The Tatum Touch – Sandy was a Dandy

2019 US Open - Pebble Beach Golf Links

Golf as a sport has provided a number of memorable quotes over the years from the leading figures in the game.

Who can forget such classic comments as when Bobby Jones said of Jack Nicklaus during his 1965 win at the Masters, “He plays a game with which I am not familiar.” Or the comment from Ben Hogan upon winning the 1951 US Open — “I am glad I brought this course (Oakland Hills South) — this monster — to its knees.” Or the more recent from Ben Crenshaw’s press conference on the eve of the 1999 singles matches at the Ryder Cup at The Country Club — “I’m going to leave y’all with one thought. I’m a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this.” The American team would rally the next day from four points behind to claim the cup.

The Tatum Touch – Sandy was a Dandy - 2019 US Open - Pebble Beach Golf Links
Frank D. Tatum, Jr. (Sandy Tatum), USGA President in 1976 – 1977. Photo by Gabriel Moulin Studios. Copyright Unknown/Courtesy USGA Archives

No less memorable a quote comes from a man who’s impact on the game — and most notably with this week’s US Open at Pebble Beach will be clearly missed since his passing June 22, 2017 at age 96.

Frank “Sandy” Tatum was chairman of the championship committee for the USGA in 1974 and at that time preparing Winged Foot / West for the US Open. Numerous players were bemoaning the manner by which the golf course was set-up for the event and many opined the USGA was simply out to embarrass them given the high scores posted after the 1st round and as retribution for the final round 63 posted by Johnny Miller when winning at Oakmont a tear earlier. Tatum’s retort was brilliant for its directness and in stating the essential core of what the US Open is about.

“We’re not trying to humiliate the best players in the world.
We’re simply trying to identify who they are.”

But the fullness of Tatum’s intersection with golf goes far beyond that memorable comment — albeit etched forever in the annals of golf. The return to Pebble Beach for the 6th time since 1972 is a testament to Tatum’s resolve that the national championship of American golf needed to move beyond the old-line tony private clubs in the Northeast and Midwest. Areas of the country which had long held a virtual monopoly in hosting the US Open since its creation in 1895.

Tatum’s roots were in the San Francisco Bay Area and his involvement in golf goes back to his early days when he led Stanford to consecutive national collegiate titles in 1941-42. He also won the individual NCAA golf crown in 1942. His academic side was no less impressive having attended Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and earning his JD degree from Stanford in 1950. In sum — you are talking about a man capable in playing the game at a high level and possessing an intellect and passion of even greater depth.

Sandy was one of the leading voices in getting the USGA to bring the national championship of American golf to California for just the second time after being hosted by Riviera in 1948. The Olympic Club would host the US Open in 1955 with subsequent returns in 1966, 1987, 1998 and 2012.

But it was Tatum’s active efforts in advocating the selection of Pebble beach for the 1972 US Open that truly changed the conversation. No course open to the public had ever hosted the US Open to that point in time. Pebble Beach showed itself well and had the good fortune in having the game’s premier player at that time — Jack Nicklaus — win his 3rd Open and clinching it with an epic 1-iron approach to the devilish par-3 17th. Now the combination of the US Open and Pebble Beach seems like a no-brainer but it took some strong arm twisting then from key influential people to make that happen. The Tatum touch was certainly front and center.

The Tatum Touch – Sandy was a Dandy - 2019 US Open - Pebble Beach Golf Links
Photo Credit TGO Photography

Beyond his involvement with the USGA and the US Open there were other initiatives that drove Sandy. He strongly pushed for the renovation of a dilapidated Harding Park Golf Course. The former shining star of public golf for San Francisco had seen its best days but it was Tatum who spearheaded an effort to bring the course back to life. His efforts resurrected a layout many feared would never be more than its past headlines. TPC Harding Park has now hosted several key professional events and will reach an even higher heights when hosting the PGA Championship in 2020 and serving as host again for The President’s Cup for a second time in 2025.

Tatum’s likely lasting legacy will be in his efforts to get a broader range of young people into golf as a lifelong game of enjoyment– not just those coming from families with high amount of disposable income. He played a key role in the establishment of a First Tee chapter in San Francisco and led an effort through the Northern California Golf Association — called “Sandy’s Circle” — to help fund the Youth on Course subsidized round program in 2007.

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Amazingly, Sandy had time to get involved with course development with long time golf companion and close friend Tom Watson when the two joined up with architect Robert Trent Jones II to create The Links at Spanish Bay in Pebble Beach. It was Tatum and Watson who enjoyed annual golf pilgrimages to Ireland and through these journeys is where Tom freely admits his love for links golf took permanent hold.

Given his overall standing and station in life it would have been easy for Tatum who belonged to both the San Francisco GC and Cypress Point, two of golf’s most hallowed locations, to have simply resided in the shadows and let someone else do the heavy lifting.

The Tatum touch was not about resting on one’s laurels but trying to take his passion for the game to others who may never have been exposed to it. 

The Tatum Touch – Sandy was a Dandy - 2019 US Open - Pebble Beach Golf Links
Frank “Sandy” Tatum shown in the officials cart during a U.S. Open golf tournament. Copyright USGA

When I think of Sandy Tatum the quote from George Bernard Shaw rings true. “You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and say “Why not?”

The Tatum touch impacted the game on so many different levels. With the focus set for Pebble Beach this week  it’s amusing to read the comments from millionaires who play professional golf react viscerally via social media and other platforms on how badly the USGA handles its responsibilities for the US Open. There’s no question that over the last several years there have been glaring fumbles whether on site selection, rules imbroglios or how courses such as Shinnecock Hills were prepared for last year’s championship. But isn’t it time to for those who are vociferously moaning and groaning to suck it up and show some real grit with their games instead of their texting?

The timing for Pebble Beach’s host duties this year can clearly be the vehicle to resurrect an event’s reputation in the manner that Tatum described so eloquently back in 1974. The track record of Pebble has produced winners with the last names of Nicklaus, Watson and Woods. That’s a trifecta no other US Open venue can surpass and it’s one the USGA needs to bring to the forefront.

The Tatum Touch – Sandy was a Dandy - 2019 US Open - Pebble Beach Golf Links
Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the seventh hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Frank “Sandy” Tatum will not be present physically this week at Pebble Beach but you can say with certainty his spirit will be there. His understanding of what golf can be on so many different levels is a voice that needs to be both remembered and nurtured for others to do similarly. The relevance of the US Open and golf in general are two mega issues the Tatum touch helped immensely.  The challenge is to emulate the unwavering zest for the game he loved so deeply and to do so in a series of ways and on a range of levels.

If that were to happen you can be sure that somewhere watching is a man smiling in knowing he played a key role in making the game better than he found it. 

While Tatum might cringe in being given such reverence for what he did for golf it’s no stretch to say Sandy was indeed dandy.

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