From the Golf Journal Archives - My Year as Amateur Champion

Aug 26, 2011

Nathaniel Crosby has spent a busy year since winning the championship in San Francisco — and a thoughtful year as well.

By Nathaniel Crosby with Michael Dann

(Note: This article originally appeared in the August 1982 issue of Golf Journal.)

GOLF MEANT a great deal to my father, and since winning the U.S. Amateur last September at The Olympic Club, in San Francisco, Calif., I have been better able to understand just how much it did mean to him.

My life has been changed by winning the Amateur. For one thing, it is more hectic and varied because of more demands on my time. What is even more important, that victory in San Francisco has changed my attitude.

My attitude on the golf course is somewhat similar to Ben Crenshaw’s, and it is probably even more closely aligned with the personality of Mark O’Meara (a current professional who was the 1979 U.S. Amateur champion). We are jovial and lively on the golf course. We take the game seriously, but not too much so. Golf is a game to respect, but not to take too seriously. This attitude is easier to live with as the Amateur champion, too. I am not so quick to note how badly I might play at times, and others are not so hasty to point out my bad play.

Winning also means something to me as a golfer – and as a Crosby. Everyone in our family has been successful. We are expected to perform well, and that factor is a strong force. When parents expect a great deal from their children – as mine have – the children perform better.

My victory in the U.S. Amateur, perhaps more than anything else, has given me a different perspective of amateur golf. I love it, as many other players do, too, but if I turn professional after college, I will do so only to develop my game further. That is why Hal Sutton (the 1980 U.S. Amateur champion) became a professional.

Hal and I could afford to remain amateurs and enjoy the game as so many players do through college. Yet, amateur golf today – and I’m talking of its many competitive levels, whether in college or in summer tournaments – is really the minor league for professional golf, except for perhaps a dozen or so amateur players. More and more young amateurs become professionals for financial reasons. They simply can’t maintain their competitive skills and remain amateurs.

I am well off financially, which puts me far ahead of the next player of equal talent. My position increases my potential. I think the Rules of Amateur Status should be relaxed.

A YEAR AGO, before the 1981 Amateur, things were going so badly for me that I often asked myself whether I had a future in golf. I had been sick through much of the year before the Amateur, and I had surgery in the spring of the year. My endurance was low. In tournaments where I had to play a second round during the day, I had no energy and no drive for the afternoon round.

In August, the Walker Cup Match was played at the Cypress Point Club, 100 miles south of my home in Hillsborough, Calif. I dearly wanted to play; an invitation to represent my country in the Walker Cup Match has been a goal for three years. I knew I had the game to win if I could put everything together. I had reached the quarterfinals of the North and South and the Trans-Mississippi tournaments; however, my victory did not come before the United States Team was selected, so I watched the Walker Cup Match as a spectator.

The significance of this Match struck me during the opening ceremonies – the band, the colors, the anthems, I became involved vicariously, and I think that that may have contributed to my incentive during the Amateur the following week. When you think about it, I made what would have been a qualifying berth for the Walker Cup Match one week too late.

I approached the Amateur Championship knowing I was capable of winning. It is my motivation in golf, and I fulfilled that motivation by winning for the first time at a national level.

I AM NOT overly concerned about critics who ask whether my U.S. Amateur triumph was a fluke. I am 20 years old, and I have a good golf record. I was one of five players to win the Amateur at 19. I was co-medalist at the U.S. Junior Amateur (in 1979, at the Moss Creek Golf Club, at Hilton Head Island, S.C., he and Rick Fehr, of Seattle, Wash., had 148s), and I have played well in other tournaments, including the U.S. Open in June, where I was low amateur. (He was one of two amateurs to survive the cut, and finished with 303, one stroke ahead of fellow amateur Corey Pavin.)

When I compare my record to the golf goals I had set to reach by the age of 20, I am pleased. In fact, I have had to re-establish my goals; I want to become more consistent each year, and an immediate goal is to approach this year’s Amateur at The Country Club with more confidence than I had last year.

Beyond three more years at the University of Miami, to earn my degree in political science, I have made no decisions about my future. I would like to play for the United States in the World Amateur Team Championship this year in Lausanne, Switzerland, an area I haven’t visited, and I’d like to play in the Walker Cup Match next year, at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, in England. I would like to represent my country in such competitions.

I may have ambitions to become a professional player, but that is at least three years away, I have those years in school to prepare myself for a possible Tour career. I can measure and evaluate my game and my experiences before making such a decision.

I think a transition period is needed, because getting ready for a collegiate or amateur event is different from preparing for a Tour event. I have a tendency to over-practice for the latter; others I’ve talked to have said the same thing.

I WAS OVER PREPARED and over-practiced for the Masters, in April, and I learned from that experience. A player has to be sharp every week. I have much more admiration now for a player such as Tom Kite, who maintains such a high level of play week after week.

At Augusta, I was more nervous during the practice rounds because I had never before played in front of 30,000 people. Although I shot 85 and 78, and I can count only one nine-hole stretch where I played well, the Masters was a marvelous experience. For one thing, I was paired with Tom Watson, who is all the more impressive as a person and a player when one plays with him in a tournament.

I am often asked whether I have any interest in the entertainment field. With so many Crosbys in entertainment, I can understand the curiosity. I am not really interested, but I will not say that I would turn down an opportunity.

For the moment, I have much more golf experience to gain. The Amateur Championship means a great deal to me personally as a developing player and as an accomplishment for a career just beginning.

Throughout last year’s Amateur, I wore the medallion my father had received for qualifying to play in the 1941 U.S. Amateur, and my mother followed me during each of my matches – in fact, she has followed me in each of the two tournaments I’ve won, the Amateur and a collegiate event in Las Vegas.

Perhaps I played well because it was expected of me. Thinking about it now, I guess I should persuade my mother to be a spectator more often.

The 2011 U.S. Amateur is being contested Aug. 22-28 at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. For more information about the championship, visit the U.S. Amateur section of the USGA website.

A student at the University of Miami, Crosby played in the NCAA Championship at the Pinehurst Country Club in North Carolina. (USGA Museum)