LONGVIEW — Watching a scattering of small derricks near the Sabine River quietly extract the remnants of what was once the largest discovery of oil, it’s easy to daydream about the halcyon days of the East Texas oil boom
In this area, a community named Greggton was thriving. So much so that a group of businessmen decided to build a golf course. It was the late 1930s and much of the country was still out of work, making recreation of any kind seem an extravagance.
As the course began to take shape, a young and inquisitive boy began helping out with light clean-up. He lived nearby and wanted to make some spending money. Later, once the course opened, he stayed on as a caddie.
This was the introduction to golf for John Winfred Cupit, the third child of a brood of 11 and always called Buster.
In those days, Bobby Jones of Atlanta was America’s most famous golfer. His swing was molded through the help of his Scottish instructor Stewart Maiden, and much imitated by those taking up the popular game. Maiden hailed from Carnoustie, just north of St. Andrews, and taught a swing well suited for the whippy hickory shafted clubs of that time. It is from such a background that the young Cupit learned his trademark swing. Though not as classical as Jones’, the Cupit loop has served him well.
“People talk about the swing of Jim Furyk but my dad said he saw that swing years ago,” Texas Golf Hall of Fame member Carolyn Creekmore said. “Buster Cupit was the pro at our club in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and my dad (Steve Creekmore) loved watching him play golf.”
Watching Cupit swing a club is spellbinding. His outside-to-inside swing path produces a predictable draw even on the shortest of shots. His golf is limited now as he approaches his 93rd birthday but it is still fun and instructional to watch him hit balls.
Cupit’s playing record is impressive but might have been even better had he not decided to leave the tour. He won two Oklahoma Opens and had two second-place finishes on tour, one to Don January and one to his younger brother Jacky. The one-two finish at the 1961 Canadian Open is believed to be the only time brothers accomplished such a feat.
What compelled Cupit to stay home was a debilitating illness suffered by his son Guy in the early 1960s. A junior golf champion at age 12, Guy was confined to a wheelchair from age 16 until his death in 2005. To honor his son, Cupit started a charity golf tournament to benefit the White Oak Fire Department that continues today. The 22nd Annual Guy Cupit Tournament is scheduled for Saturday at Longview Country Club (3275 TX-42, Longview, 75604).
“I traveled the tour some with Buster back in the ‘60s and ‘70s because we would often share a hotel room to cut expenses,” Longview pro Roy Pace said. “But when Guy got sick, it bothered Buster a lot to be away from home.”
In 1964, Cupit bought the Longview Country Club on Highway 42, not far from his youthful stomping grounds. He has been a fixture there ever since.
The name of his course is a misnomer. Longview Country Club, while semi-private, has always been a modest public course enjoyed by working class golfers. It’s short and flat with little in the way of hazards to make it difficult but has attracted a steady flow of customers for the more than 50 years Cupit has owned it. A lot of those golfers play in a daily “choose-up” game that begins at 1 p.m.
“We have always catered to our one o’clock group,” Cupit said. “They have been the backbone of our play from the very start.”
Cupit played every day until recently when the aches and pains of his advanced age forced him into a more ceremonial role, riding along to watch for a few holes. He lost his wife Joyce a year ago and is adjusting to life without her.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Cupit said.
It was Joyce who rode with Buster to the 1957 U.S. Open at Inverness in Toledo, Ohio. When they arrived and Buster learned he was playing with a 16-year-old kid the first two days, he wanted to return home. Later he told Joyce that boy might become the best golfer of all time if he works at it. The boy, of course, was Jack Nicklaus.
Last fall, Cupit’s grandson Cody traveled to Dallas to play in a charity event at Northwood Club, site of the 1952 U.S. Open won by Julius Boros. Before leaving, Cody spoke to his grandfather and learned about an epiphany Buster had while watching the event.
“I remember it well,” Cupit said. “I watched the name players and saw some of the bad shots they were hitting and it made a big impression on me. I said to myself, ‘I can play with these guys.’”
Six years later, Cupit was in the hunt to win the PGA Championship before a balky putter did him in. After ripping a 2-iron to within three feet of the cup on the par-3 16th the final round at Llanerch Country Club near Philadelphia, Cupit four putted for double bogey. He finished in a tie for eighth place. The 1958 PGA was won by Dow Finsterwald and is significant because it was the first time stroke play was used.
During that final round, Cupit played with Boros and Tommy Bolt. It is Bolt who impressed him the most in terms of ball striking.
“Tommy Bolt was one of the best shot makers, ball strikers, I ever saw,” Cupit said. “The 4-wood he hit on the last hole of the U.S. Open at Southern Hills was something — it was so high and landed so soft.“
Bolt won the 1958 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but Cupit had seen his action up close years before in the old Premier Invitational. Premier was a famous stop on the old beer and barbecue circuit because it was played on a short and tight course on the Premier Refinery property.
“I played him at the Premier tournament one year and he didn’t miss a shot,” Cupit said. But he was throwing clubs around and all of that. I was about 5-under when he took me out. It he had had half of Hogan’s brain he would have won a lot more.”
Hogan was the one Cupit admired. He recalled watching him closely at the much-remembered 1960 U.S. Open won by Arnold Palmer. In that tournament, Hogan hit the first 34 greens in regulation on the final day when 36 holes were played on a Saturday. Hogan’s playing partner that Saturday was Nicklaus, still an amateur, who finished second.
“I watched Hogan a lot. At Cherry Hills, we had opposite tee times so I watched him play the first two rounds,” Cupit said. “I tried to study him so I could play better.”
Cupit’s top 10 finish in the 1958 PGA earned him a trip to the Masters the following April.
“It was the greatest thing that ever happened to me — getting to play there,” Cupit said. “I didn’t play well, though. I had an 81 the first day and then was 3-under coming into the ninth on the second day. I left my birdie putt on the lip there. Then I hit my tee ball on the 10th and with a right to left wind, the ball clipped a pine tree on the left and we looked everywhere within 100 yards of that tree, on perfect grass that looked a millionaire’s front yard, and never found the ball. So I made double-bogey and that was that.”
Cupit saw the great Bobby Jones from a distance but did not get to meet him.
“No, I saw him one day on the putting green but was just too shy to go over and introduce myself,” Cupit said. “I sure wish I had.”
Fast forward to the early 1960s and Jacky Cupit is playing in the Bing Crosby Pro-Am in Northern California. He hits an approach shot into a greenside trap on the back nine of Cypress Point Golf Club. Seeing that a cypress tree’s low hanging branches make it impossible to hit right-handed, Jacky turns his club upside down and hits it onto the green left-handed.
Standing behind the green is Crosby himself who comes over and introduces himself to Jacky as his group leaves the green.
“I just wanted to introduce myself Jacky,” Crosby said. “How’s Buster doing?”
The younger Cupit smiled and said fine. He was already accustomed to people asking about his older brother, whom he describes as his best friend. And he had to chuckle to himself that it’s a long way from Greggton to Cypress Point.
Such are the things of a storybook. But as every East Texas golfer should know, it’s as true as a Buster Cupit draw with a short iron.