The Western Pennsylvania Golf Association’s Hall of Fame Committee has selected seven outstanding players and personalities for this year’s class at their May 21 meeting. Eben Byers, Bobby Cruickshank, Donald “Doc” Giffin, Sean Knapp, Judy Oliver, Sam Parks and Nathan Smith make up the Class of 2015. The induction dinner will be held at Chartiers Country Club on October 14.
Eben Byers (1881-1932) was the area’s first USGA champion winning the 1906 U.S. Amateur at Englewood Golf Club in New Jersey. He was also runner-up in 1902 & 1903 and advanced to the semi-finals in 1907 – thus reaching at least the semis four times in six years. Byers qualified for every U.S. Amateur but one from 1900-1919 and he reached the round of sixteen on ten different occasions. His most famous match in the U.S. Amateur may have taken place at Merion Golf Club in 1916 when he lost to a fourteen year-old Bob Jones 3 and 1 in the first round. Locally Byers won six West Penn Amateurs and two West Penn Opens, winning both titles in 1905. His West Penn Amateur victory total is exceeded only by William C. Fownes, Jr. with eight (Inaugural Class of 2013)and Sean Knapp with seven (Class of 2015).
Bobby Cruickshank (1894-1975) was an outstanding player and club professional for three decades before leaving Virginia to accept the position at Chartiers Country Club in 1949 at age 55. He promptly won the Tri-State PGA Section Championship in 1949 and 1950. He set the course record in 1952 at Chartiers with 63. Cruickshank also excelled as a senior and won the PGA of America’s 70-75 age group national title in 1964. He was a highly regarded teacher whose pupils included Phyllis Semple and her daughter Carol Semple Thompson. A native Scot, Cruickshank was runner-up in the U.S. Open Championship in 1923, where he lost to Bob Jones in a playoff, and also in 1932. He tied for 3rd in 1934 U.S. Open at Merion and finished in a tie for 14th at Oakmont Country Club in the 1935 U.S. Open when Sam Parks won. Cruickshank reached the semi-finals in two PGA Championships in 1922 and 1923 when the championship was match play (1916-1959) and finished tied for sixth in the 1929 British Open Championship. He was the PGA Tour’s leading money winner in 1927. Nationwide he won more than 25 tournaments, including state open championships in New York, Colorado, Texas, and Virginia. Cruickshank retired from Chartiers in 1967.
Donald W. “Doc” Giffin, a native of Crafton near Pittsburgh, began his career as a sportswriter for the Pittsburgh Press in the 1950s after serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. At the Press he worked with gifted writers and colorful personalities like Beano Cook, Myron Cope and Bob Drum. With Drum’s urging, Giffin accepted the job of Press Secretary for the PGA Tour in 1962. He left the Tour in 1966 to begin working for Arnold Palmer as his personal assistant. He has handled the human details behind the projects and activities integral to the Arnold Palmer brand. He organizes activities for Palmer such as the numerous autograph requests. Among the awards he has received are this year’s William D. Richardson Award, presented during The Masters Tournament by the Golf Writers Association of America. This year he will receive the Journalism Award at The Memorial, the PGA Tour event held at Muirfield Golf Club, Dublin, Ohio, hosted by Jack Nicklaus. Giffin is also a member of the Tri-State PGA Section’s Hall of Fame.
Sean Knapp has been at or near the top of amateur golf in the area for almost thirty years. He has been the Association’s Player of Year fourteen times and has won 35 Association championships. His 18 individual titles and 17 partners’ victories are more than any player in Association history, and include six straight West Penn Amateurs from 1998-2003 and sixteen Fred Brand Foursomes titles with three different partners. He also won the 1997 Pennsylvania Amateur and has recorded several top finishes in the Sunnehanna Amateur held annually at Sunnehanna Country Club in Johnstown, including a runner-up in 1994.
Knapp’s stellar mid-am record is highlighted by victories in five Pennsylvania Middle-Amateurs and seven West Penn Mid-Amateurs. His U.S. Mid-Amateur record is equally impressive. His 36-hole medalist score of 135 in 1989 stood as the scoring record for more than a decade. A perennial match play qualifier in the U.S. Mid-Am for twenty years, Knapp reached the semi-finals in 2008 & 2010 and the quarter-finals in 1989 and 1998. Knapp’s USGA record is highlighted by either qualifying for or receiving exemptions into 40 USGA championships including the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur, U.S. Amateur Public Links, and U.S. Senior Open. He advanced to the quarter-finals in the 1998 U.S. Amateur at Oak Hill Country Club near Rochester, NY, and made the cut in the 2013 U.S. Senior Open at Indianwood Golf & Country Club north of Detroit where he played the third round with Tom Watson. He teamed with Nathan Smith and Mike VanSickle while representing Pennsylvania when the trio won the 2009 USGA State Team Championship, his only USGA title.
Judy Oliver (1947-2002) grew up playing golf at Fox Chapel Golf Club with her mother Evelyn Moreland, an outstanding player in her own right. Oliver was runner-up in the 1978 U.S. Women’s Amateur and reached the quarterfinals in 1975. She also qualified for several U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur and U.S. Senior Women’s Amateurs. Oliver won four Women’s Golf Association of Western Pennsylvania championships and four Pennsylvania Women’s Golf Association titles. She also won the prestigious 1974 Broadmoor and 1976 Eastern Invitationals. She played on the 1978, 1980, and 1982 Curtis Cup teams, and the 1978 Women’s World Amateur team. She captained the 1992 Curtis Cup team and was Honorary Captain of the 2002 Curtis Cup team at her beloved Fox Chapel, where her friend Carol Semple Thompson sank a birdie putt on the 18th hole to clinch the American team’s victory. Oliver served on the USGA Women’s Committee from 1994-2000.
Sam Parks (1909-1997) surprised the golf world when, as the golf professional at South Hills Country Club, won the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont defeating the likes of Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Henry Picard, Horton Smith, Bobby Cruickshank, and Craig Wood. As a youngster at Highland Country Club, he took lessons from Gene Sarazen during Sarazen’s brief stay at Highland. Parks won the 1926 West Penn Junior. While a student at the University of Pittsburgh, he was influential in the Panthers starting their varsity golf program. His amateur career included a runner-up finish in the 1931 North & South Amateur. After his U.S. Open title, he won both the West Penn Open and Tri-State Section championships in 1940. He won two more Section championships, then left the golf business in 1942 to accept a job with US Steel. He later became a member at Oakmont in 1947. Parks was a volunteer chair for scoring during the 1962 U.S. Open and 1969 U.S. Amateur, both at Oakmont. He attended the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont as a special guest of the club.
After an outstanding college career at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA, Nathan Smith first made his major mark in amateur golf when he won the 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Wilmington Country Club. He won three more U.S. Mid-Amateurs in 2009, 2010 & 2012, equaling Carol Semple Thompson’s achievement of winning four U.S. Senior Women’s Championships. He was also a member of the winning Pennsylvania team along with Sean Knapp and Mike VanSickle in the 2009 USGA State Team Championship. Last summer, he reached the quarter-finals in the U.S. Amateur at Atlanta Athletic Club, his best national amateur showing. This spring he won the inaugural U.S. Four-Ball Championship at The Olympic Club in San Francisco with Walker Cup teammate Todd White. His six USGA championships are only exceeded locally by Carol Semple-Thompson’s seven. Smith has played on three Walker Cup teams in 2009, 2011 and 2013. Locally he has been the Association’s Player of the Year six times. Smith has won 23 WPGA conducted events including four straight Amateurs from 2007-2010, seven Spring Stroke Play titles and six Fred Brand Foursomes all with Sean Knapp. He has also won the 2002 and 2009 Pennsylvania Amateurs. When he won the 2011 Sunnehanna Amateur at Sunnehanna, he became the first area golfer to win this highly regarded championship.