Steve Probst inked his name in the Golf Association of Philadelphia history pages with a victory in the 1956 Junior-Junior Boys’ Championship. A phone call from an amateur icon prompted the Manufacturers Golf & Country Club youngster to push his reputation beyond a singular title.
"At [age] 14, I was invited by Woody Platt to play in the (1960 BMW) Philadelphia Amateur Qualifier at Huntingdon Valley (Country Club). I didn’t know anything about it,” Probst, 71, of Blue Bell, Pa., said. “I didn’t make match play. I finished in the dark and played 36 holes with George Rowbotham. It was quite an experience. That got my juices flowing for tournament golf.”
Probst demonstrated that competitive craving a year later. He carded rounds of 76 and 70, the day’s best, to gain match play in the BMW Philadelphia Amateur on his home course. Probst fell to Tom Conboy, 1-up, in the Round of 32. He also shined on the Junior circuit in 1961. He qualified for the U.S. Junior Amateur at Cornell University Golf Course alongside another GAP Hall of Famer in R. Jay Sigel. Probst claimed his second Association title, the Junior Boys’ Championship, by defeating friend Trip O’Donnell, 4&3, at Plymouth Country Club.
"[In the Final], he holed out of fairway bunker on No. 6 from 80 yards. I was in the same bunker and thought, ‘What am I hitting for?’” Probst said. “We kind of laughed at each other. I hit it about two feet from the hole, so it wasn’t all bad. “We had a good nucleus of Junior golfers. To say I won the Junior Boys’ was an accolade.”
Probst’s prolific performances in 1961 contributed to his lone appearance in the Mason-Dixon Matches. He served as the Association’s Junior representative and competed alongside the likes of future Hall of Famers John Dyniewski, Howard Everitt and W.B. McCullough, Jr., to name a few.
Such good company highlighted a pair of BMW Philadelphia Amateur semifinal runs for Probst. In 1963, he converted a 35-foot putt to upend Bill Care in 19 holes in the quarterfinals at Philadelphia Cricket Club. Probst then fell victim to Robert “Beetle” Beirne by a 3&2 margin. Two years later, Beirne again claimed responsibility for an early Probst exit.
“He hit a 4-wood straighter than you could hit a putt. He didn’t know what the rough looked like,” Probst said. “He was something.”
Probst’s other semifinal berth occurred in 1966 when he met O’Donnell at St. Davids Golf Club. The two added to their growing list of dramatic duels. Probst previously bested O’Donnell in the 1962 Pennsylvania Golf Association Junior Boys’ Championship. This time, O’Donnell grabbed retribution in the form of a 1-up triumph.
“I was 3-down with five to go and got it even after 17 holes,” Probst said. “He won the 18th hole. He hit a shot on the fourth hole at St. Davids that I’ll never forget. The pin was close to a big bunker in front of the green. He fried eggs it right in the bunker and holed [the next shot]. I remember that vividly.”
Also clear in Probst’s memory is his experience during the 1966 Joseph H. Patterson Cup at Old York Road Country Club and Squires Golf Club. Marred by a three-putt on the 34th hole, Probst missed out on a playoff for the title by one stroke.
Top performances in GAP Majors ultimately marked an amateur golf swan song. Probst, a Rollins College alum, turned professional following the summer. He worked at Rydal Country Club before moving onto Philmont Country Club for three years. Competitive rounds became few and far between, though Probst did participate in Philadelphia Section PGA events and audition for the U.S. Open occasionally. He advanced through the Local stage in 1972-73.
“[In 1973], I played in Sectional Qualifying with Tom Watson at Aronimink and Waynesborough,” Probst said. “Tom Watson wasn’t Tom Watson yet. He shot 143 and I walked off the 18th green at Aronimink and congratulated him. He said, ‘I don’t think I made it.’ I said, ‘You have no idea how hard the courses you just played were if you don’t think you made it.’ He finished second. What impressed me the most about him was his short game.”
Tournament golf soon took a turn for Probst.
“I’d get over a putt and I’d quiver. As time went on, it became worse,” he said. “I couldn’t play in tournaments. What I had was a benign essential tremor. It would prevent you from doing daily things in life. You can’t eat a salad. The lettuce wouldn’t stay on the fork. Shaving was a Red Cross donation.”
Probst, a teaching professional at Old York Road since 1987, underwent brain surgery in 2008. The operation and a subsequent change in equipment resulted in putting without shaking. Tournament golf, complete with a wealth of GAP memories, may be in the rearview, but Probst continues to cherish the game that shaped his life trajectory.
“I’ll be 72 in April and I can still play. I started when I was 8 years old,” he said. “It’s simple math. If you could play something for 64 years, it’s got to be special.”
GAP Chat 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 151 Full 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.