“There are so many memories of my wonderful friend, Stan, that to pick one favorite is impossible. Playing together on so many Saturdays with Stan, my farther and his friends are at the top of the list. Playing Birdie-Bogey on New Year's Day when the wind and temperature were the same … 30. But the way he treated all people with a gentleness and respect is my most important lifelong memory of Stan and the life lesson for which I will always be grateful.”– Tom Watson, winner of eight Majors
Last Friday and Saturday at The Kansas City Country Club, the Fourth Stanley Cup was held, which is a two-round, member-guest tournament for players 50 and over. (Any more than two rounds would be testing both our mental and physical stamina.) Stan Thirsk was our head professional from 1961 to 1992, but he was part of The KCCC community until he passed away on May 16, 2015. After he retired as our head pro he taught at Blue Hills from 1993 to 2013, but his home, his golf home, was always at KCCC, where he played hundreds of just-for-fun rounds with many us. I say just-for-fun rounds, but, in truth, Stan was always teaching, giving lessons to those in need.
About 10 years ago, a loop started showing up in my swing. (Try visualizing a poor man’s version of Jim Furyk’s swing). It made my friends laugh, but it drove Stan crazy. He would grab my shoulders and tell me, “TURN and keep your (right) elbow close to your side. Your elbow is flying way up here.” Eventually the loop faded away because Stan was relentless.
To put it simply, Stan was a KCCC treasure and he is a KCCC legend.
When it came to the game of golf, Stan was a true double threat. “Stan was a very, very good player in his own right,” said Tom Watson. “Stan had a beautiful golf swing. I believe Stan has one of the most beautiful golf swings there ever was. I didn’t emulate his swing as much as I admired it.”
His playing credentials were truly impressive given the fact that teaching was his real day job. One of his BIG moments was in the 1972 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. Stan tied for the first-round lead with Buddy Allin by shooting a 2-under, 68. Gary Player won that year, but Stan did make the cut.
COMPETED IN 18 MAJORS & 23 SENIOR MAJORS
- Eight U.S. Opens: 1958, 59, 62, 63, 66, 73, 74 & 79. Made the Cut: 1963 & 66
- Ten PGA Championships: 1962, 63, 65, 66, 68, 69, 71, 72, 76 & 78. Made the Cut: 1963, 66, 69, 72 & 76
- Seven U.S. Senior Opens: 1981, 82, 83, 84, 85, 87 & 92.
- Sixteen Sr PGA Championships: 1978, 79, 80, 82, 84, 85, 86, 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95 & 96.
- Senior PGA Club Professional Champion: 1989
- Best Scores at KCCC: 61 from the silver tees; 62 three times from reds.
- Holes-In-One at KCCC: Eight – Six on No. 2, one on 6 and one on 14
Yes, Stan was a fine player and a Top 100 teacher, but he may be best known among our membership for “making memories.” For example:
“One day when my boys (now 45 and 41) were 12 and 8, they told Stan that they were going to play golf with their father. Stan asked them to do him a favor.
“What?” the boys asked.
“Don’t watch your father swing the golf club,” replied Stan.
- Chuck F.
“It was fun to play with Stan in his retirement. If you had a good round, he was always pleased for you rather than complaining about your handicap like some people. He was a true gentleman on and off the golf course. – Dr. Paul
“I have to credit Stan for making a great marriage even better when he taught Mary Jane how to play golf. She was not going to listen to me. It was like teaching your high-school girlfriend how to drive a stick shift car. It was something you never did.” – Bryant Barnes
“I credit my love of the game to Stan Thirsk. I would not have been as interested -- or as good. He’d fix my short game in 15 minutes. He would spot things, whether it was in the setup, takeaway, whatever. He spotted it immediately.” – Mary Jane Barnes, 18-time Club Champion
“What really inspired me the most about my time with Stan was the time I returned home after being on the starting team at Stanford, which had just won the Pacific 8 championship at Los Angeles CC. I was really pumped and his comment to me was, “You will never beat me,” and he was right. The man was tougher than tough and kinder than kind. He just loved to inspire by challenging.
“What always made me laugh was in our various times at Birdie-Bogie, when he would see an opponent birdie the first two holes and he always said, ‘Early ripe, early rot.’ He would then double down the bet! How much fun it was to have a great player act like a kid on our playing field. Golf is a microcosm of life and he was a shining example of how to live life. I hope it can be reenacted again by the future generations who learn to love this game because of people like him!” – Dr. T
“During a round with the Birdie-Bogey group, Stan pleaded with Pat Curran not to tell anyone that he was taking lessons from him!” – Art
“When I made the cut in 1983 in the U.S. Open at Oakmont, the first person I called was Stan. … Stan was the kind of guy who would work with you and work with you until you figured it out.” – John Sherman (1982 Trans-Miss champion; Kansas Amateur champion in 1981 & 83; 1984 Missouri Amateur champion)
“While Stan possessed so many wonderful traits, one stands out in my mind: He would never say a bad word about anyone -- even a known scoundrel!” – C. Hunter
“I am one of many of Stan's students who probably remember his gentle insistence on how to properly grip a club. In fact, I still have a white glove with Stan's Sharpie marks on it. It hung in my bar for many years. I'm oversimplifying but it's fair to say that Stan instructed me to hold a club more in the fingers than the palm. He believed that a proper grip was THE starting point to a good golf swing.” – BWS
Time has a way stealing memories (as well as length off the tee), but we should all try to remember these Three Stan Lessons:
“Golf teaches you all the right things in life. You play golf by the rules. You play life by the rules.”
“You’ve got to persevere. Because if you don’t succeed the first time, you’ve still got to keep at it, keep your goals high.”
“No. 1 in my book is the grip. You have to start with the proper grip.”
The Stanley Cup is a wonderfully fun event that honors a man who loved people, knew the value of a smile and enjoyed his daily cheeseburger. Thanks for the memories, Stan!