By Ken MacLeod
Golf professionals from throughout Oklahoma expressed sadness and remorse for this weekend’s passing of two iconic pros in Jerry Cozby of Bartlesville and Buddy Phillips of Broken Arrow, but also gratitude for their service and respect for lives well lived.
Cozby, who was the head professional at Hillcrest Country Club in Bartlesville for 41 years before retiring in 2009, passed away Sunday. Phillips, who was in charge of Cedar Ridge Country Club in Broken Arrow for 40 years (1972-2012), died on Friday.
Tim Johnson, general manager of The Golf Club of Oklahoma, grew up in Bartlesville and frequently applied to be an assistant at Hillcrest Country Club. Johnson had left the University of Kansas in 1985 to try his hand at professional golf, and Cozby insisted he return to get his degree before he would hire him, which he eventually did in 1992.
“I absolutely loved that man,” Johnson said. “There’s no question I’m a much better person, father and professional because of Jerry Cozby. I can’t even geing to tell you how much he meant to my career. He was an absolute rock star among golf pros.
“I’m 58 years old and just this year I’m calling to talk to him about issues with membership, with merchandise sales, with food and beverage. Still seeking his counsel. He’s meant the world to me.”
Jeff Combe heard from both Cozby and Phillips in the first week he was hired as the head professional at Tulsa Country Club.
I can’t tell you how important they both were to me in my career,” Combe said. “Two unbelievable gentlemen. I’m going to miss them both. They were both people persons, out to help anybody and wanted to pass their knowledge on. They can’t be replaced. There just aren’t many like them anymore.”
Janice Gibson, LPGA professional who runs the First Tee of Tulsa at Mohawk Park, credits Cozby for first firing her imagination with dreams of playing golf for a living.
“I was a 15-year-old junior when he invited me to a clinic with Patty Berg,” Gibson said. “That changed everything for me. She gave a great clinic and you could tell she was having a wonderful time. I asked my dad later if she did that for a living. It was the first time I realized you could actually make a living playing golf.
“Buddy was one of the nicest guys ever. They both set the trend for us as juniors and gave back to junior golf on a regular basis. We always played college events at Cedar Ridge and the pro has to say yes for that to happen.”
Dennis Bowman, who runs Pryor Creek Golf Course, said Phillips was “the consummate golf professional. He was the purest example of what the PGA is all about. I’m going to miss him. But he trained (son) Tracy well and will leave a good legacy there.”
“They are like the Godfathers of the club pros,” said Kyle Flinton, who until recently was the head professional at Quail Creek Golf & Country Club in Oklahoma City. “They did everything first class and always tried to elevate all their assistants. It speaks volumes about what Cary, Craig and Chance have done and what Tracy is doing. They are going to be sorely missed.”
Brent Cryer, former head professional and GM at The Greens Country Club in Oklahoma City and currently teaching at The Golf Club of Edmond and Lakeside Golf Course in Stillwater, said both Cozby and Phillips were instrumental in his career.
“I would reach out to both of them throughout my career for help and they were always so informative and so gracious,” Cryer said. “I looked at both of them like they were icons, but they were nice and helpful when they didn’t have to be. It made an impression on me that will last the rest of my life.
“They were just the epitome of what a PGA pro should be. They mentored so many pros who turned out to be great and their sons turned out to be great professionals and great people.”
Art Proctor, himself 81 and a contemporary of both, was saddened by the news and called his friends “great innovators, leaders and tremendous golf pros.”
“I learned something through Cozby that he didn’t even know about,” Proctor said. “He used to have assistants memorize not just the members names, but all their children and their birthdays. I thought that was just great.”
George Glenn, who was running the City of Tulsa courses for many of the same years as Cozby and Phillips were at their posts, said there were frequent consults of best practices in those days.
“I talked to them quite a bit after I came here in 1977,” Glenn said. “They were always helpful. They were just consummate professionals.”
Warren Lehr, now the city manager of Owasso and the first head professional at Bailey Ranch, was an assistant at Hillcrest CC early in his career.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of great bosses and mentors in my career, but I probably learned more from Jerry Cozby than anyone I ever worked for,” Lehr said. “It was never easy and there were some hard lessons, but those who knew Jerry and worked for him know that he took dedication to serving his membership to another level. He taught me that it was OK to set extremely high standards and call others up to those standards, never settling for less. Mr. Cozby was a leader in shaping the golf profession in Oklahoma and that is evident in all those who worked for him and in his three sons.”