Michael Bonallack, amateur great and R&A secretary, dies at 88

(AP Photo/Alistair Grant, File)

By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer

Michael Bonallack once said he never considered turning pro because he didn't realize he was good enough until he was too old. No matter. His influence on the game was enormous, from his standing as Britain's greatest amateur to his running the Royal & Ancient Golf Club.

Bonallack died on Tuesday at age 88, a month after he made one last appearance at St. Andrews for the opening ceremony of the Walker Cup.

Jack Nicklaus said Bonallack always embraced the game's traditions and that his friend of 65 years was “important voice through golf's growth, evolution and global expansion.”

“He was an influential ambassador, and someone always dedicated to properly shaping the future of the next generations of golfers,” Nicklaus said in a statement.

Bonallack was a five-time British Amateur and five-time English Amateur champion, part of nine Walker Cup teams and the playing captain when Great Britain & Ireland won for the first time after World War II.

Bonallack later became secretary of the R&A from 1983 to 1999. His career as an amateur great and an administrator led to his induction in 2000 to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

“He made a huge contribution to golf not only as one of the finest amateur golfers in the history of the sport but also as an extremely effective leader and administrator,” said Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A.

He was steeped in golf on so many levels, as chairman of the European Tour, president of the English Golf Union and president of the British and International Golf Greenskeeper Association. He also was respected as a rules official, which featured one famous story regarding the late Seve Ballesteros.

The two-time Masters champion wanted a suspect drop in the trees left of the 10th fairway. Ballesteros wanted a second opinion. He got Bonallack, who was said to drive up in his cart and, without stopping, looked at the lie and simply told Ballesteros, “Hit it.”

“Golf has lost one of its very finest," said Peter Dawson, who succeeded Bonallack at the R&A in 1999. “Respected all around the world, Michael was a wonderful player, administrator and ambassador for our sport and he will be sorely missed by so many. His contribution to the game he loved was simply unparalleled.”

His amateur victories spanned the British Boys Amateur in 1952 to the Lytham Trophy in 1972. He played in the Masters three times and was the low amateur in the British Open twice in his 13 appearances. His best showing was at Muirfield in 1959 when he tied for 11th. At Carnoustie in 1968, he was tied for the 18-hole lead.

He never turned pro, and once told golf historian and author Keith Mackie, “I didn't think I was good enough until I was too old.”

His second Walker Cup appearance came against a U.S. team that included Nicklaus.

“When I saw how good Jack was, and compared that to how good I thought I was, there was a big difference,” Bonallack once said. “It made me think, ‘I might starve if I turn professional, so let’s forget that.’”

Nicklaus said his friendship with Bonallack began at the '59 Walker Cup when, as a 19-year-old, he realized golf was going to be his “chosen sport and career path.”

“I immediately respected Michael as a player and a person,” Nicklaus said. "He was a gifted golfer, but an even more gifted individual and gentleman.

“A kinship was at the foundation of our friendship - a shared respect and love for the game of golf. Michael’s passion for the game ... was always an ever-present asset in his work with The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, and even his role as a member of the Memorial Tournament’s Captains Club.”

Bonallack's wife, Angela, died last year. She also had a strong golf heritage with two English Amateur titles and six appearances in the Curtis Cup. She had a classic swing. Bonallack was more scrappy, a player who relied on an immaculate short game.

He received the Order of the British Empire for services to golf in 1971 and was knighted in 1998. The USGA selected him for its prestigious Bob Jones Award.

Teams of 12 amateurs from Europe and the Asia-Pacific region now play for the Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy every two years.

AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

Updated September 27, 2023