The era is sadly over when some of America’s best golfers played the game as amateurs, and it was often what these men and women stood for that was as important as the trophies they won. Born in West Virginia, educated at Princeton, Bill Campbell never had the desire to chase the buck. After college and the service, he stayed at home, opened an insurance business, served in the legislature and played golf because he loved playing golf. He played it at the highest level and became one of the game’s most distinguished statesmen.
Only Chick Evans (49) played in the U.S. Amateur more times than Campbell (37), and not even Evans played in 33 consecutively, as Campbell did from 1941-1977. That he finally won it in 1964, at the age of 41, is a testament to the doggedness of his pursuit. He won it just after Jack Nicklaus and Deane Beman turned pro, and just before names such as Bob Murphy, Bruce Fleisher, Steve Melnyk, Lanny Wadkins, Craig Stadler and Jerry Pate came along to snatch the title in the midst of their college careers. The next day he was back in his office.
"There is no other sport like it in the world."
“We hadn’t reached the point yet where the better amateurs would routinely turn pro,” Campbell said. “We weren’t into the college golf syndrome where it was a scholarship leading to the tour. It was just the beginning of that. We had quite a number of people like myself who were fair players, who wanted to play competitive golf but had no intention of being professional golfers. The amateur game was pretty lively without being dominated by college golf. It was a fun thing. You’d run into the same people year after year. You grew older as they did. Over that period of the late ’40s to the late ’60s, I had the pleasure of being a part of that.”
It once was written in Golf Journal that Bill Campbell was a professional at being an amateur golfer, and that sums it up. He was a man who would go to extremes in order not to take advantage of an opponent, but the gentlemen golfer is also the personification of determination. In the 1947 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, he hit his first two drives out of bounds, but chipped in to halve the hole and went on to win the match.
Campbell won 15 West Virginia State Amateur titles, three West Virginia State Opens, the North and South Amateur four times and was undefeated in Walker Cup singles competition, holding a 7-0-1 record in the eight matches he played between 1951 and 1975. That also gives Campbell a unique record: Most Years Between U.S. Walker Cup Selections (24).
Campbell also served as U.S. Golf Association president in 1982-1983 and was the third American nominated to be captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland. When he accepted the position, Campbell wanted to reaffirm the manners that go with golf and remind everyone that it is a game of relationships and of dignity and of self-respect. “It is an honorable game, an honorable institution, if you will, so that people shouldn’t need policemen to keep them straight,” Campbell said. “That goes with being a golfer.”