NCGA Golf

Summer 2019

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extra money this way," Bateman told Golf Digest for a 1965 profile. "But more impor- tantly, I was able to listen to Mr. Saunders give lessons and I learned a lot about golf." Still, when the time came he knew he had to leave. Bateman was a good athlete. He had a knack for golf from the beginning – as a late teenager setting the course record at Edgewater with a 69. In Oakland, he began to play regularly at the Alameda public course (now Corica Park). He set more course records and was otherwise noticed for a quiet, trustworthy demeanor. All of which led to an offer he couldn't refuse. Rig Ballard ran the Airway Fairways driving range on Doolittle Avenue, where a Hilton Hotel now stands. Ballard didn't care to handle day-to-day operations. He knew of Bateman from his play at Alameda, but more to the point his character, and hired him as his handyman. Soon after Bateman was the de facto general manager. Bateman began giving lessons, at first via Saturday morning clinics to local Alameda schoolboys. So many of them showed striking improvement that their mothers got the word and went themselves for lessons with the black man at Airway Fairways. They liked Bateman for his calm and polite manner, and all the more so be- cause he improved their game. When kids— all of them Bate's Boys—playing on the Alameda High School golf teams took over domination from perennial champion Piedmont High, Bateman's reputation spread across the Bay Area wide. That's when the legend, and the legacy began. If it can be said a man's golf swing re- flects his personality, perhaps even his view of life and how to live it, Bateman was the paradigm. He believed in a compact, three- quarter length backswing and quiet wrists. It was a conservative way given to greater consistency and accuracy, and a departure from the chancier long backswing (shaft parallel at the top), and wristy, leggy action that was common into the 1950s. Bateman was a promoter of the shortish, tighter swing we began to see in Ben Hogan after his highway accident, and later Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo, Nick Price and many others. Bateman's first notable student suc- cesses on a national level were Don Whitt and John McMullin. The latter had been playing the game only a year or so when he began with Bateman. A year later, he won the 1953 NCGA Junior championship and eventually a Tour title. Whitt had a better overall record. In 1958-59, he won four times on the Tour and went to the semifinals in the 1957 PGA Championship. But the most spectacu- lar of Bate's Boys in this period (and in all) was Tony Lema. From 1962 until his death in a plane crash in July '66, Lema won 12 tournaments NCGA.ORG | SUMMER 2019 23 LARRY TISCORNIA on the Tour, and had 11 seconds. He won the 1964 British Open by five shots over Jack Nicklaus. Others around the Bay Area would claim credit for Lema's rise as a champion, but Lema himself always said it was Bateman who was responsible. And whenever he came to the Bay Area Lema, who was inducted into the NCGA Hall of Fame in 2018, stopped by to visit his mentor. This relationship writes large the other side of the Bateman story. Lema grew up in San Leandro and was a wild kid whose father had died when he was three. He drank a lot, was a truant, got in trouble otherwise. Bateman was his surrogate dad and moral center. "At first I didn't think he was going to be a very good golfer," Bateman told Golf Digest. "He didn't seem to have much talent, but he was a fighter." Interestingly, Lema did not exactly replicate his mentor's swing concept. It's the mark of a good golf teacher. He was not a 'my-way-or-the-highway' guy. If a stu- dent showed good stuff with his technique, Bateman went with the flow and maybe did some tweaks; he adjusted Lema's grip to ward off a hook, and corrected his align- ment. But it was his spiritual guidance that won the day for Lema and all the others. "If one of his kids ended up in Juvenile Hall for some trouble he got into Lucius would see the counselor and vouch for him, saying he'd give the kid a job working at GOLF DIGEST RESOURCE CENTER

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