Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Statue of city's greatest golfer seems natural

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Strange the way fate delivers messages. Recently, I'd been contemplating a column on the legendary, long dead, George Knudson. Then last Thursday, for the second time in a month, he was resurrected in my memory.

I should have known the greatest golfer this province has ever produced was about to be conjured up again when I saw what the man in front of the TV was watching when I arrived at the house of a friend.

The Bombers were playing that night. But the fit-looking, grey-haired man sitting alone in front of it was watching golf. It all made sense after we were introduced. Lorne Rubenstein is the former golf writer for the Globe and Mail. He had travelled from Toronto to be at the funeral earlier in the day of Ruth Rubinstein, the aunt who had helped pre-edit some of his many books on golf. Books such as The Natural Golf Swing, the one he co-wrote with his friend, Knudson.

George Knudson, the kid from St. James, who was 11 when he started caddying at the St. Charles Country Club, and 51 when he died having won eight PGA events; the same number of titles as fellow Canadian Mike Weir. Among those wins were back-to-back events in 1968; the same year he and Al Balding won the World Cup for Canada. The following year, Knudson would finish in a tie for second at the Masters. A few weeks later, I briefly met and wrote about Knudson at St. Charles while he was visiting for a televised appearance on Shell's Wonderful World of Golf.

It was while I was proudly sharing his legend over a game of golf with my son last month that something occurred to me on this, the 25th anniversary of his death. Precious little has been done at St. Charles, or in Winnipeg for that matter, to honour Knudson's memory.

Oh yes, the St. Charles Country Club referenced him in its 100th-anniversary book and has a framed tribute on the wall of the men's locker-room -- not nearly enough to celebrate a local legend of Knudson's calibre.

Which saddens Rubenstein.

Knudson was never a member of the city's most exclusive country club. His family didn't have that kind of money. But as a kid, Knudson hunted for golf balls and lugged clubs for members. As Knudson explained in The Natural Golf Swing, it was the flagpole in front of the clubhouse that helped him take aim at his future on the PGA Tour.

"He talked about it all the time," Rubenstein said.

Back in the day, when Knudson was allowed practise time at St. Charles, the range was positioned so the flag was in view. It was as a junior, trying to find his swing, that he looked at the flag atop the pole and had a stroke of genius. As Rubenstein recalled: "He finally said to himself, 'Enough of this. I'm just going to aim at the flagpole way up there.' "

What that allowed him to do, Rubenstein explained, was to stop thinking about the golf ball and simply swing through to the target.

"He contended that golf wasn't a hit-the-ball game; it was swing your whole body through the ball to the target."

That lead to his theory of the natural swing; the one Knudson dramatically demonstrated when he shot 67 at Glen Abbey while playing blindfolded.

It was that natural golf swing by a natural golfer that would later make him known to some as the best tee-to-green golfer of his time.

"And he credits that St. Charles flagpole, that Canadian flag, with giving him the foundation of what he came to understand as the fundaments of the golf swing," said Rubenstein.

Knudson would play only enough tournaments to earn the money he needed that year. His wife and three boys back in Toronto, where he moved as a 21-year-old, were more important than the tour.

Rubenstein said his friend had a lot of insightful sayings about golf.

"Never do anything at the expense of balance," was one of them.

He wasn't just talking about swinging the golf club. He meant balance in life, too.

But in 1988, just after they signed their book deal, while Rubenstein was covering the U.S. Open in San Francisco, he received a phone message.

Knudson, the heavy smoker, had been diagnosed with lung cancer. They finished the book together. Knudson died just after it was published.

Recently, I was thinking about meaningful ways we could honour his memory and accomplishments. Maybe the City of Winnipeg could consider giving Country Club Boulevard -- the road that leads to the St. Charles club -- the honorary name of George Knudson Way. It was, after all, the road that showed him the way to the course where he discovered the game.

But I would hope the membership at St. Charles would be moved to do more. There are statues of deer on the lawn near theflagpole that inspired our greatest golfer. It seems to me that George Knudson is more deserving of a statue there than Bambi.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2014 B1


Updated on Thursday, August 14, 2014 at 10:22 AM CDT: corrects typos

August 15, 2014 at 12:54 PM: Corrects reference to Al Balding

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