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Long Island club pros play roles in U.S. Open at Shinnecock

A view of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club

A view of the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club 16th green in the foreground and 17th hole in the background on media preview day for the 2018 U.S. Open in Southampton, N.Y. on Monday, May 21, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The first round of a modern U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills was absolutely brutal for anyone who was out in the cold, wet, blustery blast. Being in the protected confines of the pro shop on June 12, 1986 was no day at the beach either.

“People were all coming in, looking for sweatshirts,” Don McDougall said this week, recalling the most hectic day in his 45 years as the club’s head pro. “I had to send some of my guys up the Island to pick up the sweatshirts that somebody was making for me. My guys had to go, grab them and bring them back so people had something to put on. Things like that, you kind of remember.”

Eleven years after his retirement, he still remembers how exciting and important it was to be involved with three Opens. He will be back in this one, too. Next week, he will be one of the four retired Long Island club pro icons volunteering to work as practice-round starters. Bob DeStefano of Gardiner’s Bay Country Club on Shelter Island, Bob Joyce of Southampton Golf Club and Gil McNally of Garden City Golf Club also were recruited by current Shinnecock pro Jack Druga to help out and add a touch of distinction.

They will be on the first and 10th tees, in jackets and U.S. Open ties, introducing every golfer to the crowd. “I think it’s wonderful of Jack not to forget us,” said DeStefano, who had been a finalist for the Shinnecock Hills job in 1962 before starting his 50-year run on the other side of the ferry.

Their enthusiasm for next week shows how all kinds of people like to pitch in during the Open and consider it an honor to do even small tasks for no pay. Several current Long Island pros will work on the practice range, making sure all the golfers’ needs are met.

Joyce, who has worked the 1986, 1995 and 2004 Opens at Shinnecock, never will forget the excitement of the event 32 years ago — the first major in Southampton in 90 years. He was running a golf expo in the gym of what was then Southampton College across the street.

“I had a band come in to play every afternoon. I must have had 100 pros from the Met Section there, giving pointers. The money we raised went to the Met PGA for junior golf,” he said. On that stormy first day, the expo was a refuge for fans. “We were mobbed. We gave so many free lessons. I didn’t even get approval from the USGA.”

DeStefano, now a columnist for the Shelter Island Reporter, also has worked on all the modern Shinnecock Opens. “My real fun story,” he said, “was from when Hale Irwin got up. I introduced him as, ‘Hale Irwin: the only three-time winner of the U.S. Open!’ He looks at me and says, ‘What about Jack Nicklaus? What about Bobby Jones?’ I said, ‘They were four-time winners.’ ”

The gig next week will have special meaning for McDougall, who began as an assistant pro to his dad at The Creek, then took assistant jobs at Timber Point, Island Hills and Glen Head (where his son-in-law Scott Hawkins is now head pro). McDougall was prepared to taking a low-profile role at Southampton Golf Club in 1962 when he learned that someone who was a member at both The Creek and Shinnecock had recommended him for the head job at the latter course.

“The club wasn’t as healthy as it is now when I first got there,” he said, adding that he once had to man a payloader on his own to configure the practice area. He recalled that a senior tournament in the 1960s drew some U.S. Golf Association officials, who liked the layout and scheduled the 1977 Walker Cup for Shinnecock. One thing led to another, and before he knew it, McDougall was running out of U.S. Open sweatshirts.

He said, “I guess I was pretty lucky.”

Outings

The Fifth Annual Lindenhurst Football Alumni Association Outing, honoring late coach Edward Hayes, will be July 16 at WindWatch Golf & Country Club, Hauppauge. Call (631) 929-0989 . . . The 22nd Annual Long Island Cares Golf Classic, postponed on May 16, has been rescheduled for Aug. 16 at Meadow Brook Club, Jericho. Visit licares.org.

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