Editor’s Note: The notion is singular to golf: A talented player decides to turn professional, but later reconsiders and applies to be reinstated as an amateur. It’s not a decision that is taken lightly by either the player or the USGA, which administers the amateur reinstatement process.
The following are first-person essays by four players, three of whom are USGA champions. Each has a story to tell about falling in love with the game, trying their hand as a professional, and returning to the amateur game. Because of their experiences, these players are particularly thankful for all that the game has to offer.
Jim Holtgrieve, St. Louis, Mo.
Years Professional: 9
Golf has been a major part of my life – I dare say it has been my life – for as long as I can remember. My dad introduced me to the game when I was 4, and by high school I had to choose one sport. Thank God, I chose golf.
After enlisting in the Air Force in 1968, I was transferred to Hawaii. I won the Army Open in Oahu and met plenty of high-level military personnel on the golf course. It was an incredible experience.
After the service, I started playing a national amateur schedule and made friends for life – people like Buddy Marucci, Vinny Giles, Bob Lewis and Jay Sigel. I qualified for a U.S. Open, played on three Walker Cup Teams and won the inaugural U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1981. I considered turning pro, but I desperately wanted to be a Walker Cup captain someday, and felt I was on track to do it.
By the 1990s, I needed to earn more to help raise two kids. So I turned professional in 1998, at age 50. It’s the biggest mistake I’ve made, because I was only going out there for the money.
I played OK, but my heart wasn’t in it. I can’t even remember my last pro tournament, other than it was in California. I returned to St. Louis to work in 2003 and applied for amateur reinstatement in 2005.
When I got my amateur status back in 2007, it was a new lease on life. I just wanted to be with my buddies and compete. Of course, the pinnacle was being chosen to captain the 2011 and 2013 Walker Cup Teams, the memories of which still give me goosebumps.
I’m very grateful. I played golf with my father, my two boys, for my country and got to know Arnold Palmer, among countless other experiences. Much of it is due to being an amateur golfer. I️ think we’re entitled to a second chance, and I’ve made the most of mine.