“DID YOU KNOW”
A Philly Man Hit His First Golf Ball at Age 23, Won the US Am, and Almost Won the Masters!
Robert Henry “Skee” Riegel was born in 1914 in New Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Upper Darby. He attended Harrisburg Academy, West Point, and Lafayette University before graduating from Hobart College. At Lafayette he captained both the football and baseball teams. An exceptional athlete, he could walk on his hands almost as well as he could on his feet.
At age 23 Riegel got married and honeymooned in Reno, Nevada. His wife Edith, a very good golfer, suggested that he take a golf lesson. After that first golf lesson, which was provided by the hotel chef who was substituting for the absent golf professional, Riegel attacked golf with a vengeance. When Skee began golf Edith quit. She said one golfer in the family was enough.
Skee and Edith moved to Southern California, where Skee played and practiced every day. Less than three years later, he was playing in the 1940 US Amateur, qualifying locally and on site. The next year he made the round of 16 in the tournament. A man who owned a golf course in Glendale gave Skee a membership so he could enter USGA tournaments. He never played a round of golf there.
When the United States declared war on Japan and Germany in late 1941, Skee was off to Florida to study at Emery Riddle University’s flight school in Miami. While in Miami, he won his first big tournament, the 1942 Florida State Amateur Championship. Riegel then joined the US Army Air Corp and taught flying during the war.
When the war ended, Skee rose to the top of amateur golf. In the 1946 US Amateur, which was played at Baltusrol Golf Club, he qualified for the match play with a score of 136, which set a record that stood for more than 30 years. The next year he won the US Amateur at Pebble Beach. He won the 1948 Western Amateur and the Trans-Mississippi Amateur in 1946 and 1948. As a member of the 1947 and 1949 Walker Cup teams, he never lost a match.
On the way home from the 1947 Walker Cup, which had been held at St. Andrews, Skee and Edith were having dinner with the ship’s captain. During dinner Skee shinnied up the smokestack. He said that everyone thought it was funny except Edith and the president of the USGA. After climbing back down to the floor, Skee exited the dining room and could not be found. Some feared that he might have jumped overboard, but he had just crawled into a lifeboat and gone to sleep.
In late 1949 at the age of 35, Skee turned pro. At the 1951 Masters Tournament it looked like he might be the winner when he finished with a six under par 282, but Ben Hogan who was playing well behind him put together a 68 for a 280 total. Skee finished second alone. That year he finished eighth on the PGA Tour money list.
After four years on the PGA Tour and now age 39, Skee returned to Philadelphia as the professional at the Radnor Valley Country Club. In late 1961, he left Radnor Valley for the opportunity to participate in the ownership of a new golf course in Bucks County called York Road Golf Club.
Skee played in 16 US Opens, 11 straight Masters Tournaments and 9 PGA Championships. He was not eligible for the PGA Championship until age 40. In those days only PGA members could play in that tournament and everyone had to complete a five year apprenticeship to become a PGA member. He finished second in the 1952 Insurance City Open. While at Radnor Valley, Skee won two Pennsylvania Opens and a Philadelphia Open. For fifteen years after leaving the PGA Tour, he returned to the tour in the winter months and continued to finish in the money quite often. Until late in life, Edith walked every hole of tournament golf that Skee played.
Skee was an expert on the rules of golf. He knew the rules as well or better than the people at the USGA, which makes the rules of golf. For more than 30 years he was rules chairman for the Philadelphia PGA. He was always the non-playing captain of the Section team that played matches against the Middle Atlantic PGA. He is a member of the Philadelphia PGA Hall of Fame and its Playing Legends.
Skee Riegel died in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 2009. Radnor Valley Country Club is going to unveil a plaque commemorating Skee’s golfing achievements in June.