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Golden memories of Wilson for first NC Amateur champion

Brady returns to site of his 1961 championship

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Recollection faded on occasion for 83-year-old Pat Foy Brady as he reminisced — with assistance from his sons Patrick and Sandy — over his accomplished amateur golf career.

But he vividly remembers winning the first North Carolina Amateur Golf Tournament that was sanctioned by the Carolinas Golf Association in 1961.

“I birdied the 18th hole to win,” Brady exclaimed. “I remember it like yesterday. The putt was about 12 feet, up the hill and to the right.”

Tuesday’s was all about Brady’s 1961 victory for the “Brady Bunch” in visiting Wilson and Willow Springs Country Club.

Recently, through surprise correspondence, Brady learned a marker had been established at the entrance of Willow Springs denoting the site for the first CGA-sanctioned North Carolina Amateur, which was won by Brady there when it was still Wilson Country Club.

Contents upon the marker hailed Brady, then a 6-foot-3 1/2, 165-pound redhead, as the first champion. Brady was also forwarded an article about and photo of the marker published in The Wilson Times. The marker was established in late April 2017.

He was determined to travel more than two hours from his home in Reidsville to view the marker.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Brady exclaimed. “I don’t think I deserve it. But I did win the first one and they can’t take that away from me.

“It’s just about as nice an honor as you can get. It’s a heckuva honor. I heard about it and can’t believe I got it. I wanted to come down and see it.”

EXCITING DAY

Brady, accompanied by his sons and friend/photographer Gordon Allen, wasn’t disappointed. Awaiting his arrival were Willow Springs owner/golf professional Jimmy Gurkin and Wilson County historian Jim Boykin Jr., an avid golfer who launched the campaign to establish the marker.

Brady was also familiar with Gurkin by virtue of competing in the Henderson Invitational when Gurkin was associated with Henderson Country Club.

“He was really excited, “ commented his son, Sandy Brady. “He has perked up more about this than at any time in the last three months.”

Pat Foy Brady is not certain whether the 1961 Amateur was 72 holes or less (it was 72), but he’s proud of finishing ahead of such legendary amateurs as Dale Morey, Billy Joe Patton, Charlie Smith and Bill Harvey. The 70-player field attracted the state’s top amateurs.

After a sizzling round of 7-under-par 65, Morey, according to Boykin’s research, owned a 10-shot lead going into the final round. But Morey surged with a 65 while, in the final group, Brady was struggling to break 80. The birdie on the par-3, No. 18 layout was his second straight and enabled Brady to post a 78 and win by one shot with a 72-68-65-74—279.

The onlookers witnessing Brady’s successful birdie attempt included Morey.

“I have never hit one more dead center,” Brady said of the putt.

‘GUESS I CHOKED’

Of losing the huge lead, Brady good-naturedly responded: “I guess I choked. I can’t think of what else you could call it.”

Mementos he brought along included a huge photo of his wife, Lillian, and himself with the huge permanent trophy and the silver tea set which he was awarded.

Brady captured the State Amateur in 1956. The tournament was originated by the Wilson Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1946 and the first one was held at WCC in 1947. It would remain there every year until 1961 when the CGA took over the event and started moving it around the state.

As Boykin reasoned, the first sanctioned N.C. Amateur being contested at WCC was logical because the course was not only the site for the Eastern North Carolina Amateur and the N.C. State Amateur but, led by golf pro Grover Bullin, was successful in its endeavor to attract the state’s top amateurs.

Brady speaks fondly of WCC, noting: “I remember a river (Contentnea Creek alongside the No. 2 layout) and, if you hooked it badly, you could hit another one.”

Brady’s comfort level steadily grew among of a handful of strangers and a few others eager to meet him. Humorous, entertaining stories soon flowed.

Later, he would eagerly obliged at a photo session at the marker.

BABYSITTER FOR FLOYD

He mentioned that he was the “babysitter” for PGA great Raymond Floyd and remarked: “Avery Beck was always nice to me.”

Brady teamed with his father for another golf precedent — champions of the CGA’s first Father-Son Championship.

He mused about his experience at Reidsville High. He qualified to play in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association championship as an individual not attached to a team. The school principal would not excuse his absence, but his father gave him permission to compete. Brady won the individual state title.

After his freshman year at Davidson College, Brady faced a decision — attend summer school or qualify for the U.S. Open. Golf again got the nod.

However, Brady could not return to Davidson. His next stop was Guilford College, where he helped start the golf program.

He did play in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. Brady was paired with Gene Littler and Byron Nelson and his locker was next to that of Ben Hogan. Brady qualified for the U.S. Open at age 17 and, until Jack Nicklaus came along, was the youngest amateur to ever qualify. 

Why didn’t Brady, who didn’t smoke or drink, turn professional?

The necessity of giving up bird hunting was one reason. He also heeded what he considered valued advice from a couple of acquaintances. They informed Brady that, if he became a professional golfer, he could not be married or have a girl friend.

“I was deeply in love,” he added with a smile.

Despite three heart attacks, heart surgery, cancer and five back surgeries, Brady still plays golf and declares: “I can still shoot my age!”

A GREAT DAY

But his thoughts again and again turned to the reason for Tuesday’s visit to view the marker proclaiming him as the first CGA-sanctioned North Carolina Amateur winner.

“That’s something unusual,” Brady reasoned. “They can’t take that away from me. I would have rather won the first one than to have won, say, the fifth one. You will always remember winning that first one.”

The “Brady Bunch” and Allen then perfectly capped the great day with lunch at Parker’s Barbecue. Pat Foy Brady has been there a few times.

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