Tony Lema

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Tony Lema
Tony Lema-3.jpg
Lema holding the Claret Jug
after his 1964 Open Championship
Personal information
Full nameAnthony David Lema
NicknameChampagne Tony
Born(1934-02-25)February 25, 1934
Oakland, California
DiedJuly 24, 1966(1966-07-24) (aged 32)
Lansing, Illinois
NationalityFlag of the United States.svg  United States
SpouseElizabeth R. "Betty" Cline
Turned professional1955
Former tour(s) PGA Tour
Professional wins22
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour12
Best results in major championships
(wins: 1)
Masters Tournament 2nd: 1963
PGA Championship T9: 1964
U.S. Open T4: 1966
The Open Championship Won: 1964

Anthony David Lema (February 25, 1934 – July 24, 1966) was an American professional golfer who rose to fame in the mid-1960s and won a major title, the 1964 Open Championship at the Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland. [1] [2] [3] He died two years later at age 32 in an aircraft accident near Chicago. [4] [5]


Early life

Born in Oakland, California, Lema's parents were Anthony H. Lema (1899–1937) and Clotilda M. Lema, née Silva (1910–2000), both of Portuguese ancestry. [6] His father died of pneumonia when Tony was three years old, and his widowed mother struggled to raise the family of four children on welfare. He began playing golf as a boy at Lake Chabot municipal golf course and learned different aspects of the game from a variety of people. Noted African-American golf coach Lucius Bateman helped develop his swing and Oakland policeman Ralph Hall taught him course strategy. The golf pros at Lake Chabot, Dick Fry and Bill Burch, trained him on basic golf fundamentals, including the use of a square stance. [7]

At age 17, Lema enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Korea. After his discharge from the military in 1955, he obtained work as an assistant to the club professional at a San Francisco golf club.

Eddie Lowery, a wealthy San Francisco businessman, who assisted talented amateur players in the area, helped to sponsor and encourage Lema. [8] Lowery is best known as the 10-year-old caddy of champion Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open. Lowery's sponsorship gave Lema $200 a week expense money, to be repaid, in addition to splitting his winnings: Lema received two-thirds, Lowery one-third. One additional detail was that all debts at the end of the year were to be carried forward. [7]

PGA Tour

By 1957, Lema had developed his skills sufficiently to earn his way onto the PGA Tour, winning the Imperial Valley Open in memorable fashion: Assuming he was out of contention, Lema headed to the clubhouse bar, where he drank three highballs. Told that he would face Paul Harney in a sudden-death playoff, a relaxed Lema won the tournament on the second extra hole. The following year, he began developing friendships with a trio of fellow golfers: Johnny Pott, Tommy Jacobs, and Jim Ferree, and during 11 tournaments in 1958, Lema finished in the top 15, winning $10,282 for the year.

The following year, Lema's winnings dropped to $5,900, followed by an even worse year in 1960, when he collected a mere $3,060. A raucous off-the-course lifestyle was taking its toll until he began talking with television producer Danny Arnold, who helped him improve his composure and bolster his confidence. [7]

While Lema's struggles continued in 1962, along with his debt to Lowery reaching over $11,000, his luck changed that autumn. His first tour win came in late September at Las Vegas, three strokes ahead runner-up Don January. [9] Four weeks later, on the eve of his playoff victory at the Orange County Open Invitational in Costa Mesa, California, [10] Lema joked he would serve champagne to the press if he won the next day. [11] [12] [13] From then on he was known as Champagne Tony, and his handsome looks and vivacious personality added to the legend, such that Johnny Miller has stated that at the time of his death in 1966, Lema was second only to Arnold Palmer in fan popularity.

"There's nothing like ending a nice day on a good game of golf with a little taste of the bubbly". [14]

Lema on golf and champagne

That win sparked an impressive performance over the next four years that saw Lema win twelve official tour events, finish second on eleven occasions, and third four times. From 1963 until his death in July 1966, he finished in the top ten over half of the time and made the cut in every major, finishing in the top ten in eight of the fifteen in which he played. Lema was a member of Ryder Cup teams in 1963 and 1965 with a record of 9–1–1 (.864), which remains the best for any player who has played in two or more.

Friend and tour colleague Jack Nicklaus wrote that Lema's play also stabilized and improved greatly after he married Betty, a former airline stewardess, in 1963. [15] [16] One additional reason for Lema's more relaxed play that year was the end of his agreement with Lowery.

In 1963, Lema finished second by one stroke to Nicklaus at the Masters, and missed the playoff for the U.S. Open by two shots, bogeying the last two holes, believing he needed birdies. He won the Memphis Open Invitational later that summer.

Lema won two other tournaments that fall and was named 1963 Most Improved Player by Golf Digest . That winter, he wrote, with Gwylim S. Brown, "Golfers' Gold", an autobiographical account of his eight-year apprenticeship in the competitive cauldron of the PGA Tour.

Major champion

In 1964, Lema won the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, then three tournaments in four weeks: the Thunderbird Classic at Westchester in Rye, New York, the Buick Open Invitational at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc, Michigan, and the Cleveland Open at Highland Park (in a playoff with Palmer). [17] [18]

Two weeks later at St Andrews, Scotland, Lema captured his only major title at the Open Championship, [1] five shots ahead of runner-up Nicklaus. [19] Before teeing up in the first round, he had only played nine practice holes. [16] Lema had hired Arnold Palmer's regular British caddy, Tip Anderson, since Palmer was not competing that year. [20] Anderson, a descendant of a past Open champion, Jamie Anderson, had grown up on the course.

At the September matchup of the four major champions of 1964, in the 36-hole exhibition World Series of Golf, Lema won $50,000 (then the largest payoff in golf) at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, over Palmer (Masters), Ken Venturi (U.S. Open) and Bobby Nichols (PGA Championship). [21]

Due to his good looks and recent success, Lema was tapped for a guest appearance in an episode of the TV series Hazel that aired January 7, 1965, in which Hazel misplaces his prized golf clubs. [22] Later that year, he was on The Lawrence Welk Show , where Welk passed the baton to Lema to direct the Champagne Music Makers. [23]

In 1965, Lema won the Buick Open for the second consecutive year, and the Carling World Open, finishing second in prize money to Nicklaus. In fall 1965, he and Nicklaus formed the U.S. team to the World Cup of Golf. [16] Lema's last victory came in 1966 in late May, in his wife's hometown at the Oklahoma City Open, winning by six strokes at Quail Creek. [24] [25] [26] Two weeks later, he recovered from an opening round 78 to nearly capture a third consecutive Buick Open, finishing three shots behind Phil Rodgers, in fourth place. [27]


Following the PGA Championship at Firestone in Akron in late July 1966, Lema and his wife chartered an airplane to fly them to an exhibition tournament south of Chicago: the Little Buick Open at Lincolnshire Country Club in Crete, Illinois. The twin-engine Beechcraft Bonanza, piloted by Doris Mullen, ran out of fuel and crashed into a water hazard short of the seventh green of the nine-hole golf course at Lansing Sportsman's Club in Lansing ( 41°33′16″N87°31′27″W / 41.5545°N 87.5242°W / 41.5545; -87.5242 ), about a half mile (0.8 km) northwest of their destination, Lansing Municipal Airport. [4] [28] During the fatal plunge, Mullen swerved left to avoid a group of people standing near the clubhouse. In addition to the Lemas and Mullen, who was a mother of four teenage children, Dr. George Bard, the copilot and a surgeon, was killed. [29] Bard and Mullen's husband, Wylie, were colleagues as well as owners of the ill-fated plane. [15] [30]

Lema and his wife Betty, age 30, were buried in California at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward, after funeral services on July 28 at St. Elizabeth's Church in his hometown of Oakland. [31]

In 1983, a San Leandro public golf course bordering San Francisco Bay was named in his memory as the Tony Lema Golf Course, now part of the Monarch Bay Golf Club complex, just southeast of the Oakland airport. In Ludlow, Massachusetts, the road accessing the local country club is named Tony Lema Drive, and there is a collection of photographs and other items in the clubhouse of Ludlow Country Club featuring Lema.

Professional wins (22)

PGA Tour wins (12)

Major championships (1)
Other PGA Tour (11)
No.DateTournamentWinning scoreTo parMargin
of victory
1Sep 30, 1962 Sahara Invitational 69-67-66-68=270−143 strokes Flag of the United States.svg Don January
2Oct 28, 1962 Orange County Open Invitational 68-66-64-69=267−17Playoff Flag of the United States.svg Bob Rosburg
3Nov 18, 1962 Mobile Sertoma Open Invitational 67-68-68-70=273−157 strokes Flag of the United States.svg Doug Sanders
4May 27, 1963 Memphis Open Invitational 67-67-68-68=270−10Playoff Flag of the United States.svg Tommy Aaron
5Jan 19, 1964 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am 70-68-70-76=284−43 strokes Flag of the United States.svg Gay Brewer, Flag of the United States.svg Bo Wininger
6Jun 7, 1964 Thunderbird Classic 68-67-70-71=276−121 stroke Flag of the United States.svg Mike Souchak
7Jun 14, 1964 Buick Open Invitational 69-66-72-70=277−113 strokes Flag of the United States.svg Dow Finsterwald
8Jun 28, 1964 Cleveland Open 65-70-70-65=270−14Playoff Flag of the United States.svg Arnold Palmer
9Jul 10, 1964 The Open Championship 73-68-68-70=279−95 strokes Flag of the United States.svg Jack Nicklaus
10Jun 6, 1965 Buick Open Invitational (2)71-70-69-70=280−82 strokes Flag of the United States.svg Johnny Pott
11Aug 23, 1965 Carling World Open 71-71-67-70=279−52 strokes Flag of the United States.svg Arnold Palmer
12May 29, 1966 Oklahoma City Open Invitational 69-68-69-65=271−176 strokes Flag of the United States.svg Tom Weiskopf

PGA Tour playoff record (3–1)

1 1962 Orange County Open Invitational Flag of the United States.svg Bob Rosburg Won with birdie on third extra hole [10]
2 1963 Memphis Open Flag of the United States.svg Tommy Aaron Won with par on first extra hole
31963 Cleveland Open Flag of the United States.svg Tommy Aaron, Flag of the United States.svg Arnold Palmer Palmer won 18-hole playoff (Palmer:67, Aaron:70, Lema:70)
4 1964 Cleveland Open Flag of the United States.svg Arnold Palmer Won with birdie on first extra hole [17] [18]

Other wins (10)

Note: This list is probably incomplete.

Major championships

Wins (1)

YearChampionship54 holesWinning scoreMarginRunner-up
1964 The Open Championship 7 shot lead−9 (73-68-68-70=279)5 strokes Flag of the United States.svg Jack Nicklaus

Results timeline

Masters Tournament 2T9T21T22
U.S. Open 50CUTT520T8T4
The Open Championship 1T5T30
PGA Championship WDT13T9T61T34
  Top 10
  Did not play

CUT = missed the half-way cut
WD = withdrew
"T" = tied


TournamentWins2nd3rdTop-5Top-10Top-25EventsCuts made
Masters Tournament 01012444
U.S. Open 00023465
The Open Championship 10022233
PGA Championship 00001254

U.S. national team appearances


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  2. "1964 Tony Lema". The Open. Archived from the original on November 26, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
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  6. "Distinguished Americans & Canadians of Portuguese Descent". Archived from the original on December 12, 2007. Retrieved January 9, 2008.
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  10. 1 2 "Lema defeats Bob Rosburg on third hole". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. October 29, 1962. p. 10.
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  18. 1 2 "Lema's 15-foot putt nips Arnie in sudden death". Pittsburgh Press. UPI. June 29, 1964. p. 26.
  19. "Lema winner of British Open". Toledo Blade. (Ohio). Associated Press. July 11, 1964. p. 14.
  20. "'World's greatest caddy' carried Lema to victory". Miami News. Associated Press. July 11, 1964. p. 1B.
  21. "Tony Lema victor in World Series". Eugene-Register Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. September 14, 1964. p. 3B.
  22. "Champagne Tony: Hazel Misplaces Lema's Prized Golf Clubs". January 6, 1965.
  23. "Tony Lema directs the Champagne Music Makers, Lawrence Welk Show". 1965.
  24. "Lema's 65 leaves 'em far behind". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. May 30, 1966. p. 6.
  25. "Lema wins Oklahoma Open with record 271". Chicago Tribune. Associated Press. May 30, 1966. p. 1, sec. 3.
  26. "Tony's last victory is like others". Chicago Tribune. UPI. July 25, 1966. p. 5, sec. 3.
  27. "Rodgers wins Flint Open by two strokes, Lema 4th". Chicago Tribune. UPI. June 13, 1966. p. 1, sec. 3.
  28. Tejada, Gregory (July 25, 2011). "Lansing club memorializes pro golfer killed in crash". Northwest Illinois Times. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
  29. Thomis, Wayne (July 26, 1966). "Lena plane engines dead probers find". Chicago Tribune. p. 21, sec. 1.
  30. "Lema plane crash probed". Milwaukee Sentinel. United Press International. July 26, 1966. p. 1-sports. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  31. "Tony, wife laid to rest". Spokesman-Review. (Spokane, Washington). Associated Press. July 29, 1966. p. 19.