Area golf: Golf loses a friend with passing of George Thomas
And Ara Parseghian usually paid for it.
“I was always happy to pay for it,” Parseghian said, still laughing at what could be construed as George’s audacity. “I got a few of those.”
That’s the sort of relationship Thomas, who passed away Saturday at 87, forged during almost five decades as one of the most vibrant personalities in the world of Michiana golf.
His impact as a player, teacher and ambassador for the game went well beyond the gate of Elkhart’s Elcona Country Club, a place that he ran for 28 years.
“I first met George at a golf outing when I came to Notre Dame (in 1964),” said Parseghian. “I walked in the pro shop. He said, ‘I’m Lebanese and you’re Armenian. You can have the Oriental rug concession.’”
Welcome to town, Ara. You just met a lifelong buddy — and competitor.
George, Ara, Lou Holtz and Chicago White Sox broadcaster and Granger resident Hawk Harrelson would engage in some monumental battles on the course.
“You couldn’t be thin-skinned out there with those guys,” Parseghian said.
“My dad was such a competitor,” said David Thomas, who played on Elkhart Central’s 1979 state championship team and later at Indiana University. “He’d get fuming mad. Those guys were pretty rough on each other, but that’s what made them love the competition.”
George enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame in 1965. At age 40, it was the first of two U.S. Opens for which he qualified.
He was almost “Tin Cup” before “Tin Cup” was ever conceived.
It was the 13th hole at Bellerive Country Club, near St. Louis. A long par-3, with water short.
“He hit a 3-iron to the green, it spun backward and went in the water,” David said. “He went to the drop area, hit another shot to the green, it spun backward and went into the water again.
“He missed the cut by one shot.”
George was featured in a Sports Illustrated story, “A Nobody at The Open.” There was a picture of George sitting in the locker room, with Jack Nicklaus standing in the doorway.
“What would have happened if he had made that cut?” David wondered. “He was a committed club pro and dad at home (with five children). He would have been horribly conflicted. Could he have made it as a touring pro? It could have changed our life.”
George was pretty happy with the life he had.