Washburn All-American won 1964 USGA Pub Links
It’s safe to say KGA senior golfer Bill McDonald has made a successful return to his home state. Though he’ll celebrate his 68th birthday later this month, Topeka’s McDonald has not let that slow him down – especially on the golf course.
Last year, the longtime Michigan resident edged his way into the 16-player bracket for match play and then strung together four match victories to claim the Super Senior division title at the inaugural Trans-Mississippi Golf Association Senior Championship at Brook Hollow in Dallas.
Later in the season, he won the Super Senior crown at the Kansas Senior Amateur Championship at Topeka Country Club and successfully defended his two-year run as KGA Senior Series Super Senior division champion at Falcon Lakes in Basehor. McDonald, now playing out of Topeka’s Cypress Ridge, had rounds of 76 and 70 and his four-over 146 total
was good enough for a one-shot victory at Topeka CC. He shot consecutive rounds of 72 to win by five shots at Falcon Lakes.
“It has been a long time since I have won three amateur tournaments in a summer,” McDonald told Kansas Golfer Online after his triumph in the Senior Series finale for 2011.
Not a bad year for a Kansas native who can claim a USGA national championship, his coming in the 1964 U.S. Public Links Championship in Minneapolis.
“I still get the thrill of going out there and competing…,” said McDonald, a retired school guidance counselor and teacher who added a second-place finish with partner Steve Groom at the KGA Senior Team in September. “…and (enjoy) the friendships.”
Planes, trains and a national title
While attending Topeka’s Washburn University, McDonald qualified for and then won the USGA’s Public Links Championship, held at the Francis A. Gross Golf Course in Minneapolis. There was only one qualifying spot and McDonald managed to secure it.
“Each state was allotted a certain number of spots depending on how many people signed up,” he recalled. “Seems like it was always down in Wichita and I think there were about 25 people signed up. They had one spot and it was hard to get that one spot. There was a
guy named Monty Kaser, who was three or four years older than I was, and I edged him by one or two strokes.”
So McDonald boarded a train to Minnesota to compete in his first USGA national championship.
“I was the only person from Kansas…hooked up with a guy from the University of Minnesota so we stayed together,” he said. “I qualified and my first match, I can still see it, was a guy from Detroit – Eddie Leonard, and I can still remember the match. I made four deuces. I birdied every par 3 and I beat him 1 up. When I was going to school at Wayne State later on, Eddie’s wife was a secretary down there, and I saw Eddie numerous times.”
In the semifinals, McDonald squared off with a guy from North Carolina. It was a good thing they weren’t playing basketball…
“I’m short, 5’6”, and he was 6’8” and he practiced so much with his clubs that the faces were just about smooth…there were no grooves,” McDonald recalled.
In the finals, McDonald took on Dean Wilson Jr. of Omaha.
“I beat him 5 and 3 and it was nice, Jack Wiley and (Topeka Capital Journal reporter) Bob Hanson flew up from Topeka to watch the match and they flew me back to Topeka,” McDonald says. “So that was really nice.”
McDonald would later become very involved in the Michigan Golf Association and the Michigan Publinx Golf Association, where he would serve as president. The 1981 Michigan State Amateur champion would dominate Michigan public golf for a 20-year span, winning the Publinx State Match Play championship a record six times, its Senior Match Play a record four times, its Medal Play championship three times, and it’s Senior Medal Play championship a record five times. For good measure, he won the Syron Memorial event a record four times.
“It was just a wonderful experience golfing in Michigan…though they only had about a six-month golf season,” he says. “But all of the great friendships is what kept me going in golf.”
“Billy Mac” as he was known in Michigan golf circles qualified for USGA championships no fewer than 17 times from 1964 to 2010 and was elected to the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 1992.
“That’s something that you will live with for the rest of your life…,” McDonald says of being in a select group of Kansans who have won USGA titles. “…to see your name on that trophy, whether it be a U.S. Public Links, a U.S. Amateur or a Junior Amateur, it means a lot.
It’s something you can never take away from me…to see your name up there with some of the great stars of golf.”
Washburn Hall of Famer
McDonald was born in Great Bend and moved to Topeka in 1951. His parents, both from Larned, attended Fort Hays State and his father was serving in the military in London during World War II when McDonald was born. McDonald’s father later became a college coach, at Fort Hays and Western Carolina, before finally taking the basketball head coaching job at Washburn.
“He started the baseball program at Washburn in 1955 and that’s about when I got started in golf when I was about 10 or 11,” McDonald recalls. “That was about my first experience in golf. He was a member at Shawnee Country Club. We moved to the Topeka public course
shortly after that. I played a lot with my dad. He was interested in golf and kind of got me started.”
McDonald says he took lessons from two Topeka instructors and another at Kansas City’s Blue Hills Country Club as his game began to develop.
“When I was a sophomore at Topeka High School I made the varsity team and I won a tournament,” McDonald says. “At that point I realized I was pretty good…(that) I won a tournament as a sophomore.”
McDonald says junior golf outside of school was limited at the time. He says he remembers reaching the finals of a Chamber of Commerce event in Salina and qualifying for a national tourney in Minnesota.
McDonald’s prep teams would find success on the state championship level.
“I went to Topeka High School for two years
and then Topeka West opened in the fall of ’61,” he said. “We had some good
junior golfers in Topeka at the time. We won the state tournament when I was a
sophomore and we tied for first and lost in a playoff my junior year… When I
went to Topeka West…they had a four-man team or a two-man team. I was on the
two-man team and we got second (at state).”
McDonald says a lot of the area’s good high school golfers at the time just “ended up at Washburn” and he was no different. Buoyed by that bevy of local talent the Ichabods found success.
“We went to the national tournament all four years I was there,” says the Washburn Sports Hall of Fame inductee. “Our team got second in the nation one year and I was in the top 10 three out of the four years.”
The three-time NAIA All-American McDonald earned his undergraduate degree from Washburn. The school’s president had moved on to Eastern Michigan, which had a top Guidance and Counseling program and that’s what McDonald wanted to get into at the time since professional golf opportunities were limited.
So McDonald moved on to the Ypsilanti, Mich.’s school where he helped with the golf team and taught some golf classes while earning his Master’s degree. Later he received his doctorate in Guidance and Counseling from Detroit’s Wayne State University.
In August of 1968 McDonald married Topeka’s Kathy Rudolph, also a Washburn graduate, and they moved to Pontiac, Mich., where each took jobs with the school district.
Back at school
While McDonald made a major impact on Michigan amateur golf, more importantly he enjoyed a long and distinguished career working as a counselor and as a teacher in Michigan schools. The Oakland Press honored him for his innovative program “The Reading Auction” which motivated his students to read and write.
And McDonald says the game of golf has taught him lessons that transferred over to the rest of his life.
“Learning to be humble, especially in Michigan where I won a lot, every kind of tournament, being humble about that,” he says. “…being very patient…trying to take my time. I’m not out there playing for money, but the fun I’m having while I’m out there.”
McDonald says he and Kathy, who retired after a long teaching career, had been thinking of moving from Michigan. His only child, daughter Kerry Rose, an Arizona State graduate, and
her family moved to New York City and the McDonalds didn’t want to follow them.
“Her husband took a job in New York City about four or five years ago and we said we weren’t moving to New York City,” McDonald recalls. “The seed had been growing about possibly moving back to Topeka. We only got back a couple times a year to visit our family. When they moved to New York City that kind of made the decision for us to come back
The McDonalds, who have one grand daughter, have been married for 43 years. These days, when Bill isn’t involved in local golf or a golf trip like the one he headed to Fort Myers, Fla., for in early January, the two are very involved in activities at Washburn, McDonald says.
“The Mulvane Art Museum, Kathy is on the board and I’m on the Washburn Athletic Scholarship Fund board, I’m involved in that,” he adds. “We’re real involved in Washburn. Washburn is a big part of our lives.”