By Rebecca Chadwell
Jimmie Connolly holds a special place in Austin golf history as the “King” of 1953, where he won 3 major local tournaments in the Men’s City Championship, the Firecracker Open, and the Harvey Penick Invitational, as well as the Texas Amateur Championship.
While Connolly’s prime seems to have been in the early 1950s, his first tournament victory came over 20 years before that when he won the first ever Austin Men’s City Championship in 1928. He ousted Lonnie Hornsby 3 and 2 in the finals to capture the title. One hundred golfers participated in the weeklong event in its inaugural year, a number that has increased to 158 in the 2011 edition of the tournament.
Connolly’s next local tournament victory came in 1950 when he topped Lee Pinkston of Abilene 1-up to win his first Harvey Penick Invitational title. Jimmie was never ahead until he sank a 7-foot putt for par 3 on the 17thhole, and he maintained his slender lead when both he and Pinkston bogied on 18. For the win, Connolly was awarded a $95 set of iron clubs.
The 1950s also saw a rise in golf leagues, the sport’s effort to appeal to a larger mass audience. Leagues generally involved eight teams that played one another in a round-robin format for six months. These teams were often sponsored by a business, though the golfers on the team were not necessarily required to be affiliated with the business. In 1950, the Jimmie Connolly Insurance Agency debuted the new league in Austin in an exhibition match against Dobbins-Campion Lumber Company. Playing for Connolly Insurance were Connolly, Walter Benson, Jr., Raymond Ramsey, and Winston Kinser; for Dobbins-Campion, George Seaholm, Jr., Dudley Kreuger, Carl Gustafson, and Bob Rowley.
Connolly captured his second Harvey Penick title in 1952, and his third in 1953. The win was his fourth straight of the ’53 season, and his third in a year over George McCall, a fellow member at the Austin Country Club. In addition to being a tremendous golfer, McCall also played football at Austin High School and the University of Texas, and served in the United States military as a Navy fighter pilot.
In honor of his impressive victories at the Austin Men’s City Championship, the Firecracker Open, and the Penick, Connolly was dubbed “The King” in 1953. His fourth win that year came by way of the Texas Amateur Golf Tournament.
Harry Gage of the Dallas Morning News nominated Jimmie for the first alternate spot for the amateur squad in the 1953 Texas Cup, a tournament pitting amateurs and professionals against one another in benefit of the Warm Springs Foundation for Crippled Children. Writers across the state each nominated 25 golfers, 15 of which were selected by the Dallas Golf Association, the local tournament host.
In August of 1953, Connolly competed in the state qualifying rounds for the 53rdAnnual National Amateur Golf Tournament in Oklahoma City. He played against 57 fellow golfers, including Howie Johnson, Tommy Cruse, Johnny Garrett, Joe Conrad, and Bob Moncrief, for a total of 8 spots. Though a good experience, Connolly did not advance.
Partnering with three-time Masters Champion and Houstonian Jimmy Demaret, Connolly co-founded the Onion Creek Club in the southeastern suburbs of Austin. The course is often described as flat and natural, and the simple manicure of the grounds has made the historical club a must-play for many Texas golfers. Onion Creek hosted the Legends of Golf tournament from 1978-89.
Jimmie Connolly’s contribution to Austin golf lies in the brilliance of 1953 and his dominance of the local scene. Fondly remembered for this feat, this Austin legend’s status will forever be regal in nature.
AP. (1953, June 12). Texas amateur semi-finals are on tap. Big Spring Daily Herald, p. 12. Retrieved from http://www.bigspringherald.com
Gage, H. (1953, July 26). Amateur pickin’ no easy chore. The Dallas Morning News, p. 5. Retrieved from http://www.dallasnews.com
James Connerly wins golf title. (1928, July 9). The Austin American, p. 7.
The Legends Junior Tour. (n.d.). Ellis leads inaugural Jimmy Demaret Junior Classic. Retrieved from http://www.tljt.org/detail.asp?id=110
United Press. (1953, August 27). 173 Texans to seek spots in tourney. The Brownsville Herald, p. 5. Retrieved from http://www.brownsvilleherald.com
Williams, M. (1950, July 16). Golf can be beautiful–but. The Austin American, p. 20.
Williams, M. (1950, September 3). Connolly edges Pinkston, 1-up. The Austin American, p. 19.
Williams, M. (1953, September 8). Labor Day crown won by Connolly. The Austin American, p. 15.