NCGA Golf

Summer 2019

Issue link: http://www.ncgagolf.com/i/1150688

Contents of this Issue

Navigation

Page 25 of 75

Bate's Boys sense of self-esteem was enhanced. For some that merely added to what was already in place. For those not quite there, the fact that they could do something 95% of those who try can't put them on a firmer, more upright social foun- dation. "Quick story," said Gary Plato, a PGA professional in Northern California since 1967, including at San Jose Country Club. "While a student at San Jose State in my senior year the Al- maden Open was being played. Lucius asked me if I was going to play. I told him I didn't have the $50 entry fee. So Lucius handed me two twenties and a ten and said he wanted me to try to qualify. I did, and was, in fact, the medalist. I didn't play well in the tournament, but I was in with Tony Lema, Billy Casper, Ken Venturi. It was a great experience. That was the kind of man Lucius was. He did this for many others over the years." Not one of Bate's Boys ever paid him for a lesson, or buckets of range balls. "We kids would go play golf with Lucius on Fridays and Saturdays," Plato remem- bered. "We didn't have any money—we got 95 cents an hour for picking up balls— and Lucius would pay for everything. There's no telling how much money he spent out of his pocket to help us kids play golf. I've never seen a man give so much; he was incredible." "Here's how I met him," said Dave Har- ris, a retired PGA pro, who taught the game for over 40 years. "Me and my buddy cut school one day and went down past the driving range. Some of the balls had gotten through the fence, and we threw them back into the range. Bateman comes flying up in his car and says, 'Most kids put them in their pocket. You kids are champions. Get in the car.' He got us some clubs and a bucket of balls and we hit them. I had never hit a golf ball before and got attracted to the game." And he still is, in his 80s. Bateman never married; he lived with his sister, Julia. "He once told me girls take up too much of his time," said Don Bau- com, who was a driver-salesman in the bev- erage industry before becoming a talented golf instructor in his own right, with pupils including PGA Tour multi-million dollar winner Kevin Sutherland. "He chased golf. He was totally addicted to the game." In the early 70s Bateman had two mild strokes, then a big one in 1972 that claimed his life. He was 66. The head teaching pro at Corica Park is Randy Herzberg. He was close to Bateman for many years, and saw to naming the range after Bateman and securing a plaque at its entrance commem- orating his great friend. Bateman didn't think it was fair not being able to join the PGA of America, which had the infamous "Caucasians Only" clause in its constitution from 1934 until 1961. [He was made an honorary member of the Northern California section in 2008.] That also kept him from taking a try at the Tour. "A lot of us thought he could have done OK out there," Baucom said. "He was long enough, very accurate—a little cut was his shot—and he had a fabulous wedge game. But he wasn't confrontational. Charlie Sifford and other talented black golfers were angry and fought the system. That was not Bateman's way." Chapman thought Bateman didn't make waves dealing with this issue be- cause he was "pretty beat up by his expe- rience in the south and had the fear of God in him." There was the lynching of his friend, but Bateman himself came under potential fire. After accidentally bumping his car into that of a white woman, he was surrounded by threatening whites. The police chief knew Bateman, and ordered the crowd to disperse. Harris had another read on Bateman's response to prejudice. "He fought it by doing the right thing," Harris said. "For instance, he would give lessons to the son of the most prejudiced man in the world, but wouldn't hold his father's attitude against the boy. Lucius said he was just going to out-class them. That was his approach. When someone said he was one in a million, he'd deny that and say only that he was different." And special. Indeed. 24 SUMMER 2019 | NCGA.ORG Bateman liked a mid-length backswing, which gave greater consistency in ball striking and accuracy. the driving range and he'd keep an eye on him." So recalled Dick Lotz, a native of Hayward, who was in the second echelon of Bate's Boys to become a successful Tour player; he won three times, and in 1970 was seventh on the official money list. His brother John was on his way to a similar career but died in a fishing accident. "There was a fellow named Phil Torres, who was really rough, the kind of guy you always wanted on your side," recalled Patrick Chapman, a Bateman protégé who would play in the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links champi- onships before making a career in the wine business. "Bateman was the only one who could keep him in line. He gave him some- thing to do and saved him from a potential life of crime. It takes a lot of work to learn how to play golf, and that kept him off the streets." Which speaks to a fascinating aspect of golf, one Bateman may not have articu- lated but understood intrinsically. Golf is the hardest game there is to play well, and by improving their ability to reach that level LARRY TISCORNIA

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of NCGA Golf - Summer 2019