Tony Lema

Tony Lema

Tony Lema
— Golfer —
Lema holding the Claret Jug
after the 1964 Open Championship
Personal information
Full name Anthony David Lema
Nickname Champagne Tony
Born (1934-02-25)February 25, 1934
Oakland, California
Died July 24, 1966(1966-07-24) (aged 32)
Lansing, Illinois
Nationality  United States
Spouse Elizabeth R. "Betty" Cline
College None
Turned professional 1955
Former tour(s) PGA Tour
Professional wins 22
Number of wins by tour
PGA Tour 12
Other 10
Best results in major championships
(Wins: 1)
Masters Tournament 2nd: 1963
U.S. Open T4: 1966
The Open Championship Won: 1964
PGA Championship T9: 1964

Anthony David Lema (February 25, 1934 -– July 24, 1966) was an American professional golfer. Lema rose to fame in the mid-1960s, but lost his life at age 32 in an aircraft accident at Lansing, Illinois. His most prestigious victory was his only major title, the 1964 Open Championship at the Old Course at St Andrews.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • PGA Tour 2
    • Major champion 2.1
  • Death 3
  • Professional wins (22) 4
    • PGA Tour wins (12) 4.1
    • Other wins (10) 4.2
  • Major championships 5
    • Wins (1) 5.1
    • Results timeline 5.2
    • Summary 5.3
  • U.S. national team appearances 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Born in Oakland, California, Lema's parents were Anthony H. Lema (1899–1937) and Clotilda M. Lema, née Silva (1910–2000), both of Portuguese ancestry.[2] His father died of pneumonia when Tony was three years old, and his widowed mother struggled to raise the family of four children on welfare. He began playing golf as a boy at Lake Chabot municipal golf course and learned different aspects of the game from a variety of people. Noted African-American golf coach Lucius Bateman helped develop his swing and Oakland policeman Ralph Hall taught him course strategy. The golf pros at Lake Chabot, Dick Fry and Bill Burch, trained him on basic golf fundamentals, including the use of a square stance.[3]

At age 17, Lema enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Korea. After his discharge from the military in 1955, he obtained work as an assistant to the club professional at a San Francisco golf club.

Eddie Lowery, a wealthy San Francisco businessman, who assisted talented amateur players in the area, helped to sponsor and encourage Lema.[4] Lowery is best known as the 10-year-old caddy of champion Francis Ouimet during the 1913 U.S. Open. Lowery's sponsorship gave Lema $200 a week expense money, to be repaid, in addition to splitting his winnings: Lema received two-thirds, Lowery one-third. One additional detail was that all debts at the end of the year were to be carried forward.[3]

PGA Tour

By 1957, Lema had developed his skills sufficiently to earn his way onto the PGA Tour, winning the Imperial Valley Open in memorable fashion: Assuming he was out of contention, Lema headed to the clubhouse bar, where he had three highballs. Told that he would face Paul Harney in a sudden-death playoff, a relaxed Lema won the tournament on the second extra hole. The following year, he began developing friendships with a trio of fellow golfers: Johnny Pott, Tommy Jacobs and Jim Ferree, and during 11 tournaments in 1958, Lema finished in the top 15, winning $10,282 for the year.

The following year, Lema's winnings dropped to $5,900, followed by an even worse year in 1960, when he collected a mere $3,060. A raucous off-the-course lifestyle was taking its toll until he began talking with television producer Danny Arnold, who helped him improve his composure and bolster his confidence.[3]

While Lema's struggles continued in 1962, along with his debt to Lowery reaching over $11,000, his luck would finally change for good. On the eve of his victory in October 1962 at the Orange County Open Invitational in Costa Mesa, California, Lema joked he would serve champagne to the press if he won the next day.[5][6] From then on he was known as Champagne Tony, and his handsome looks and vivacious personality added to the legend, such that Johnny Miller has stated that at the time of his death in 1966, Lema was second only to Arnold Palmer in fan popularity.

"There's nothing like ending a nice day on a good game of golf with a little taste of the bubbly".[7]

Lema on golf and champagne

That win sparked an impressive performance over the next four years that saw him win 12 official PGA tour events, finish second on 11 occasions, and third four times. From 1963 through July 1966, Lema finished in the top 10 over 50% of the time and never missed a cut in a professional major, finishing in the top 10 in 8 of the 15 majors in which he played. He was a member of the 1963 and 1965 United States Ryder Cup teams, and his Ryder Cup record (9–1–1) is the best of any player who has played in two or more.

Friend and tour colleague Jack Nicklaus wrote that Lema's play also stabilized and improved greatly after he married his wife Betty, a former airline stewardess, in 1963.[8][9] One additional reason for Lema's more relaxed play that year was the end of his agreement with Lowery.

In 1963, Lema finished second by one stroke to Nicklaus at the Masters, and missed the playoff for the U.S. Open by two shots, bogeying the last two holes, believing he needed birdies. He won the Memphis Open Invitational later that summer.

Lema won two other tournaments that fall and was named 1963 Most Improved Player by Golf Digest. That winter, he wrote, with Gwylim S. Brown, "Golfers' Gold", an autobiographical account of his eight-year apprenticeship in the competitive cauldron of the PGA Tour.

Major champion

In 1964, Lema won the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, then three tournaments in four weeks: the Thunderbird Classic at Westchester in Rye, New York, the Buick Open Invitational at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc, Michigan, and the Cleveland Open at Highland Park Golf Course in Cleveland, Ohio, (in a playoff with Arnold Palmer).[10][11]

Two weeks later he captured his only major championship at the 1964 Open Championship, held at the Old Course at St Andrews, Scotland. He won by five shots over runner-up Jack Nicklaus.[12] Before teeing up in the first round, Lema had only played nine practice holes.[9] Lema had hired Arnold Palmer's regular British caddy, Tip Anderson, since Palmer was not competing that year.[13] Anderson, a descendant of a past Open champion, Jamie Anderson, had grown up on the course.

In the matchup of the four major champions of 1964 in the World Series of Golf, Lema won $50,000 (then the largest payoff in golf) at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, over Palmer (Masters), Ken Venturi (U.S. Open) and Bobby Nichols (PGA Championship).

Due to his good looks and recent success, Lema was tapped for a guest appearance in an episode of the TV series Hazel that aired January 7, 1965. In the episode, Hazel misplaces Lema's prized golf balls.[14] That same year Lema made an appearance on the Lawrence Welk Show where Welk passed the baton to Lema to direct the Champagne Music Makers.[15]

In 1965, Lema won the Buick Open for the second consecutive year, and the Carling World Open, finishing second in prize money to Nicklaus. In fall 1965, Lema and Nicklaus formed the U.S. team to the World Cup of Golf.[9] Lema's last victory came in May 1966, in his wife's hometown at the Oklahoma City Open held at Quail Creek Golf & Country Club. A few weeks later he came back from an opening round 78, to almost capture a third consecutive Buick Open, finishing in fourth place, three shots behind Phil Rodgers.


Following the

  • "Tony Lema".  
  • Tony Lema Golf Course Monarch Bay

External links

  1. ^ "1964 Tony Lema". The Open. Retrieved October 18, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Distinguished Americans & Canadians of Portuguese Descent". Retrieved January 9, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c Brown, Gwilym S. (March 25, 1963). "Champagne Tony Has A Winning Look".  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "Golf History". Mesa Verde Country Club library. Retrieved March 12, 2015. 
  6. ^ Ryan, Jack (September 6, 1964). "Who Says Golf Has To Be Grim?". Family Weekly. Sarasota Herald-Times (Sarasota, Florida). pp. 8–9. 
  7. ^ "Champagne Tony: Champagne on the Green". Howard Cosell Productions (in association with WABC-TV). 1964. 
  8. ^ a b Fimrite, Ron (July 31, 1995). "The Toast Of Golf". Sports Illustrated: G14–20. Retrieved July 11, 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c  
  10. ^ "Lema birdies extra hole, beats Palmer". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Associated Press. June 29, 1964. p. 19. 
  11. ^ "Lema's 15-foot putt nips Arnie in sudden death". Pittsburgh Press. UPI. June 29, 1964. p. 26. 
  12. ^ "Lema winner of British Open". Toledo Blade. Associated Press. July 11, 1964. p. 14. 
  13. ^ World's greatest caddy' carried Lema to victory"'". Miami News. Associated Press. July 11, 1964. p. 1B. 
  14. ^ "Champagne Tony: Hazel Misplaces Lema's Prized Golf Balls". January 6, 1965. 
  15. ^ , Lawrence Welk Show"Champagne Music Makers"Tony Lema directs the . 1965. 
  16. ^ "Lema Plane Crash Probed". Milwaukee Sentinel. United Press International. July 26, 1966. p. 1-sports. Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Find a Grave – Tony Lema". Retrieved July 12, 2012. 
  18. ^ Becker, Jim (June 8, 1964). "Tony Lema Provides Hot Finish To Thunderbird".  


See also


U.S. national team appearances

  • Most consecutive cuts made – 15 (1963 Masters – 1966 PGA)
  • Longest streak of top-10s – 2 (three times)
Tournament Wins 2nd 3rd Top-5 Top-10 Top-25 Events Cuts made
Masters Tournament 0 1 0 1 2 4 4 4
U.S. Open 0 0 0 2 3 4 6 5
The Open Championship 1 0 0 2 2 2 3 3
PGA Championship 0 0 0 0 1 2 5 4
Totals 1 1 0 5 8 12 18 16


DNP = Did not play
WD = Withdrew
CUT = missed the half-way cut
"T" indicates a tie for a place.
Green background for wins. Yellow background for top-10.

Tournament 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966
Masters Tournament DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP 2 T9 T21 T22
U.S. Open 50 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP CUT T5 20 T8 T4
The Open Championship DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP 1 T5 T30
PGA Championship DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP WD T13 T9 T61 T34

Results timeline

Year Championship 54 holes Winning score Margin Runner-up
1964 The Open Championship 7 shot lead −9 (73-68-68-70=279) 5 strokes Jack Nicklaus

Wins (1)

Major championships

this list is probably incomplete

Other wins (10)

No. Year Tournament Opponent(s) Result
1 1962 Orange County Open Invitational Bob Rosburg Won with birdie on third extra hole
2 1963 Memphis Open Tommy Aaron Won with par on first extra hole
3 1963 Cleveland Open Tommy Aaron, Arnold Palmer Palmer won 18-hole playoff (Palmer:67, Aaron:70, Lema:70)
4 1964 Cleveland Open Arnold Palmer Won with birdie on first extra hole
PGA Tour playoff record (3–1)
No. Date Tournament Winning score Margin of
1 Sep 30, 1962 Sahara Invitational −14 (69-67-66-68=270) 3 strokes Don January
2 Oct 28, 1962 Orange County Open Invitational −17 (68-66-64-69=267) Playoff Bob Rosburg
3 Nov 18, 1962 Mobile Sertoma Open Invitational −15 (67-68-68-70=273) 7 strokes Doug Sanders
4 May 27, 1963 Memphis Open Invitational −10 (67-67-68-68=270) Playoff Tommy Aaron
5 Jan 19, 1964 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am −4 (70-68-70-76=284) 3 strokes Gay Brewer, Bo Wininger
6 Jun 7, 1964 Thunderbird Classic[18] −12 (68-67-70-71=276) 1 stroke Mike Souchak
7 Jun 14, 1964 Buick Open Invitational −11 (69-66-72-70=277) 1 stroke Dow Finsterwald
8 Jun 28, 1964 Cleveland Open −14 (65-70-70-65=270) Playoff Arnold Palmer
9 Jul 10, 1964 The Open Championship −9 (73-68-68-70=279) 5 strokes Jack Nicklaus
10 Jun 6, 1965 Buick Open Invitational −8 (71-70-69-70=280) 2 strokes Johnny Pott
11 Aug 23, 1965 Carling World Open −5 (71-71-67-70=279) 2 strokes Arnold Palmer
12 May 29, 1966 Oklahoma City Open Invitational −17 (69-68-69-65=271) 6 strokes Tom Weiskopf

PGA Tour wins (12)

Professional wins (22)

Lema, 32, and his wife Betty, 30, were buried in the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Hayward, California, after funeral services at St. Elizabeth's Church in his hometown of Oakland, California.[17]

In 1983, a San Leandro public golf course bordering San Francisco Bay was named in his honor, the Tony Lema Golf Course, now part of the Monarch Bay Golf complex. In Ludlow, Massachusetts, the road accessing the local country club is named Tony Lema Drive. There is a collection of photographs and other items in the club house of Ludlow Country club which features Tony Lema.