Alcott, Fleisher, Pressel: Don’t Pass Over Jewish Golfers

March 25, 2015

With Passover, Easter, the Masters and the old Dinah Shore tournament coming up quickly, this is as good a time as any to report on something that doesn’t garner much attention, and with good reason: Jewish accomplishment in professional golf.

To generalize, Jews have done well in certain fields. Physics, for instance. (Einstein, Bohr, Oppenheimer.) And comedy. (Benny, Brooks, Seinfeld.) Tom Watson, whose son and daughter from his first wife, Linda Rubin, are Jewish, once pointed out to me that Jews do well in backgammon. Who knew?

With all due respect to Bruce Fleisher, winner of the 1968 U.S. Amateur, professional golf has not been a hotbed of Jewish excellence. Yes, there’s Amy Alcott, the LPGA star and Hall of Famer. But what do you do with Corey Pavin, who grew up Jewish but in his Tour prime became a born-again Christian? Ditto for putting whiz Morris Hatalsky.

I used to wonder about Al Geiberger, until I caddied for him. Nice, nice man. But to cite Adam Sandler, singing about George Steinbrenner: not a Jew. Sandler goes on: “But guess who is? Hall of Famer Rod Carew!”

So where is professional golf’s Rod Carew?

Time will tell, but we may be entering a new Golden Age of Jewish Golfers. I am surprised that Daniel Berger, after his runner-up finish at Honda and that double-eagle he made last week at Bay Hill, has not been vetted by the website Jew or Not Jew. Danny’s father, Jay, the former pro tennis player, was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame just last year. Is Danny Berger Jewish? I don’t know, but he could pass.

There is an LPGA rookie named Laetitia Beck, a Duke grad who wears the Israeli flag (she’s Israeli) not on her sleeve but on her shoes. She had a top 30 in the Australian Open. It’s a start.

Then there’s David Lipsky, a Californian of Korean descent who won the Asian tour’s Order of Merit last year and competed at the World Golf Championship this month at Doral with an American flag next to his name.

Also at Doral, and flying the flag in a manner of speaking at Doral, was Alexander Levy, a Jewish Frenchman who was born in California. Levy won in China and Portugal last year. Talk about your wandering golfer. Naturally, he has a Spanish nickname: El Toro. The Bull. There have been boxers with that nickname, and mobsters. But never a Jewish golfer from France.

Could Lipsky and Levy do for Jewish professional golf what Jonathan Kaye and Skip Kendall did back in the day? Kendall, after all, won four times on the Nationwide tour. He turned 50 last year. Fleisher killed it on the Senior tour. Maybe Kendall will too. In terms of success on the PGA Tour, the gold standard, of course, is Kaye, a two-time winner. Unless you count Pavin.

I once saw Pavin at Hilton Head on an Easter Sunday that overlapped with Passover. I asked him, “Do you accept multiple holiday greetings today?”

“Of course!” he said.

Of course, among current players, the High Priestess of Jewish Golf is now, and has been for a while, Morgan Pressel, niece of tennis player Aaron Krickstein and coached for years by Aaron’s father, Herb, a retired surgeon in Boca Raton, Fla. Pressel was such a dominating junior golfer and she’s been a name in the game for so long that it’s hard to believe she’s only 26 and that she only has two LPGA wins. But that’s two more than any other current Jewish LPGA golfer.

The chances of her catching Amy Alcott — with her 29 LPGA wins — seems slim, to say the least. What a career! Alcott won her first in ’75 and her last in ’91. She didn’t need any help. She was the Golden Age all by herself. She won the Dinah Shore — the Kraft Nabisco, if you must — three times, in ’83, ’88 and ’91. (Of course, Dinah Shore herself was Jewish.) This year, the Kraft Nabisco will be played the week before the Masters. Keep your eye on Laetitia Beck’s shoes.

As for Jewish representation in this year’s Masters, the wait for next year has begun.

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