Billy Maxwell seemed destined for a life in golf from the time he could walk. The 1951 U.S. Amateur champion, who died on Sept. 20 at the age of 92 in his adopted hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., grew up adjacent to the fourth fairway of Abilene (Texas) Country Club, a course that was later renamed Maxwell Municipal Golf Course in honor of his father.
Along with his twin brother Bobby, the two youngest of seven children spent their formidable years both playing and working at the course. They mowed greens and did other tasks while also honing their golf skills. Despite little formal instruction, they managed to learn how to hit a variety of shots in all sorts of conditions. Billy, who claimed four consecutive Abilene Junior Championships starting at age 12, eventually became known as the West Texas Cyclone for his on-course prowess.
Billy and his twin were recruited to then-national power North Texas State College by coach Fred Cobb. Joined there by future PGA Tour winner Don January and future British Amateur champion Joe Conrad, Maxwell helped North Texas, which had already won the 1949 NCAA golf championship, claim three additional titles from 1950-52.
Maxwell advanced to the Round of 16 in the 1950 U.S. Amateur and then won the title a year later at Saucon Valley Country Club in Bethlehem, Pa. En route to the championship match, Maxwell defeated E. Harvie Ward, who would win consecutive U.S. Amateur titles in 1955 and ’56, in the quarterfinals and he routed his semifinal opponent J.C. Benson, 10 and 9 in a 36-hole match.
Before a massive crowd of 7,000 spectators, Maxwell, then 22, beat future New York State Supreme Court Justice Joe Gagliardi, 4 and 3, in the championship match to become, at the time, the second youngest to engrave his name on the Havemeyer Trophy.
“It’s fair to say that Billy had a career that, for the most part, was underappreciated,” said longtime Saucon Valley member Robin McCool, the author of Once Upon a September, the story of the 1951 U.S. Amateur. “He flew under the radar, but he accomplished an awful lot.”
Maxwell, who also won the 1953 Mexican Amateur, turned professional in 1954 following a brief stint in the U.S. Army and collected seven victories, including the 1961 Palm Springs Golf Classic (which later became the Bob Hope Desert Classic and now The American Express) and the 1962 Dallas Open Invitational (now AT&T Byron Nelson). He also posted a 4-0-0 record on the victorious 1963 U.S. Ryder Cup Team.
During his professional career, Maxwell made 14 U.S. Open appearances with three top-10 finishes, including a tie for fifth in 1963 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. He also had three top-10 finishes in 13 Masters and two top-10s in 11 PGA Championships.
In 1971, Maxwell and fellow PGA Tour player Chris Blocker purchased Hyde Park Golf Course in Jacksonville, Fla., a Donald Ross design that regularly hosted PGA and LPGA tour events in the 1940s and ‘50s. It was the site of legendary player Mickey Wright’s first professional win.
Maxwell, a 1982 Texas Hall of Fame inductee, continued to operate the course up until his death. His daughter and son-in-law, Melanie and Tommy Bevill, have since taken over the operation.
“That’s all he ever wanted to do, was play and talk golf,” Melanie Bevill told the Florida Times-Union. “I asked him one time, ‘Do we always have to talk about golf in this family?’ But it was fun to watch him with people. He had an amazing career and an amazing life.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.