Colonial’s head pro takes responsibility to heart

Posted Sunday, May. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Dow Finsterwald Jr. arrived in Fort Worth 26 years ago as green as historic Colonial’s lush fairways, but what he lacked in résumé credentials he more than made up for with a princely golfing pedigree and gumption.

Lots of gumption.

The son of the 1958 PGA Championship winner accepted an invitation to interview for Colonial’s head pro job merely “to get an interview experience” after only three months of PGA membership.

He left as the club’s top choice to replace long-time pro Roland Harper 26 years ago.

Finsterwald Jr. has become a fixture in the pro shop at Colonial and the Crowne Plaza Invitational, his presence as recognizable as his laid-back and self-deprecating style that puts members and visitors at ease.

He has seen much change during that time particularly in higher attendance over the past 25 tournaments, including Finsterwald’s first in 1987 when Keith Clearwater mastered Hogan’s Alley.

“This will be my 26th tournament … if I make it through this one,” Finsterwald said with a big smile. “We’ve come a long way since I started.”

In Finsterwald’s world of “selling golf balls” — his euphemism for the business of pro shop merchandising — the club has come a long way during tournament week.

The pro shop, he said, sold about $150,000 in merchandise the week Clearwater won compared with about $700,000 now.

“A long time ago, people came out for the pro-am and not many for the tournament. Now it’s the other way around.”

Finsterwald’s journey to Colonial really began when he was a child.

His father, Dow Finsterwald, was a noted professional. In addition to the 1958 PGA Championship at Llanerch in Havertown, Pa., Finsterwald the senior was selected player of the year that year and was a four-time Ryder Cup competitor.

Dow Finsterwald was devoted to improving his game in the same manner as friend Ben Hogan. He was always working on his swing, Finsterwald Jr. said.

It was the constant labor that probably discouraged Finsterwald Jr.’s brothers or sisters from ever taking up the game, but Finsterwald Jr. said his father never pushed him to play.

Discouraging rounds as a youngster were sometimes followed with a demoralized Finsterwald Jr. at the dinner table.

He often was met with the same words from his father.

“I’d come home from a tournament after not playing well,” Finsterwald Jr. recalled, laughing, “and he’d say, ‘Son, I didn’t make you play this game.’”

A father himself to a grown son and daughter, Finsterwald Jr. also treats Colonial as one of his own. He takes his responsibility as caretaker of the club’s history personally.

He didn’t even seem to try to hide his irritation when asked about two-time champion Phil Mickelson announcing last year that he would likely never play Colonial again after the course’s redesign, saying it virtually took the driver out of the bag.

Only two other golfers have won more than Mickelson’s $2.4 million at Colonial.

After being unable to defend his championship in 2009 because of his wife’s cancer, Mickelson was welcomed back the next year by Colonial officials and fans with an outpouring of support.

“You’d like to say Mickelson [was Finsterwald Jr.’s favorite champion at Colonial], but after what he said … after all that Fort Worth and Colonial did for him — he went from one of my favorites to the bottom,” Finsterwald Jr. said.

As for Tiger Woods, the club does want him to return since his only appearance here in 1997.

Many of golf’s greatest, including Hogan (five times), Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, have won here, their names on the famed Wall of Champions at the No. 1 tee box.

“Of course it bothers me,” Finsterwald Jr. said. “We’d like to have his name on the wall. There’s still hope he will come sometime.”

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