SAN ANTONIO — It was a wonderful night for those who love the game of golf, especially Texas golf.
Culminating a day of festivities honoring the 2013 induction class to the Texas Golf Hall of Fame was a sit-down dinner entitled “The Gathering of Eagles.” Excitement for the occasion filled the ballroom at Oak Hills Country Club as famous golfers and celebrities mingled with family and friends of the eight inductees. All shared a Texas connection and a passion for golf.
With the order of the recipients done alphabetically, Tyler’s A.J. Triggs was the final honoree during a long night of thank-you remarks similar to the Academy Awards. But just like his slow and rhythmic golf swing that is just as much a marvel now at age 84 as it was during his college days at the University of North Texas, Triggs was not about to rush the moment.
In his introduction for distinguished service, Triggs was cited by the dinner emcee David Marr for his more than 40 years as a member of the board of directors with the Texas Golf Association, twice serving as president of the organization that governs amateur golf in Texas. Marr also noted that Triggs was a very good amateur golfer in his younger years, winning more than 50 tournaments on the once famous “barbecue” circuit held in small towns throughout Texas in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
“I never won a national amateur or a state amateur or anything like that,” Triggs said. “But I did win the Jasper Invitational.”
The opening salvo of humor captivated the audience that was obviously weary from the long evening.
“All this getting up and down all night has made these old legs pretty tired so I will keep this short,” Triggs added.
And with that he related that his love of golf and devotion to advancing the game began early on when he took up golf as a freshman at North Texas. He soon became a good player and was part of a college golf program that produced four consecutive NCAA championships and other Texas hall of fame members Joe Conrad, Ross Collins, Don January and Billy Maxwell. Conrad, nicknamed “Old Red,” won the 1955 British Amateur and was seated at Triggs’ table.
“If I had a 10-foot putt with all the pressure you could put on it, there is no one I would rather have putt it than ‘Old Red,’” Triggs said as he acknowledged his old teammate.
Triggs then told of his golfing idol during those early days, a man he sought to emulate in both performance and conduct on the golf course, Byron Nelson. Nelson was the first former golf professional to have a tournament named in his honor on the PGA Tour and was the winner of 11 consecutive events on tour in 1945, a record that may never be broken.
“I was able to tell him at a dinner at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas that as much as I admired his golf game and his achievements, it was his Christian character and how he gave back to the game that impressed me the most — so much, that I named my second son after him.”
Triggs’ two sons, Mark and Byron, were in attendance and played in a tournament with their dad earlier in the day at the historic Brackenridge Park Golf Course. Brackenridge Park hosted the old Texas Open won by the likes of Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead during its run from the late ’30s through the ’50s. The course is now the site of the Walk of Fame that has markers to honor each year’s induction class.
Joining Triggs in the 2013 class of inductees were amateurs Chip Stewart and Anna Schultz of the Dallas area, touring pro David Graham of Dallas, club pros Eldridge Miles of Dallas and the late Dick Harmon of Houston, the late Jay Riviere of Houston, and CBS Sports executive producer Lance Barrow of Houston.
Among those in attendance at the dinner were CBS sports announcer Jim Nantz and well-known instructor Butch Harmon. Both men have roots in Houston with Nantz on hand to honor his colleague Barrow and Harmon part of the famous golfing family whose patriarch, the late Claude Harmon, was the winner of the 1947 Masters and for many years the head pro at Winged Foot Golf Club in New York.
Barrow is only the second executive producer of CBS golf, taking over for Frank Chirkinian in 1997. A native of Colleyville, Barrow has won 10 Emmy Awards, most notably for the network’s annual coverage of the Masters.
“Because I have roots in Texas and to honor my man Lance Barrow, I just had to be here tonight,” Nantz said.
Harmon echoed what many of the speakers had said throughout the evening.
“This is a special evening for my brother Dick and the Harmon family,” Harmon said. “This is the greatest state golf hall of fame in the country and may be better than all of the other 49 put together.”
In addition to Harmon and Nantz, former major championship winners and member of the Texas hall of fame, Bill Rogers and Lanny Wadkins, were in the audience. A native of Texarkana, Rogers, the winner of the 1981British Open, was appreciative of Triggs’ induction.
“Isn’t he (Triggs) the greatest,” Rogers said with a grin. “Anybody that has played golf in Texas the last 50 years or so knows A.J. Triggs.”
Spicing his talk with humor, Triggs recounted a memorable exhibition match in 1960 at the Mineola Country Club with Nelson and two of his former teammates at North Texas — Benny Castloo of Mineola and Palmer Lawrence.
“It was for the annual Watermelon Festival and the whole town must have been in the gallery,” Triggs said. “Byron had already won over the crowd with a clinic before we played and then we got to the first tee.
“The folks in Mineola had a creative flair and used huge watermelons for the tee markers that day. So Byron went to tee up his ball and you could just see him come up with the idea as he leaned over. He just pegged his ball on top of one of those giant melons and hit it right down the middle about 250 yards. From that moment forward, all of the rest of us could have shot 58s that day and no one would have noticed.”
Triggs thanked his family for their support, especially his wife Leslie, and then closed with poignant remarks that served as an exclamation point for the night and elicited a standing ovation.
“Thank you for warming the heart of an old man who is on the back nine of life trying to finish his round and praying for a few extra holes.”