Willie and the Red-Headed Kid

Written by Polly Sparling

Founded in 1956, the Westchester Golf Association Caddie Scholarship Fund was the brainchild of two golf buddies: stockbroker and Quaker Ridge member Udo Reinach and Willie Turnesa, champion amateur golfer and youngest brother of what has been called “golf’s royal family.” Willie — along with his six siblings, all professionals — “were to golf,” the New York Times wrote, “what the Kennedys were to politics.”

Although I never met Reinach, I knew Willie pretty well. He was my dad.

And I’m not stretching the truth when I say that he was prouder of his involvement with the fund than he was of any of his accomplishments on the links, which were numerous: He won the U.S. Amateur in both 1938 and ’48, the British Amateur in 1947, and played on winning Walker Cup teams in ’47, ’49 and ’51. He never talked about his victories; in fact, it wasn’t until I inherited his collection of memorabilia that I realized how successful he had been.

Among the items I found in Dad’s steamer trunk (repurposed as a filing cabinet from his stint in the Navy during WWII) was an oral history prepared by the United States Golf Association in 1990. Age 76 at the time, Dad spent an afternoon with interviewer Pat Doyle, talking about everything from growing up next door to a golf course to playing with the likes of Babe Ruth and Bob Hope.

One particular story from that session caught my eye. Doyle asked my father, “Did a caddie ever make the difference in one of your tournament victories?” Here’s Dad’s answer:

Yes – there was one boy, at [the U.S. Amateur] at Oakmont in ’38. It was a semifinal match, 36 holes. I was six up on a fellow by the name of Kingsley, and real fast – bang, bang – I lost two holes, 10 and 11. So I’m four up going to the 12th hole with seven to play.

After hitting my tee shot on the par five, I found myself in the rough in a bad lie. As I selected my club to play the shot, I looked at this kid – he must have been 14-15 years old, a red-headed boy – and tears are coming out of his eyes.

I said, “What’s the matter?” He didn’t respond, just wiped his eyes with his right hand.

He was afraid I was going to blow the whole match sky-high. Well, that was so touching. Somehow, I gathered enough strength to hit out of this lie and parred the hole in spite of my bad second shot.

The regret I have about this incident is that I never remembered who that boy was. He was working harder than I was. He made me realize how important it was, and so I did the best I could. That was one instance where the caddie actually played a major part in my victory.

More than 50 years after that match, and the red-headed boy was still top of mind in Willie’s recollection of it. Was “this kid” the inspiration for the WGA CSF? We’ll never know for sure – but I like to think so.