Bob Lewis Jr., the 2021 recipient of the USGA’s Bob Jones Award and a veteran of a combined six Walker Cup Matches as a competitor and captain, died on March 23 at the age of 76. A three-time USGA runner-up, including the 1980 U.S. Amateur, Lewis, who competed in 31 USGA championships, was one of the game’s best amateurs to have never claimed a USGA title. Nevertheless, his skill, integrity, competitiveness and sportsmanship made the Ohio native one of the most respected people in the amateur game.
Lewis, who received the Bob Jones Award on March 19, played on four victorious USA Walker Cup Teams – 1981, 1983, 1985 and 1987 – compiling an impressive 10-4 overall mark. In the 1983 Match at Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) in England, he and partner Jim Holtgrieve, the man who defeated him in the inaugural 1981 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, posted a 7-and-6 victory in the first foursomes (alternate-shot) session, a record margin that stood until 2017 when Collin Morikawa and Norman Xiong registered an 8-and-7 decision in the opening foursomes session of the USA’s 19-7 win at The Los Angeles Country Club.
Lewis later captained the USA in the 2003 and 2005 Matches, losing the former at Ganton Golf Club in England and then winning the latter at Chicago Golf Club, with both matches decided by a single point. Lewis called that 2005 competition “the greatest Walker Cup that ever was played.” The two-day event came down to the last singles match after Great Britain and Ireland had positioned itself for a possible tie and retention of the Cup. Nigel Edwards, whose chip-in on the 17th hole two years earlier had led to GB&I’s win, watched his 35-foot birdie putt just miss on the 18th green at Chicago Golf Club. Jeff Overton then calmly two-putted from 18 feet to secure the win for the USA Team, which also included Brian Harman, J.B. Holmes, Michael Putnam, Anthony Kim, Matt Every, Kyle Reifers, Nicholas Thompson, Lee Williams and Billy Hurley III.
“I’m so proud of my team,” Lewis said after the emotional 2005 competition. “It’s the way you dream about going out as captain.”
Lewis was born in Warren, Ohio, and was influenced to take up the game by his mother, who carried a 1 handicap. Although he played in numerous junior tournaments, Lewis excelled in football and baseball at Portsmouth (R.I.) Abbey School. The school did not have a golf team.
When he enrolled at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., in 1963, Lewis decided to re-engage with competitive golf by walking on to the team. After graduating, he claimed the 1968 Ohio Amateur on his 24th birthday. He also helped run the family business, Welded Tubes Inc., a steel tubing manufacturing company that his father founded in 1958.
In 1970, Lewis decided to give professional golf a try and earned his playing privileges for 1971 at the PGA Tour’s Qualifying School. In his rookie season of 1971, Lewis made eight of 12 cuts. By the end of the 1974 season, Lewis, who enjoyed limited success in the play-for-pay ranks (he made 26 of 47 cuts in official events), quit professional golf and returned to the family business. Though he won the 1972 Hope of Tomorrow Open, an unofficial event, Lewis’ best finish in four years on the PGA Tour was a tie for eighth in the Shrine-Robinson Open Golf Classic.
“I just wasn’t a good enough putter,” Lewis told Global Golf Post. “If I wasn’t capable of winning a tournament every year I was out there, I was gone. And obviously I wasn’t good enough to do that.”
He would find much more success as an amateur, once he completed the three-year process of reinstatement in 1978. That same year, he won the Ohio Open as an amateur, the first to do so since Jack Nicklaus in 1957, and qualified for the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club.