else from the USGA who informed you of your selection?

Killian: I want to say it was Sandy Tatum.

What was your reaction?

Killian: I hate to say I don’t know what my reaction was. There were two times that I got phone calls from the USGA and both of them I nearly fainted. One was when Bruce Crampton hurt himself before the [1975] U.S. Open and I was the national first alternate. I think it was Sandy Tatum who called me [for the Walker Cup] and it was in the evening. And I turned to my father … He had two goals for me. I was real close to my dad. I turned to him and I said we did it. He said, We did what? I said we wanted to play in the Masters and I always wanted to make the Walker Cup Team for you and Mom (getting emotional). I had already played in the 1973 Masters because of the [U.S.] Amateur. Back then, the top eight in the Amateur got in. So I had already done that and they didn’t announce the team until [early] August for the Walker Cup. And honestly, I had every intention of turning professional and playing in the [Qualifying] School that year. But because that invitation came [in 1973], I changed my mind. But I’ll never forget getting that phone call.

And you had a fellow University of Florida golfer on the Walker Cup Team that year, right?

Killian: Gary [Koch] was on that team. I think he was the only other Florida player. But I had a lot of buddies on that team. Doug Ballenger and I were close. He was a cusp guy too. Mark Pfeil, from out West, I was very friendly with. I wasn’t that friendly with Marty West or Dick Siderowf, but I was friendly with Vinny [Giles].

Weren’t the Gators a power back then?

Killian: Another poor decision in Mike Killian’s life. [Florida coach] Buster Bishop was my dear friend. He was like a mentor. He recruited me and wanted me to go to Florida. Florida was OK. They weren’t great. [Legendary Houston coach] Dave Williams picked up the phone and called me like three months before school started and wanted me to see Houston. He was the god [then]. It was like Bear Bryant calling you on the phone. So I went to Houston … for like a minute. I went for a semester.

Didn’t Dave Williams recruit a ton of golfers at that time?

Killian: They had suites that you stayed in and there was four people. Two to a bedroom they called them. The guys in my suite that semester were Allen Brooks, Jim Simons, myself and Jim McLean. Only one guy stayed there for four years and that was Jim McLean. Simons was my suitemate. I was gone at the semester break. Jimmy left at the end of the year and went to Wake [Forest]. And Brooks ended up going to Oregon. I think he was an All-American at Oregon. He brought in about 10 guys and only four on full scholarship. The rest of them got partials. That’s what he did. The next thing you know, he had 13 [national] championships. I was at the end of that era.

So you eventually went back to Florida?

Killian: I called Buster at the semester break and told him I think I made a terrible mistake, and if you will take me back, I would love to come. He was great. He gave me a four-year scholarship. He said I know you are going to sit out a year, and we’ll even pay for that year.

Didn’t those teams have some notable players?

Killian: [Steve] Melnyk was just graduating. [Andy] North was a freshman. I was a freshman. [Gary] Koch was behind me. [Future USGA President Fred] Ridley was behind me. They were two years younger. Other than Andy North, we didn’t really have that great of a team. They graduated their championship team in ’68. This was ’69. But by the time Koch got there [in 1971], it was Koch, [Andy] Bean, Ridley, Phil Hancock, who nobody even talks about and I think won twice on the [PGA] Tour, Jim Smith, who was the National Junior College champion, Kevin Morris, Bob Heins … that team, I tell everybody, was the best or close to the best college team ever and we didn’t win the NCAAs while I was in school. They won it the next year in 1973.

(Note: Killian lost to future two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North, 4 and 3, in the first round of the 1967 U.S. Junior Amateur at Twin Hills Golf and Country Club in Oklahoma City, Okla., after shooting a 66 during stroke-play qualifying. North was the eventual runner-up to John T. Crooks.)

Tell me about your decision to turn pro?

Killian: I thought I should have turned pro when I was 18 or 19. But that wasn’t the thing to do then. You had to go to college. I am very happy with my life. If I had to do it over again, I would have liked to try the tour then and then gone to college. But I probably would have ended up in the same spot.

But if you had turned pro, you would have missed out on the chance to play in a Walker Cup.

Killian: The camaraderie and the dinners we had together as teams, it was spectacular. I made great friends with [Great Britain and Ireland’s] Howard Clark, Willie Milne, Hugh Stuart, Michael Bonallack. These were guys who were well respected. Howard Clark was a real stud back then. They had a lot of guys who you would not have heard of, though. It was a lot of fun.

Have you been back to a Walker Cup Match since 1973?

Killian: That’s my one other regret is that I have never been to the Walker Cup since I made the team, and I am going to next year [at National Golf Links in Southampton, N.Y.].

How many U.S. Opens have you played?

Killian: Only played in one, but the second I should have played and didn’t. I got injured after the qualifying [in 1976].

And you played the PGA Tour?

Killian: Well, I played in a bunch of events through qualifying on Friday, Monday. But I never had a card.

What made you give it up?

Killian: I actually gave [golf] up in 1976. I went and played in Europe because I couldn’t get my card through the Tour [Qualifying] School. I played eight events over there in the summer of ’76, and after being very unsuccessful – my game was really shot, mentally and physically – and I came back [to the States]. I said to my folks I can’t do this any longer. I need to do something else. So I went into the brokerage business. And I was in the brokerage business for seven years.

What brought you back to golf?

Killian: In late 1982, early ’83, I came home one day and said to my wife, I am a golf pro and that is what I have always been and that’s what I should be, and that’s what I am going to do. She backed me 100 percent. I went and started teaching in Baltimore at Woodholme Country Club. And Irv Schloss, my mentor, got me a job there. I taught there for a couple of years and two years afterward I got a head pro job in Baltimore. And then in 1990, I moved to [New] Jersey and got the job at Hollywood [Golf Club]. And then I came here in 2001.

So you found your calling?

Killian: This is where I should have been the whole time. I tell the story that my two chairmen for this championship are Tim Erensen, who runs the LPGA tournament here [in Galloway], the Shop-Rite Classic, and Doug Fraser. Doug Fraser’s dad was the president of the PGA [of America] in the late ‘60s, and a dear friend of the guy I learned from, Irv Schloss. Irv wanted me desperately to be a club pro. And if I was going to play the [PGA] Tour, he wanted me to go that direction; to be a club pro and play the tour part-time. So he sent me up here to meet Leo Fraser in 1973. This is where I am in the mix to turn pro or not turn pro. I came up and met Leo Fraser, a wonderful guy and wonderful man. I flew home that night and talked to Irv and said I can’t imagine living and working in Atlantic City and look where I am [today]. So always be careful what you wish for. Leo was at Atlantic City Country Club.

Are you excited about bringing the first USGA championship to Galloway National?

Killian: We are. When [founder] Vernon [Hill] started to do this in ’86, the two dreams were to build a great golf course and the other was to have a championship. A great golf course has been here for a long time. We’ve had four New Jersey Mid-Amateurs. We had the NCAA Eastern Regional. We’ve had three Ivy League [Championships]. We’ve had a bunch of USGA qualifiers: the Mid-Am, the Senior Am and U.S. Open (local). It’s seen some real good players and real good times. When the NCAAs were here Bud Cauley [of Alabama] shot 67 one round. Hunter Hamrick [of Alabama] had a 67 one round. And we didn’t play it real difficult. We can play it just over 7,000 [yards]. The key is it [requires] very precise second shots. Missing a second shot by 3, 4 or 5 feet isn’t devastating, but you’re working. The way the game is played today, you don’t see that much precision from 170 yards and in. Bomb, gauge and putt. So I think this will be an interesting test for these players.