Saturday, April 19, 2014
MANCHESTER -- Dr. Leon Buck remembers the round like it was yesterday.
He was playing in the match play semifinals of the Maine Amateur tournament at the Augusta Country Club and in big trouble.
"I was eight down after 11 holes," Buck recalled.
But after shooting 43 on the front nine, Buck shot 30 on the back to nip his opponent. Later that day he beat Augusta Country Club champion Joe Williamson, 3 and 2, for the Maine Amateur title.
That was 63 years ago and both Buck and the course are both doing fine. Augusta is hosting the Maine Open this week for the 10th time in the tournament's 95-year history while Buck is working the tournament as a rules official at age 97. He worked his first tournament for the Maine State Golf Association as a teenager
"He actually worked the Maine Open when he was 17 or 18," MSGA executive director Nancy Storey said. "He's been working for close to 80 years as a rules official."
Buck's experience isn't limited to Maine. He worked for many years as a rules official for the United States Golf Association, covering tournaments from coast to coast.
"At my expense," Buck said. "When you work for the USGA it's an honor and they make you pay your own way."
Buck was working the sixth and seventh holes during Monday's tournament and recently worked a hole at Augusta during the Maine Amateur. Buck sees his duties as helpful rather than punitive.
"We are out there to help the players, like a state cop," Buck said. "They see rules officials and they tighten up, like when you see a state cop on the side of the road. But a state cop is there to help people. That's what rules officials are for, to help people get around the course without making any violations."
Buck, who lives in Bath, is a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, the Maine Golf Hall of Fame and the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame. A standout athlete at Morse and Bowdoin College, he was recently featured in Bowdoin Magazine in a story of four famed athletes from the classes of 1938 and 1939. He was pictured with one of them, Nels Corey of Gardiner, who at 98 is a year older than Buck.
A back injury took Buck off the golf course a couple of years ago and he generally downplays his playing days, but he could get around the course. He made thousands of friends during his travels around the country, many after retiring his dentistry practice in 1980. One good friend was two-time U.S. Open champion Julius Boros. Buck invited Boros to conduct an exhibition in Bath after he won the U.S. Open in 1963 and they both shot 70. As Buck prepared to putt on the final hole, Boros raised his hand and joked, "I thought this was my exhibition."
Pros today, Buck said, are more serious about their games,
"They don't hang around afterwards and drink like they used to," Buck said.
Buck still drives his car, his boat and for the foreseeable future, his golf cart.
Gary Hawkins -- 621-5638