Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Leon Randall

Back in the day - as baby boomers like to say - the golf writing around here was in the hands of Charlie Tiano, Steve Kane and Rick Remsnyder. Even after I was promoted to sports editor in 1976, I knew enough to leave golf coverage to those who had a better understanding of the game. But as sports editor, I would have been derelict in my responsibilities had I not parachuted in on occasion, particularly during the annual Herdegen tournament to crown Ulster County's best player.

Unlike in recent years, when the tournament format and rules (not necessarily the golfers themselves) gradually have been watered down, the-then 72-hole Herdegen was a true test of golf. It had the toughest standards (on and off the course) and the lowest handicappers in the county.

Which makes the accomplishments of Leon Randall all the more remarkable. You see, Randall, who died Tuesday at his retirement home in South Carolina, won the Herdegen 16 times. That's 16 times.

We gave the Herdegen a significant amount of prominence in the paper each year. It was a event unlike any other around here - regardless of the sport - and we treated it accordingly. Leon Randall,in today's vernacular, warrented rock-star status. Everybody thought so. Everybody except Leon Randall, that is.

Leon Randall was as soft-spoken and modest a man as he was an exceptional golfer.

"I never met anyone who had a perfect temperament like Leon," Jay Bertha, his longtime friend, told our Don Treat in a wonderful story in today's Freeman. "He was mild mannered and always a gentleman."

"In my life I used Leon as a role model. I wanted to emulate him," said Harvey Bostic, also a longtime friend, as well as a great golfer (and four-time Herdegen champ) in his own right.

"Leon was our Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus," said Dave Blakely, another veteran area golf standout (and perhaps the best player never to have won the Herdegen).

The list of tributes like that is endless.

Which brings me back to one of my infrequent stints as golf writer and the first time I met Leon Randall.

It was a Saturday afternoon after a Hergeden round at the Twaalfskill Club. I was looking for a column to run as a sidebar in our Sunday paper. Among other things, that meant finding something interesting and someone talkative, and getting what I needed quickly enough to write it on deadline (and still have time to put together the rest of the Sunday sports section).

I can't recall the details, but I vividly remember introducing myself to Leon Randall at the 19th hole to have him discuss what was a typically terrific round. Leon was reluctant to talk much about himself, but he patiently described his game and answered my questions, all the while trying to deflect the spotlight away from himself. That's the way he was each time we subsequently talked.

In a microcosm, he was exactly what people were saying about him Tuesday: considerate, genial, self-effacing, one-of-a-kind. I hadn't interviewed anyone quite like him up to that time in my relatively short career and I sure haven't since.

"He was more than just a great golfer," said Bryan Smith, a four-time Herdegen champ, whose late father was a contemporary and friend of Leon Randall. "He was generous, friendly and someone everyone should have met."

I'm glad I did.

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