OPCC Head Golf Professionals
George O. Simpson
George O. Simpson, the club’s 1st professional, was the head man at a club in Wheaton close to Chicago Golf Club when he entered and almost won the 1911 U.S. Open at Chicago Golf. Simpson’s final round 75 launched him into a tie for 1st with John J. McDermott and big Mike Brady. McDermott won the Open with a playoff score of 80, compared to Brady’s 82 and Simpson’s 86, but Simpson’s star rose with his achievement, and was further bolstered by top-10 U.S. Open finishes in 1912 and 1914. A Scottish import, as were virtually all the early professionals, Simpson first gained fame by winning the 1907 British Amateur, arrived at La Grange Country Club as a budding pro the following year, and lost to Chick Evans in the match play final of the 1910 Western Open. He was the right man for the big new club at Oak Park, for a few years doubling as the superintendent. Club members so revered him, when he died suddenly of the flu early in 1920, the club took up a collection to pay for his funeral.
James Lindsay, who was hired as the combination head professional and superintendent, succeeded Simpson in 1921. Like Simpson a Scot, though from Gullane rather than Carnoustie, Lindsay was foremost a superintendent, and had recently supervised the construction of the Biltmore complex in Rye, N.Y. He held both posts through 1928.
Lindsay yielded the professional’s position to Ray Croslin in 1929. While at Oak Park, Croslin set the course record with a 68.
Horton Smith arrived in the spring of 1932, after the Missouri native’s meteoric rise on the winter tour was duly noted. His winning the first Masters Tournament in 1934 vaulted him to even greater fame. Like Simpson, Smith was a favorite of the members, and the board voted Smith an honorary membership when he took a job with Spalding after the 1935 season. That, and his brother Ren’s ascension to the head professional post, kept him around the club in his spare time. Smith remained a familiar face at Oak Park until he moved to Detroit.
Ren, Horton Smith’s brother, took over the head professional position in the spring of 1936.
Many players have held the dubious title of best player never to win a major championship, but, at least for the first two-thirds of the 20th century, it might rightly have belonged to Dick Metz, Oak Park’s head professional from 1940 through 1942. His star-crossed finishes in the U.S. Open nearly rivaled those of contemporary Sam Snead. Metz won 14 tournaments on the circuit now known as the PGA Tour – curiously, only 10 are recognized as official today – and knocked on the U.S. Open door almost continually. Despite never playing across the pond, he registered 15 top-10 finishes in today’s current majors, with nine in the National Open, with those in 1938 and 1939 the most memorable.
Legendary Errie Ball enjoyed a 24-year tenure, filled with infectious laughter and no small amount of common sense teaching – including some by assistant Bill Erfurth, who like Ball would eventually gain induction to the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame. Ball was one of 85 competitors invited to the Inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934. Ball kept his hand in on the national scene. The 1956 U.S. Open wasn’t a fluke; he played in 20 U.S. Opens and 18 PGA Championships. Ball entered the Illinois Golf Hall of Fame in 1990, and the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 2011 – on his 101st birthday.
Puckett was a Chicago-area mainstay for decades, and, following the authorship of Smith and Metz, edited an instructional book, “495 Golf Lessons,” making a cohesive read out of Arnold Palmer’s syndicated newspaper column, plus a paperback encyclopedia encompassing those lessons.
Steve Dunning’s tenure of 28 years before becoming professional emeritus exceeded Errie Ball’s tenure at the club by four years. “I came here to broaden my base,” Dunning said. “I was going to become a total teaching machine for the rest of my life. I was teaching 10 hours a day, six days a week, at Glen View Club and at Paradise Valley and at Royal Poinciana. “The greatest thing about being a golf professional is helping people play better, helping them to a better swing,” Dunning said. “The hardest thing about being a successful teacher, one of the hardest things, is getting people’s mind from the ball and on the swing. If they’re ball-bound, you cannot help them. If they hit a good shot and they don’t do it right, you’ve got to blast them for it. If they hit a bad shot and they do it right, you’ve got to praise them for it.
Bruno’s all-state recognition in high school was followed by four years as a leader of the golf pack at Millikin University in Decatur, including three all-CCIW laurels. After a fling at the pro tour, he returned as one of Dunning’s assistants, spending 14 years in that capacity before his elevation to the head
professional post late in 2009.