Throngs of spectators had flocked to the Monterey Peninsula for the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. They were there to see two-time defending champion Jones, fresh off his triumph in the U.S. Open. Everyone expected Jones to romp over his first-round opponent, the unheralded Goodman.
The match nearly didn’t occur. Just prior to the championship, USGA officials questioned Goodman’s amateur status because he worked for a sporting goods company, the same one that caused another entrant, Johnny Dawson, to withdraw from the competition. Desperate to play, Goodman immediately resigned his position.
Goodman then stunned Jones and the large gallery , 1 up, only to lose that afternoon to future two-time U.S. Amateur champion and 1940 U.S. Open champion Lawson Little.
“When I knew I had to play him, my heart kind of skipped a beat,” Goodman said of his match with Jones. “Then I remembered Bobby’s own winning system – to play against par instead of his opponent – and I figured that was my only hope to keep from blowing up completely.”
That performance portended bigger things for this poor kid from Omaha.
Bitterly disappointed that he was left off the 1932 USA Walker Cup Team, Goodman came to that year’s U.S. Amateur at Baltimore Country Club determined to prove a point. He defeated USA Walker Cuppers Ouimet, Charles Seaver and Maurice McCarthy before falling in the 36-hole final to Canadian C. Ross Somerville, 2 and 1.
The next year he edged Ralph Guldahl by one stroke to win the U.S. Open at North Shore Golf Club in Glen View, Ill. He became the fifth amateur to win the championship, following Ouimet, Evans, Travers and Jones.
Back in Omaha, Goodman was feted with a parade through downtown. Most happy among the well-wishers were the caddies. At 23 years of age, he was a hero.
He would represent the USA on the 1934, 1936 and 1938 Walker Cup Teams, and eventually claim that elusive U.S. Amateur title in 1937, defeating Raymond Billows, 2 up, at Alderwood Country Club in Portland, Ore.
A decade later, Goodman had his last hurrah in the game, ironically, at Pebble Beach in the 1947 U.S. Amateur. By now a member at Omaha Field Club, Goodman won three matches before losing to 1935 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Frank Strafaci.
Goodman quietly faded from the national spotlight. He moved to Southern California with his wife, Josephine, and eventually turned professional, teaching the game at a par-3 course in Bellflower.
Thirty years after his death in 1970, Omaha renamed its 18-hole Applewood municipal course in memory of Goodman, who had been inducted into the Nebraska Golf Hall of Fame, the Nebraska High School Hall of Fame and the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame.
At the Field Club, there are reminders of his greatness. There is a Johnny Goodman Room with many pictures of their most famous member. There’s also a seven-man competition among the top members called the Goodman Cup.
“There's never been a golfer from Nebraska who had more notoriety or more of an impact than Johnny,” said Nebraska Golf Association executive director Craig Ames in the 2012 summer issue of Nebraska Golfer.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.