This is a story about a truly remarkable man. It starts when he was a caddie at North Fork County Club when he was eight years old and it goes on to him studying to enter the priesthood and being awarded the Bronze Star as a captain in the United States Army before he eventually became the president of the USGA.
James Hand passed away in Manchester, VT, last week at the age of 101. He had quite the journey, quite the life.
As was common in those days, young men in the family took jobs on at an early age to help the family make ends meet. When young James was eight, he was given the choice by his father to pick potatoes or to caddie at the club. James said he didn’t ponder very long before he chose the caddie route.
That experience ignited a lifelong passion for the game and he often said, “Every good thing in my life came out of caddying.” Young James loved the game and everything it stood for. His talent was good enough to win the North Fork Club championship when he was just 16 years old.
As a teenager, Jim felt a calling to become a priest. However, after being in the seminary for three years, he no longer felt that calling. In 1945 he joined the Army, a decision that would have a profound effect on his life. While stationed in England, Jim met a pretty young lady named Betty and he knew right away this would be the love of his life. They were married for 59 years until Betty’s passing in 2005.
It wasn’t until Jim became president of the USGA that he and I met. I knew from that first handshake that I was dealing with a straight shooter and an incredible gentleman. Jim was surprised when I told him that my Dad shared his birth year and also lived in Cutchogue.
Any of those in the know say Jim Hand was the best president the USGA has ever had. “Jim’s great love of the game and his integrity, sportsmanship, and respect continue to guide those at the USGA today,” said Mike Davis, the organization’s current executive director. Jim often said that the major reason for his longevity was golf. Well into his 90s, Jim refused to ride in a golf cart. According to Jim, walking a golf course was good for the soul.
Jim was a very accomplished golfer playing off scratch for many years. Those who knew Jim the best agree the most enjoyment Jim derived was playing with friends and the good laughs that came from needling each other.
As a caddie, as an almost-priest, as an Army veteran, as a happily married family man, and as president of the USGA, it’s all wrapped up in the truly remarkable lifetime of James Hand.
And if the man upstairs needs any help, I’m quite sure he just received a hand — that’s Jim Hand.