Born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Jackie Cummings, a true legend in the amateur game, passed away on Saturday, aged 80.
Below is taken from a story about Cummings in Alabama Golf Association: The First 100 Years by Ian Thompson.
Ironically enough, Cummings attended the University of Alabama, but never hit a shot for the Crimson Tide’s golf team.
“I was, what you’d call, a late bloomer,” Cummings said.
He’s certainly got that right. Winning the 1990 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship puts him in select company.
Cummings didn’t touch a club until he was in high school, even though his parents were members of the old Tuscaloosa Country Club.
“A lot of my friends at Tuscaloosa (now Central) High School were skipping afternoon classes to go play golf. I wanted to join them. I was probably about a sophomore. I never had any lessons; I still haven’t to to this day. I just kind of picked it up along the way.”
Next came college.
“A lot of my good buddies were going to Alabama, so I decided to join them. I was a lousy junior player and didn’t rate a tryout for a place on the golf team. I still played and practiced, but I never did try out.”
Some of the players on the team at that time included M.C. Fitts, Buddy Manderson and Jackie Maness.
Soon after college Cummings got married and didn’t have a lot of time for golf. His father helped him get into an International dealership – selling and leasing large trucks.
As he became established in business, he had more time to devote to golf.
“As I said before, I never took any lessons, but I did read a lot. Ben Hogan was my idol. I learned so much from his book (Five Fundamentals of Golf).”
He became a fixture on the local golf scene, winning his first tournament – the Montgomery Country Club Invitational – in 1958.
“I remember I beat Dick Pride in the final (it was matchplay back then). His son Dicky, who plays on the PGA Tour, is my godson.”
Other wins followed the same year at Indian Hills and Selma Country Club (where he has a span of 39 years between his first win and last win in 1997).
He was now seen as one of the players to beat.
Cummings would win three State Amateur Championships, his first coming in 1961 over the West Course at The Country Club of Birmingham. He would beat one of his Tuscaloosa rivals, M.C. Fitts, by one shot. Rounds of 69, 71 and 73 had Cummings comfortably in charge, but he limped home with a final round of 80, which proved to be just enough to still win.
His other State Amateur wins came in 1965 at The Country Club of Mobile, where rain meant the championship had to be called at 54 holes, and at Vestavia Country Club in 1971, when two players who would go on to play on the tour – Mike Smith and Charlie Krenkel – came in tied second.
“My biggest disappointment was not winning at Indian Hills (still his home course) in 1966. I had a five-shot lead going into the final round, but I shot 77 and Mac McLendon shot a 70 to beat me. But, over the years, I’ve won more than I’ve lost.”
He also finished second in the State Amateur to Craig Clemons in 1970.
He noted that another disappointment was never winning the prestigious Country Club of Birmingham National Invitational; again he had two runner-up finishes there.
He did win the Country Club of Mobile Invitational three times – 1961, 62 and 68.
Cummings had a tremendous amount of success in the sixties, but his game went into a decline by the mid-seventies.
“I was working hard, plus I had back trouble. I ruptured a disk in my back and had to have surgery. This forced me to get into better shape as I was put on a physical training program and I did a lot of walking as well. By the time I turned 50 I was in better shape than I was at age 40. Hence, my golf game picked up too.”
He was about to enter a new arena – senior golf – one that would show that his golf game never left, but rather was one that improved with age. At age 50 he was now eligible for the Senior Open, but would have to wait another five years to be of age to try for the Senior Amateur.
In total Cummings played in seven Senior Opens, making the cut in a very commendable four of them. He had to qualify for four of them and was exempt from 1991 to 93 by virtue of his U.S. Senior Amateur win. His best showing came in 1995 at Cherry Hills when he was the second lowest amateur, just one behind Vinny Giles.
Now onto the crowning moment of his golfing career, but it was one for which he nearly missed his qualifying tee time. I’ll let him take up the story once more.
“That spring my game wasn’t very good. I’d cracked a wrist and hadn’t been playing very much. I decided to go to Old Waverly in Mississippi to qualify. I’d been there before and thought I knew the way. But come 20 minutes from my tee time I was completely lost and things didn’t look good. Finally a road looked familiar and I thought I’d give it a shot. It was the right road and two minutes before my tee time I pull into the parking lot. I grab my clubs, have my golf shoes in my hand and run to the first tee.
“You know, the U.S.G.A. doesn’t mess around about those things. If you’re late, you’re out. I made it just in time and with no practice swing I pushed my tee shot into a ditch and started with a big, fat double bogey. But a strange thing happened after that, I never missed another shot and ended up shooting 70 to qualify by a shot.
“So I headed to a place called Carefree, Arizona and the Desert Forest Golf Club. It was hot even though it was in October and the wind was blowing. It was the hardest course ever for a Senior Amateur, with the medalist shooting 150. I shot an 80 the first day, but followed that up with a 74 and made it into matchplay with ease. Things just kept getting better and better for me as the week went on.”
He beat two-time Senior Amateur champion Clarence Moore of Winnsboro, S.C. in the quarter-finals and Rick Jones of Youngstown, Ohio in the semi-finals to set up a clash with Bobby Clark of Asheville, N.C.
“It was (and still is) an 18-hole final and we both played poorly on the front nine after which we were even in the match. I got my game together on the back nine and had seven pars and a birdie to win the match 3 & 2.”
Indeed he closed out the championship with the only birdie of the match, a six footer on the par 5 sixteenth.
“I felt I could be competitive in the national Senior Amateur as the year before Bob Lowry of Huntsville had lost in the semi-final, as had Amos Jones of Dothan another year. I knew I could play with those guys. You know, it was just my week.”
His win gave him a five-year exemption into the championship and he made through into match play every year. Twice he had good runs before losing quarter-final matches, but now laments the fact that he can’t compete with the younger guys.
His record through the years stands alone in statewide circles. Sam Perry and Sam Farlow may have won more State Amateurs (four to Cummings’ three), but no one in the state has likely won as many invitationals as Jackie Cummings.
When asked exactly how many he threw his hands up and said he had no idea, but he did reel off the following list just for starters: Tuscaloosa seven times, Florence once, Vestavia three times, Selma three, Mobile three, etc., etc.
He received the Joe H. King Award in 2001 and was inducted into the Birmingham Golf Association’s Hall of Fame in 2010.
Click here for a story about Jackie Cummings in the Tuscaloosa News.