Mike Turnesa Jr. was proud to carry the last name that was so burnished in golf history. In his own unassuming way, during 36 years as head pro at Rockville Links, he added to the legacy.
Turnesa, who died May 10 at 72 after a stroke, never played in the Masters as did his dad. He did not win the PGA Championship as did his uncle Jim and did not win two U.S. Amateurs and a British Amateur like his uncle Willie. What Mike Jr. did was impart his love for the game and zest for life to all the people he taught.
One of those was the winner of the PGA Tour’s 2008 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital Open — a golfer who happened to be his son, Marc.
“He was the best. The guy was so proud of me and I was proud of him,” Marc said after the funeral Tuesday at Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church in Elmsford, near his father’s childhood home.
Marc recalled that when he was a schoolboy in Rockville Centre, he would drop off his books at home and walk the half-mile to the course, so he could practice to be like his father.
“I played on tour for however long. I had a few great years and a lot of lousy years. He followed me every step of the way. On the computer, he watched every hole,” Marc said. “Every day, before I’d go play, he’d text me a few words of encouragement, like, ‘Everybody knows how good you are, you just need to believe it.’ I can’t say enough about how he handled it. He never got frustrated with me, and I was frustrated with myself.”
The former tour pro’s father retired from Rockville Links in 2016, leaving the family’s teaching mantle to Mike III, an assistant pro at Anglebrook Golf Club in Westchester.
“It’s in our blood, there’s no doubt about that,” said Mike Jr.’s daughter, Tawn Turnesa-Norton, a high school health and physical education teacher in Tarrytown who appreciates the patience her father showed on the lesson tee.
“My dad loved what he was doing. We were saying it’s a shame that he passed not long after he retired. But you know what? My dad loved to work,” she said. “I don’t think many people can say they truly love their jobs but my dad did. I actually think his retirement was harder than working.”
He enjoyed telling his children, his members and his friends about the Turnesa family history, made famous by his dad and six renowned golf-loving brothers. Mike Sr., Joe and Phil became the first three siblings to play in the same U.S. Open in 1932, six years after Joe — winner of 15 tour events — lost the Open by one stroke to Bobby Jones. Willie still is considered by some golf historians to have been the second-greatest career amateur ever, behind Jones.
That pedigree was a blessing and maybe a tiny burden for Mike Jr. “He might have expected more out of himself to a degree,” said Bob Longo, his friend of 40 years and head pro at Seawane Club. “But his short game was second to none. He could get it up and down from anywhere.
“Mike had a great personality. I never saw him in a bad mood. He had some tough times, but nothing really bothered him. He was well loved by his members,” Longo said. “He worshipped Marc and Marc worshipped him.”
Marc is proud to have used his tour connections to bring his dad to play at Augusta last year. “Obviously, he came from what maybe is the most famous golf family, but that wasn’t it,” the son said. “He just genuinely, to the day he died, loved playing golf more than any person I’ve been around. And I’ve been around a lot of golfers.”