Charles Coody reflects on career, love for golf
Charles Coody says he still remembers it as if it were yesterday. His uncle, Roland Kelley, took the aspiring young golfer from West Texas to Fort Worth to see Ben Hogan play in the Colonial National Invitational golf tournament in 1950 at Colonial Country Club.
Hogan, a native Texan and one of only five players to win all four of golf’s major championships, was still recovering from a near-fatal car accident in 1949 so after he hit a few practice shots before the first round, he decided to withdraw from the tournament. Coody did, however, get to watch Hogan practice.
“Did you have fun?” his mother, Ruby, asked Charles upon his return home to Stamford after watching Sam Snead win the tournament.
“I know now what I’m going to do in life,” the 12-year-old Charles told his mother. “I’m going to be a pro golfer.”
Coody said his mother made him promise he first would graduate from college. “And I fulfilled that promise to her,” he added.
“I decided very early that’s what I wanted to do,” Coody continued. “Fortunately, I was able to do it. I didn’t do too bad; wish I could have done better.”
Certainly, he “didn’t do too bad.” Coody – a graduate of Stamford High School and Texas Christian University and an Abilene resident since 1968 – won the Texas high school Class A medalist title in 1954; was Texas Amateur champion in 1959 while playing for the TCU Horned Frogs; turned professional in 1963 after serving in the U.S. Air Force; outdueled Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller to win the 1971 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club; played on a winning U.S. team at the Ryder Cup; and posted victories on the PGA, European and Senior PGA tours.
The 1971 Masters was his only major title, but he asks, “If you’re going to win only one tournament, which one would you like to win?” Coody’s answer to his own question: the Masters.
“It’s the pinnacle,” he said. “That’s how the tournament is revered.”
“The thing about winning at Augusta,” he told reporters in 2012, “is that people always remember. They might not remember the year, but they always remember your name, that you’re a Masters champion. And that’s an indescribable feeling.”
Coody played in 24 consecutive Masters tournaments from 1968 through 1991 and in 38 of 39 Masters tournaments through 2006 when he retired from playing the Masters. (He missed the 1992 tournament with a pinched nerve in his neck.) He still attends the Champions Dinner each Tuesday of Masters week and occasionally has accepted the invitation of Augusta chairman Billy Payne to play a round on Sunday from members tees as Masters week begins.
“Just being out there brings back vivid memories,” Coody said.
And he has a green jacket hanging in Champions Locker Room. Only once – the first year – was he permitted to bring his jacket home, and he took advantage of the opportunity to have his now-famous portrait photograph made attired in Masters Green – the sport’s most iconic article of clothing. The jackets are reserved for Augusta members and Masters champions, and taking jackets off the grounds is prohibited unless you are the most recent champion. They get to wear the green jackets only when they return to Augusta.
Coody almost won a green jacket two years prior, in 1969. He was leading with three holes to play in the final round Sunday (eight-under par), but he bogeyed all three holes to finish two shots behind George Archer (the winner at seven-under par) in fifth place. Billy Casper, George Knudson and Tom Weiskopf each finished at six-under par.
“I had a chance to win,” Coody remembers. “I just didn’t pull it off. I lost my focus.”
He had turned in a two-over 74 to start the 1969 tournament, but he climbed into contention with rounds of 68 Friday and 69 Saturday before finishing with even-par 72 Sunday for a total of 283 behind Archer’s 281.
He finished 12th at Augusta the following year, and then came his triumph at the age of 33.
In 1971 he traveled to Augusta, Georgia, with his wife, Lynette, and three other couples from Abilene. They had a lot to talk about the first night in their rent house a few miles from the golf course after the opening round because Coody started with a six-under 66.
But he followed that with one-over 73 Friday and two-under 70 Saturday to bring the field closer. He and Nicklaus were tied at 209 (seven-under par) after 54 holes to start Sunday’s final round.
“Everybody, including me, figured Jack would win,” Coody said. Nicklaus already had three Masters titles by then and later would win three more.
“You had the feeling that if you could beat Jack at Augusta, you could win the whole thing,” Coody told reporters in 2011. “He could reach all of the par 4s and 5s. It almost put the course at a par-68 for him as opposed to a par-72 for everyone else.”
Today Coody admits, “I never thought twice about Johnny Miller.”
Nicklaus immediately took the lead Sunday with a birdie on the first hole, but Coody responded with birdie on No. 2. The co-leaders were still tied (eight-under for the tournament) after Sunday’s first nine holes.
That’s when the 23-year-old Miller – who had turned pro two years earlier and was playing in his first Masters as a professional – got hot. He started the day at 213 (three-under par), then he played the front nine in three-under with birdies on 3, 4 and 8 to get to within two shots of the co-leaders. On the back nine, Miller birdied 11, 12 and 14 and held a two-shot lead over Coody and Nicklaus after 14 holes.
Nicklaus played par golf over the last seven holes, and Miller bogeyed 16 and 18. Coody recovered from a bogey on No. 14 with birdies on 15 and 16 (with a clutch 15-foot putt) and pars on 17 and 18 to leave the final green as the champion after his last putt from a foot away. He scored 279 (nine-under par), and Nicklaus and Miller tied for second with seven-under 281.
With a slight grin on his face, Coody said, “I beat a couple of blond-headed guys.”
His crucial back-to-back birdies on 15 and 16 provided Coody with his final two-stroke advantage over Nicklaus and Miller and delivered the biggest win of his career. He learned lessons of club selection in 1969 that aided him in 1971. Now with the lead walking to the No. 17 tee box, he thought, “My concentration had been excellent. There was no doubt about the clubs I was hitting.
“One shot at a time,” he continued. “Stay in the moment. I didn’t want to be totally conservative, but not overly aggressive.”
He saved par on No. 17 when he used a seven-iron to hit over a tree limb to within 10 feet of the green. He told a reporter in 2016, “That could be the greatest golf shot I ever hit.”
Photographs from that Sunday afternoon, April 11, 1971, show Coody after that final putt holding the ball high above his head with a big smile on his face.
Coody was also smiling earlier that day after his caddie, Walter “Cricket” Pritchett, asked him when television coverage would begin. Probably by No. 11, Coody said. “Definitely by 12.” (Television coverage was not as extensive in 1971 as it is today.)
Coody was curious about his caddie’s question. As it turned out, a few days earlier, Cricket had told his supervisor in Atlanta, where he drove a MARTA bus, that he needed to go to Houston to see his ailing grandmother. Instead, he went to Augusta to earn extra money as a caddie.
With his golfer in contention for the Masters title, Cricket’s plot risked exposure Didn’t he consider that possibility, Coody wondered.
“I didn’t expect you to play this good,” Cricket said. He draped a towel over his head and under his cap, but his disguise didn’t work.
“Cricket,” Coody said, “you’re not going to fool anyone.” The incident served to relax Coody. “It was good humor,” he added.
When Cricket returned to work Monday, his supervisor said, “You had a nice week, didn’t you, Cricket?”
Cricket later caddied for Coody again, including several times on the Senior PGA tour, and he was named to the Caddie Hall of Fame. He died in 2018 at the age of 75 in Huntsville, Alabama.
Coody’s other wins on the PGA regular tour were the Dallas Open in 1964 and the Cleveland Open in 1969. He played for the winning U.S. team in the Ryder Cup at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis in 1971with Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, captain Jay Hebert and eight other American golfers. He won twice in 1973 on the European tour at Wills Open in England and John Player Classic in Scotland.
He began playing on the Senior PGA tour in 1987 and won five times in 1989, 1990, 1991 (twice) and 1996. Coody’s other wins include the World Series of Golf in 1971 and the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf with his friend and fellow PGA golfer Dale Douglass in 1990 and 1994.
Family & Background
Coody was born July 13, 1937, in Stamford while his father Richard was coaching in nearby Rule. Richard served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II so young Charles attended first grade in three states – New York, Mississippi and Texas. He went to second and third grades in Avoca, where his mother taught, before enrolling in Stamford, where he graduated in 1955.
He played football and basketball for legendary coach Gordon Wood, earned honorable mention all-state as a quarterback in football and all-state in basketball, led the Bulldog golf team to the 1954 Class A state championship as a junior for principal/coach John Dyer, and also played in state golf tournaments in 1953 and 1955. (Wood’s SHS football team won state in 1955 and 1956 after Coody graduated – the first two of Wood’s nine championships.)
He held the Texas high school record of 67-72-139 for 36 holes for many years until it was broken by Ben Crenshaw. After winning the team title in 1954, the Bulldogs lost by one stroke to Waxahachie in 1955 in Coody’s senior season.
Coody says he excelled in athletics at SHS despite his lack of speed. His dad once told him, “Charles, you need to move a little quicker.” Charles answered, “Dad, I’m going as fast as I can.”
After considering University of Texas for college, he enrolled at TCU and played both basketball for legendary coach Buster Brannon and golf as a freshman before deciding to concentrate on golf. He lettered three years in 1957-59 in golf and graduated in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in business. He served three years in the U.S. Air Force before moving to Fort Worth and joining the PGA tour in 1963. He and Lynette have three children.
Their son, Kyle, played collegiate golf for the Texas Longhorns, and Kyle’s twin sons Parker and Pierceson are current Longhorn golfers after starring at Plano West High School. They played in the NCAA national tournament as nineteen-year-old freshmen in 2019. Kyle’s older sister, Caryn Hill, resides in Fort Worth, and his younger sister, Kristyn Aguero, resides in Hewitt.
Coody is a member of the Texas Golf Hall of Fame, Texas Sports Hall of Fame, Big Country Athletics Hall of Fame, and Gordon Wood Hall of Champions. He has supported TCU athletics, has been a football and basketball season ticket holder, and is a member of the TCU Hall of Fame.
Abilene Life & Golf
Coody helped develop Abilene’s Fairway Oaks Golf and Racquet Club and served as its director of golf. He later helped design and develop Diamondback National Golf Club, which opened in 1999 with Coody as its owner.
“It was my goal to build a public golf facility that is always maintained in excellent condition and one which could be enjoyed by all levels of golfers,” he said of Diamondback. “I believe we are accomplishing that goal.”
He also believes he had a decent career. “I won at Augusta,” he said. “That’s a pretty good career.”