Even if you haven’t lived around here for decades, you should know Steve Melnyk:
• One of eight players to win both the U.S. and British Amateurs.
• Member of the first Florida team to win a national championship.
• Led the Greater Jacksonville Open as an amateur.
• Had a 25-year career as a TV golf commentator.
And more .. so here he is:
Raised in Brunswick and a graduate of Glynn Academy, he dominated junior golf in this area.
National attention came when he entered the University of Florida, then as now a national power, and he gained All-America honors as he led the team to the 1968 NCAA championship.
His national amateur career was one of the best ever. There were wins in the 1969 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont and the 1971 British Am at Carnoustie. He was the low amateur in the 1970 British Open and the 1971 Masters, and along the way won both the Western and Eastern amateurs. He won the Par 3 tournament at Augusta and even led the first round of the Greater Jacksonville Open at Hidden Hills in 1969 he tied for fifth, five shots behind Gary Player.
He turned pro in 1971 and was a solid Tour player, getting three runner-up finishes and seemingly was headed to join peers like Tom Watson and Lanny Wadkins as top-drawer players but his career vanished when he broke his elbow in a fall at the 1982 Phoenix Open. “Fuzzy Zoeller and I were walking to the practice range and the cart path was very slick. My feet went out from under me and I landed on my elbow. I still can’t lift my right arm above my head.”
He tried to stay on Tour but the injury ended it, and he retired in 1984.
That started his television career, first with CBS and later with ABC.
Now 64, he’s retired from television and works in the investment industry, primarily with Warren Stephens Investments in Little Rock (Golf connection: Stephens’ father once was head of Augusta National.)
Lives in Ortega with wife Debbie. Sons Dalton and Butler.
“I had a total hip replacement three years ago and there have been complications. I can still play pretty well — I call myself a ‘bad scratch’ player — but competition is out. I can’t walk 18 holes.”
“I did television fulltime for 25 years on CBS and then ABC/ESPN. Then I helped with USGA events, which I really loved. I love amateur golf, so I guess my life came full circle.”
“Fred Ridley (former USGA president) helped me through the process of getting my amateur status back. I really hadn’t thought about it but there is one great benefit: as a past U.S. Amateur champion, I’m an honorary invitee at the Masters. I can play practice rounds and compete in the par 3 tournament.”
“My passion is the Gators. I’ve been president of Gator Boosters and I just went off the athletic board after 10 years. Time for some new blood.” (He is a member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.)
Winning the NCAA
“Not many people realize the significance of our NCAA Championship: Florida seems to win something big every year, but this was the first national championship for the school. We weren’t expected to win, either. Florida had many great players and teams before us, but we won with a team of me, John Darr, Richard Spears, Wendell Coffey and John Sale.” (The Gators defeated top-ranked Houston by two shots in Las Cruces, N.Mex. The Gainesville Sun recently quoted Darr saying that when Coach Buster Bishop called Athletic Director Ray Graves to tell him of the championship, Graves replied, “Congratulations. Now, what was that tournament you won?”
“Winning the U. S. Amateur was about survival. Oakmont is so hard, the greens are so fast. Look at the score: I was two over par and won by five.”
“I wouldn’t have played in the British Amateur had not I been on the Walker Cup team. Back then, the match was the week before the Amateur and the U.S. team was exempt, so we stayed over. Now, it often conflicts with the NCAA Championship, so there isn’t much of an American presence.”
“Winning the Amateur got me exempt for the British Open. I went over, all by myself, and was staying in a dump of a hotel. Jack Nicklaus found out where I was staying and arranged a room at his hotel. Great guy — the first time I met him was on the first tee at Augusta; we were paired in the first round. We’ve been friends ever since.”
Greatest shot he’s seen: “I saw Jack Nicklaus’ double eagle at Selva Marina in the 1967 Greater Jacksonville Open. I wasn’t following him; I was walking down the (adjacent) 10th fairway when he hit it.”
Best course: Cypress Point.
Course everyone should play: St. Andrews. “In our country, you play golf through the air. At places like St. Andrew’s, the ground comes into play. You need to know how to hit a lot more shots.”
Best tournament: “No question. The Masters.”
Memorable round: “In my first Masters, I was paired with Arnold Palmer. I birdied the first three, bogied the next three and after 10 holes I was even par and still hadn’t made a par. I shot 73 that day. Arnold asked me, ‘Do you always play like this?”