A glance at the Junior Boys’ Championship history at the turn of the 1950s causes a double-take.
R. Jay Sigel, a Golf Association of Philadelphia Hall of Famer and one of the most prolific amateur golfers of all-time, lost in the Final in consecutive years (1959-60).
The culprit? Robert McMahon, a good friend and fellow pupil of famed pro Sam Penecale. The Bala Cynwd, Pa. native bested Sigel by margins of 1-up and 6&5, respectively, at St. Davids Golf Club.
“Jay went on to have a remarkable career, both as an amateur and a professional. I’m proud of him,” McMahon, 72, of Media, Pa., said. “We came from those days when he was 12 years old at Bala Golf Club and rose through the Junior ranks quickly. I just had my better days when I played against him.”
McMahon and Sigel did indeed meet at Bala — a pair of bright-eyed youngsters taking Saturday morning lessons with pro Bob Marshall. The two spent summers competing and motivating one another on the golf course. A rising talent, McMahon made his GAP splash by dethroning defending Junior Boys’ Champion Robert Lindinger in 20 holes to gain the 1957 semifinals. He then fell to eventual runner-up Tim DeBaufre, 5&4.
In 1958, McMahon and Sigel continued to cultivate their abilities under Penecale’s watch at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club. Both competed in the Pennsylvania Golf Association’s Junior Championship at Alcoma Golf Club, where McMahon survived a four-hole playoff to grab the last match play spot. He advanced to the Final and bowed to George Mackanos of the host club, 2-up.
A week later, McMahon returned to the GAP Junior Boys’ Championship, where he upended Sigel on the 18th hole. Déjà vu in 1960; McMahon played “the best round of his life” to retain his Junior Boys’ title. A potent putter — McMahon converted four lengthy birdies during the Final — meant defeat once again for Sigel.
By virtue of his victories, McMahon represented GAP during the Mason-Dixon Matches in 1959-60. The Malvern Prep graduate attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open in 1961 at Merion Golf Club, but missed the cut with rounds of 74 and 80. McMahon reached the Sectional stage a decade later. A late night and an early tee time at Montclair Golf Club spelled disaster.
“I shot a 72 in the practice round with a couple of pros, then went out and partied with them a little bit,” McMahon said. “The next morning, I shot a 170, probably the highest score in the field. I couldn’t play and learned a great lesson.”
McMahon dabbled in GAP Majors as well. He gained match play in the Amateur Championship on a handful of occasions. McMahon’s best performance came in 1971, when he outlasted W.B. McCullough, III in 25 holes at Philadelphia Cricket Club to become a quarterfinalist. He then lost to eventual champion Don Morano.
Prior to that achievement, McMahon served in the U.S. Army as a platoon leader during the Vietnam War. He returned stateside in 1969 and entered the brokerage business. McMahon joined Medford Village Country Club for a brief stint and qualified for the New Jersey State Golf Association’s Amateur Championship in 1973.
Career and family prompted McMahon to gradually step away from competitive golf. He became a member at The Springhaven Club in 1981, occasionally participating in the GAP Team Matches and club events. A lingering back injury, though, worsened as the years passed; McMahon played his last full round of golf in 1996.
Although his time spent on a golf course decreased, McMahon’s penchant for public service never waned. He was elected to Media Borough Council in 1981 and then mayor in 1992, a title he holds today. McMahon also co-founded the Veteran National Education Program, which teaches U.S. history through the eyes of those who serve its armed forces. Add published author to the list of descriptors; McMahon penned “Who Are the Best…? The Sports Survey Book” in 1983.
Golf is a sport that opened doors for McMahon — and one he may reconnect with thanks to an improving bill of health.
“My goal is to practice with my grandson and play nine holes with him as a start,” McMahon said. “I want to be able to last nine holes without having a back issue or worrying about it the next day. That’s my goal for right now, so I’m giving it a shot, so to speak.”
GAP Chat is a Web-based series that features past Golf Association of Philadelphia tournament players and supporters recalling their experiences and accomplishments both on and off the course. Formerly known as the Legends video series, it acts as a gateway to the story behind the story and further showcases the organization’s rich history.
Golf Association of Philadelphia
Founded in 1897, the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) is the oldest regional golf association in the United States and serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. Its 150 Member Clubs and 57,000 individual members are spread across parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. As Philadelphia’s Most Trusted Source of Golf Information, the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.