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Kansas Golf Associaition

Stan Thirsk: One of Golf’s Great Ambassadors

Stan Thirsk’s passion for golf emerged during his childhood in Wichita, Kansas. “I fell in love Stan Thirskwith the game at 12, and never looked back,” said Thirsk. “My whole life, everything I did revolved around golf and getting better each day.” Thirsk was not only an accomplishment golfer, but he was also one of the sports’ most influential teachers. Thirsk’s graciousness and limitless knowledge of the game of golf impressed the lives of many golfers throughout his enduring career. Harold Barris, fellow golfer, had this to say of his dear friend, “You’ll never find a finer, more humble man than Stan Thirsk. The significant contributions that Thirsk made to the game of golf will always be appreciated and will never be forgotten.

Although Thirsk will predominately remembered as one of golf’s most influential instructors, he should also be recognized for his extraordinary individual achievements as a competitive golfer. Thirsk advanced through twenty-two US Open local qualifiers 1959-86, played in nine US opens 1959-79, six US Senior Opens 1981-92, ten PGA Championships 1962-78, sixteen Senior PGA Championships 1979-96, and won the 1989 Senior PGA Professional National Championship in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Thirsk had an outstanding career as a player but was always very passionate about his ability to make other golfers better through his instruction. Thirsk would go onto become one of the most renowned PGA teaching professionals. But the start to his young professional career came from an unusual and unexpected circumstance.

Thirsk unintentionally gained his professional status in golf when he was just 16 years old. In 1945, He was trying to enter a local amateur tournament in Wichita but the USGA (United States Golf Association) prohibited Thirsk from playing any amateur tournaments because he received his income through golf. He was just a part-time driving range tractor driver but earning money from this golf related job unfairly stripped him of his amatuer status.  Thirsk did not let this occurrence discourage him. He embraced his young pro status and joined Tex Consolver at Wichita C.C. as an assistant professional.

Learning under Consolver would prove to be greatly beneficial to Thirsk. Tex Consolver was a PGA member for over 60 years and reportedly taught more than 35,000 rounds of golf. Among the hundreds of Consolver’s students, some of the notable ones include PGA professionals Jim Dowling, Monty Kaser, Paul McGuire, Johnny Stevens, and Stan Thirsk. Thirsk used his experiences and lessons from Consolver when he would become the assistant professional at Mission Hills C.C. in Kansas City in 1956. Thirsk’s successful golf lessons quickly gained an exceptional reputation. From this reputation, his unique and rewarding instructions were sought after by neighboring course, Kansas City Country Club (K.C.C.C.), who would eventually appoint Thirsk has Head Golf Professional in 1962. A position he would flourishingly maintain for 30 years.

Before being inducted into the Kansas Golf Association’s Hall of Fame in 1992, Thirsk spent many dedicated years of giving lessons at KCCC where tutored hundreds of students aspiring to improve their golf game. One of his very prominent apprentices was Mary Jane Barnes. She was highly prosperous in her career and achieved 16 club championships. Barnes believes that much of her success derives from the important lessons she received from Thirsk, “I credit my love for the game to Stan Thirsk… I would not have been as interested or as good” she said, “He would spot things, whether it was in the setup, takeaway, whatever. He spotted it immediately.”  Thirsk’s quick eye for improvement cured many swings during his reign as head professional. But it was not all drills and mechanics, as you can see from Barnes’ comments, Thirsk did not only teach his students on how to become better at golf, he taught them to love golf.

Thirsk his most popularly known for his devoted relationship with Tom Watson. Watson was his most successful star pupil was Tom Watson. Watson won 8 major titles on the PGA Tour and owes much of his success to his early mentor. Thirsk knew Watson was a special talent even when he first met him as a child, "He was 6 years old, a little freckle-faced kid that spit through the gap in his teeth like his father did... We had this pitching, putting and driving contest. When he was driving he never lost his balance. Not one time. For a child six years old that was amazing, because usually they try to kill the ball and lose their balance.” Through the countless hours of instruction Tom and Stan grew very close. “The greatest thing Stan has taught me is character,” Watson said. “He’s been more than a father to me on the golf course.” Even when Watson was struggling with his game and wanted to give up, Thirsk would not let him. "For nine solid years, I hated golf," Tom says. "Stan said, 'You're really hating it now, aren't you?' 'I hate it, I hate it, I hate it,' I said. 'Keep trying to solve it,' he told me, 'the correct way. The worm will turn.' He did, and it did.” Another great story shared by Watson and Thirsk came in 1996:

In the long late afternoon shadows of a week ago Saturday at the Kansas City Country Club, Tom Watson was on the putting green under the steady eyes of Stan Thirsk, the club pro who has developed and polished his game since he was 6 years old. "You're hitting the putts solid," Thirsk said. It doesn't feel that way," said Watson, betrayed so often by missed short putts in recent years. "It feels like I'm hitting them on the toe of the putter instead of on the sweet spot in the middle." "I'll prove you're hitting them in the middle," Thirsk said. "Don't go away." Thirsk hurried into the nearby men's locker room and returned with a can of talcum powder. One by one, he patted a dab of the powder onto the backs of the golf balls that Watson had been putting, then he set them down on the green. "Now putt 'em," Thirsk said. One by one, Watson putted, then looked down at the face of the Odyssey putter he has been using in recent weeks. Each time there was a dab of talcum powder in the middle of the sweet spot. "Now do you believe me?" Thirsk asked. "Quit thinking about your mechanics and just go play."The next day Tom Watson traveled to Dublin, Ohio, for the Memorial tournament that he won yesterday for his first victory on the PGA Tour since 1987, ending a drought of 141 tournaments for the 46-year-old golfer.

From age six to forty-six, Watson never left Thirsk’s side.  Even after decades of experience on the PGA Tour Watson still needed guidance from his long-time friend and coach. The two were a team, a very successful one. On behalf of much of the instruction learned from Thirsk, Watson would go on to become one of the most winningest golfers of all time with over 50 professional wins. Thirsk did not only help students with their swing fundamentals but he inspired them with his integrity on and off the golf course. Watson says, “Stan Thirsk leaves a legacy of kindness, character and enduring friendship which has truly enriched our lives.”

The game of golf will never be able to repay Stan Thirsk for all the meaningful contributions he has made to the sport. Stan was the rare combination of a phenomenal, influential instructor while also being a successful professional golfer. From his many incredible individual golfing achievements to his 30 years of devout work as Kansas City Country Club’s head professional, Thirsk left an impactful and everlasting footprint on the game of golf. Just as Stan Thirsk’s passion for the game continuously grew, so will his legend.