NYSGA Centennial: The 1950s

October 15, 2023

1950-1959: Something in the Water; Not Quite a Three-Peat, Only Better; Two New Championships


Something in the Water

The 1951 Masters was notable for many things, including Ben Hogan’s impressive 8-under 280 winning score. Somewhere on that list of interesting facts would be the decidedly un-Southern accent sported by more than 10 percent of the participants hailing from New York. 

One would expect former Masters champion Gene Sarazen (Harrison) to be there along with fellow touring pros Ed Furgol of Utica and Dick Mayer, representing Winged Foot. Winged Foot amateur Dick Chapman was, of course, on site, in the middle of his 19 Masters appearances. 

The biggest block of Masters contestants from the Empire State came in as a result of the 1950 U.S. Amateur, held at Minneapolis. In the ’50s, the Masters extended invitations to quarterfinalists from the previous year’s U.S. Amateur. In the 1950 U.S. Amateur, in an unprecedented show of strength from one state, Billy Shields of Albany received his invitation by virtue of his quarterfinal appearance. John Ward of Syracuse did Shields one better by making it into the semifinals. Then, Rochester’s Sam Urzetta captured the Havemeyer Trophy in an unlikely 39-hole final match over the most accomplished American amateur since Bob Jones, Frank Stranahan. 

An impressive four New York amateur golfers had earned a reunion that following April in Augusta. The pimento-cheese-and-grits crowd had to wonder what was in the water up North that got so many New Yorkers driving up Magnolia Lane.

John Ward (left, far right) of Syarcuse and Joe Gagliardi of Larchmont. The players faced off in the 1956 NYS Men's Am at Dutchess G&CC, where Gagliardi became the oldest champion at age 44. Ward was a former NYS Junior champion in the 1930s, and was Men's Am runner-up three times. He later served as an NYSGA president in 1959-60.

Billy Shields NYSGA Men’s State Amateur Finishes, 1951-55


Host Club



Knollwood CC



Wolferts Roost CC



Yahnundasis GC



Fairview CC

Did not play


Moon Brook CC



Not Quite a Three-Peat, Only Better

Later in 1951, building on the confidence that he had gained over the previous 12 months in the U.S. Amateur and the Masters, young Billy Shields started a glorious run at the NYSGA Amateur Championship. In 1951, at Elmsford’s Knollwood, Shields won the first of two consecutive State Am titles in a stacked field that included several former champions with national credentials, including Ray Billows, Tommy Goodwin and Willie Turnesa. Shields took home the trophy with a 4-&-3 win over Garden City’s Billy Edwards. 

Billy Shields of Albany captured three NYS Men's Amateur titles in a five-year span during the 1950s.

For the first time, reflecting the growing popularity of the event, the NYSGA held sectional qualifying to cut the field to 128 golfers for the main event at Wolferts Roost in Albany. Another great field made the cut, but Shields must have been salivating — Wolfert’s Roost was his home course. He delivered, with an impressive 6-&-5 victory over the inimitable, seven-time State Amateur champion Ray Billows. 

Shields had set the table for an unprecedented NYSGA Men’s Amateur three-peat in 1953 at Yahnundasis. His valiant effort fell just short when he lost on the last hole in the 36-hole final to Tommy Goodwin’s fourth and final State Am title. 

After missing the 1954 event due to U.S. Navy service, Shields was not yet done. He made the 1955 NYSGA State Amateur at Jamestown’s Moon Brook. Facing the persistent Goodwin in the finals again, Billy exacted some revenge for his ’53 loss in an excruciating 36-hole, 1-up final win. 

Proving his mettle, Shields had won the NYSGA Men’s State Amateur in 1951, ‘52 and ’55, while losing in the final to Goodwin in ’53. In four events, Shields compiled a glittering 27-1 match-play record.

Two New Championships

Golf continued to grow during the 1950s, and the NYSGA responded, bringing on line two more state championships. 

Mrs. Van DeVanter Crisp of Locust Valley (left) was the inaugural NYS Women's Senior champion, while Frances Stearns of Poughkeepsie was a dominant force for the championship later in the 1980s.

In 1953, the inaugural NYS Women’s Senior Championship was held at the Cherry Valley Club in Garden City and won by Mrs. Van DeVanter Crisp of Locust Valley. The event’s gold standard was set early by Mrs. Jerome Herbert of Purchase, who was victorious in 1955 (Knollwood), ’56 (Cortland) and ‘57 (Old Oaks), to become the first of three such consecutive winners of the event. Jean Trainor of Rochester managed two hat tricks in her staggering nine total wins, while Frances Stearns, Poughkeepsie, dominated in 1984, ’85, and ’86.

In 1957, to encourage more young boys to compete statewide at a younger age, the NYSGA made changes to its junior championship format. First, the New York State Boys’ Junior, which had started in 1931 with an upper age limit of 21, lowered the age limit to 18, which was more in line with the USGA and did not conflict with the growing college competitive calendar.

Joey Sindelar of Horseheads and Terry Diehl of Rochester captured early NYS Boys' Sub-Junior titles and both eventually moved on to pro golf careers.

Then the NYSGA started the New York State Boys’ Sub-Junior that year. Initially set for boys 15 and under, today the oldest competitors must be no older than 14. The Boys’ 14-Under Junior Championship has identified early on some future New York State stars, including Terry Diehl (1964), Joey Sindelar (1971), Dominic Bozzelli (2005), Yaroslav Merkulov (2006) and Luke Sample (2017).

Familiar Faces:

  • Margaret Nevil of Cooperstown approached Ruth Torgerson’s NYSGA Women’s Amateur Championship record of five straight titles (1946-’50) by capturing the event four times in five years: 1958, ’59, ’60 and ’62. She later added the NYSGA Women’s Senior Amateur trophy to her collection with a win in 1979.

  • The first State Men’s Amateur Championship held in the Southern Tier was captured by local favorite Mike Dudik in 1950 at Binghamton. He won 1 up on the 37th hole over 1949 Long Island Am champion Lloyd Ribner of Metropolis.

  • Larchmont’s Joe Gagliardi, at age 44, became New York’s oldest Men’s Amateur victor with his 1956 win at Dutchess. 

  • E. Stewart Wallace Jr., from Ithaca, won the 1956 Boys’ Junior Amateur at Bellevue. A casualty of World War II, the Boys’ Junior was brought back in recognition of the importance of nurturing our youngest players. The success of the resurgent boys’ event led the way to the initial Girls’ Junior Championship held in 1963 at Monroe, won by Lancaster’s Carolyn Ploysa.

Mike Dudik of Endicott was the first player from the Southern Tier to capture the NYS Men's Am title when he succeeded on local ground at Binghamton CC in 1950.

Written by freelance golf writer Kevin Casey, author of Remarkable Stories of NJ Golf