By Ken MacLeod
Jack Higgins, who taught the golf swing to thousands over a long and illustrious career, passed away at the age of 92 Sunday.
Higgins was the head professional at Meadowbrook Country Club in Tulsa from 1955 to 1986, after which he founded the Broken Arrow Golf School, which included a nine-hole course, pro shop and driving range. He worked there until retiring in the early 1990s.
One of Higgins most prominent students was former LPGA Tour player and current First Tee of Tulsa Executive Director Janice Gibson.
Gibson began taking lessons from Higgins at Meadowbrook at age 12 and he never charged her a dime. He continued to be her mentor all the way through her career.
â€œJack and Faye (his wife of 68 years) were like my second set of parents,â€ Gibson said. â€œHe knew the golf swing inside out and always happened to be walking by on the range at the right time to help me out.â€
Higgins founded a popular junior tournament, the Jay Myers Memorial Invitational, in 1962, and though it was for boys, entered Gibson one year in a foursome that included young stars Tracy Phillips, Fred Daniel III and Lawrence Field. She held her own.
â€œHe gave me opportunities and pushed me to be better,â€ Gibson said.
Gibson remembers Higgins also for the long hours he would put in, both at Meadowbrook and at the Broken Arrow Golf School. He would teach for eight hours, then mow the range or the course. He also loved to create training aids and other golf gadgets.
Higgins was an early adapter of using video to help his students and also kept his teaching philosophies simple. Like many teachers are coming to the conclusion now, he believed firmly that as long as the club was arriving at impact correctly, there were various ways to make it happen.
Gibson remembers Higgins taking a look at Nancy Lopezâ€™ swing when she came to the University of Tulsa in 1976. Though she had an unusual move early in the swing, she was pure through the impact area. Higgins told Tulsa coach Dale McNamara she should keep her swing as is.
â€œEveryone who came to him, he helped them improve in some way,â€ Gibson said. â€œHe taught the game the way people could understand it. He took what people had and made them better. He was absolutely magical in what he could do.â€
Brian Baker, owner of Baker’s Custom Golf, went to work as an assistant to Higgins at Meadowbrook in 1973, long before he began dating Higgins daughter Suzette and later became part of the family.
He remembers shortly after he was first trusted with the keys to the shop and cart barn, someone broke in, stole merchandise and drove many of the carts into a pond. Baker was promoted to cart mechanic, which meant dragging all the carts out of the pond and getting them cleaned up and repaired.
"I was just sure he was going to fire me," Baker said. "Eventually, after days getting all the carts fixed up, he comes up to me and handed over a big envelope. It was just full of $100 bills.
"That’s just the way he was. He could be a little crusty, but he was a great guy who looked out for you."
Higgins helped both Dale McNamara, who was a superb amateur player, and later her daughter Melissa, who went to be the NCAA individual champion while leading Tulsa to the team title, an LPGA Tour winner and a highly successful coach at Tulsa and now Arizona State.
"Jack had so much passion for the game," Dale McNamara said. "When Melissa was 16 and starting to drive, he told her to come out to Meadowbrook early in the morning and dig the balls out of the hedges near the driving range and then use those for herself. She never missed a day of pulling the balls out of the hedges.
"Jack molded so many people that I’m close to. He lived a fantastic life."
Higgins was born in Slick, Okla., in a small house with dirt floors and walls that would shake from nearby trains passing. His father was disabled from an accident early in life, but passed on to Jack a strong will to work and take care of his family. Higgins was a skilled player himself who competed in several U.S. Opens through qualifying. He started his club professional career as an assistant to Marion Askew at The Oaks Country Club before landing the job when Meadowbrook opened in 1955.
Higgins was named the PGA South Central Section Professional of the Year twice and became a member of the PGA Half Century Club in 1996.
"They say you have to wear seven hats to be a PGA professional," Baker said. "He wore seven hats and had seven great stories for each hat."
Higgins is survived by wife Faye and daughters Pam Patterson and Suzette Baker as well as five grandchildren. Services are set for 10 a.m. Monday in Floral Haven Funderal Home Chapel in Broken Arrow.