Editor’s Note: Contributor Craig Smith caught up recently with Northwest golfing legend and President of the Washington Junior Golf Association Jerry Fehr
Q: You are 81 years old and you have no idea how many times you’ve shot your age, correct?
A: “That’s right. The first time I did it was when I was 65. As I’ve gotten older, it is easier and easier to shoot my age. I play a lot of golf. I play year-round and probably post close to 100 scores a year during the non-winter months when we post scores.”
A: “Yes. My attitude is ‘use it or lose it.’ I’d rather carry than use a pull-cart because you can walk directly onto the green with your bag, repair your ball mark, look at what you’re facing then set your bag down off the green. Another reason is that somehow carrying a bag is easier on my back than pulling a cart.”
Q: In golf circles, you are known for a lot of things–past Executive Director of the Washington Junior Golf Association, 1961 Washington Open champion, and father of PGA Tour pro Rick Fehr. You were a caddie as well. Tell us how you got started in golf.
A: “Yes, I started caddying at the Olympic View Golf Club on the north end of Ballard when I was 11. I got hooked. On Mondays, caddies got to play. I remember some days as a caddie when we played 72 holes on Mondays. There were a lot of good players and that’s why Ballard High School was dominant in city high-school golf before the course closed in 1953. (The course became Olympic Manor residential area). After we got into the game as caddies, Olympic hired some of us to do other work at the club and kept the junior-member dues cheap on purpose. I wonder how our lives would have changed if we hadn’t been allowed to make a few bucks caddying? I wonder if we would have played golf at all.”
Q: Your list of victories includes everything from the city high-school championship, state junior titles, the Eastern Intercollegiate title when you were at Yale and the Pacific Northwest Golf Association senior title in 1990. The most famous victory has to be the 1961 Washington Open victory over future PGA Tour Pro Kermit Zarley, though the outcome wasn’t decided by performance. Explain.
A: “We were playing at Sand Point Country Club and I shot 36 on the front nine and Kermit shot 38. At the turn he went up to John Hoetmer, the Sand Point head pro who was refereeing the match and said he had discovered a 15th club in his bag – a wedge he had been testing the previous night and had neglected to take out of his bag. Under the rules at that time, he was penalized two strokes a hole. There’s no way I was going to lose with a 20-stroke lead. I went up to Hoetmer and asked, ‘Why don’t we waive the rule?’ I remember Johnny staring at me and chewing my butt. He said, ‘Who are YOU to change the rules of golf?’ We kept playing but the some the spectators left and I don’t blame them. There was no pressure. I shot 33 on the back.”
Q: Did you go from Ballard High School to Yale on a golf scholarship?
A: “No. Academic scholarship.”
Q: After graduating from Yale, you were a naval officer on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hancock for a couple years and then you joined Family Life Insurance and rose to Chief Financial Officer before you retired in the late 1980s, correct?
Q: What’s your lowest score ever on a good course? How many career holes-in-one?
A: “I shot 62 at Sand Point about 30 years ago. I’ve had nine holes-in-one on 18-hole courses and one on an executive course. Seven of the aces have been at Sand Point, where my wife Sally and I have been members since 1962. By the way, the main reasons we joined were because her parents were members and we lived near the course, not because I had won there in 1961. Frankly, I consider holes-in-one to be pure luck. I have a much higher sense of accomplishment if I shoot a real low score.”
Q: You were the Executive Director of the Washington Junior Golf Association from 1993-2013 and now you are President of the organization. Give us a brief description of the WJGA.
A: “We have about 1,000 kids involved. We have the state plus northern Idaho and Umatilla County, Oregon, near Walla Wall. We are divided into six districts. The big summer events are district championships in the various age groups and then the state championships. Just about every single current male and female Tour pro or elite player from Washington has been a member of Washington Junior Golf and competed in our tournaments.”
Q: Your son Rick was a two-time winner on the PGA Tour and played on the Champions Tour the past two years before losing his card. What is he doing now?
A: “He is with a company developing a residential resort community and golf course about 40 miles northeast of Phoenix. It’s called Wickenburg Ranch. He is going to be Director of Instruction.”
Q: Are you worried about the future of golf?
A: “Yes, I’m concerned. The game is too expensive for a lot of young people and families and it takes longer to play a round these days. Golf is fun but it’s a difficult game and can be frustrating. I am intrigued by innovations at some courses where they have two holes on the greens – one the normal size and another 10 inches or so in diameter for beginners or casual players. I was hoping we would have seen the development of a lot of courses such as Lynnwood, where the yardage is shorter than standard courses but longer than executive courses and you still have bunkers and other hazards. Lynnwood is the only course I can name of that style and there ought to be more.”
*Interview conducted by Craig Smith