Colleen Bennett - Sotheby's International Realty

A PHIL-GOOD STORY: LEGENDARY GOLF WRITER PHIL ROCHE CARRIED A LOT OF DIFFERENT CLUBS IN HIS BAG

September 9, 2017
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Pat Roche, who helped launch the golfing program at St. Lucy’s, has been a constant champion for local golf. Here he with a photo of his father, whose column, “Tee to Golf,” ran in the Daily Bulletin for more than three decades.

LA VERNE, California, September 10, 2017 — Where do you start when you try to capture the essence of somebody like Phil Roche, who left us earlier this year? How do you capture a whirlwind, a tornado, a tour de force? He was all those and more. Kudos to Louis Brewster, the beloved journalist, dean and chronicler over at the Daily Bulletin for his remembrance (Jan. 24, 2017) and a shout-out, as well, to Holy Name of Mary for honoring the monument of a man with its captivating mass in January.

 

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Now its LaVerneOnline’s time and turn. I met the man only once when covering the Inland Valley Amateur Golf Championship a few years back. I knew him from his byline. He was the Bulletin’s nonpareil golf writer. He had no equal. His Wednesday columns were perfect and flawless as he introduced us to many rising local stars of the game.

 

In one sense, he was also a competitor (we were both competing for readers’ eyeballs), but here he was, so gracious and appreciative for the little bit of publicity and promotion I could bring — not to him, but to the event and the players. Under his shining white hair, he was selfless and humble.

 

Had he just been the much-respected Tee to Cup writer, the column he penned for 35 years, that would have been clearly enough, but he was also a husband (53 years), a family man (six children), a parishioner, Lector and St. Vincent de Paul President (rarely, if ever, did he miss a Sunday mass), a teacher (36 years), and a coach (in 1957, he was Bishop Amat’s first-ever baseball, football, basketball and track coach, and from 1998 to 2003 he was also Mt. SAC’s golf coach). He also was a soldier (U.S. Army artillery and infantry at Fort Ord and Fort Lewis at the close of the Korean Conflict from 1954 to 1955) and an athletic star (playing in the Junior Rose Bowl in 1951 for Boise Junior College, pre-runner to Boise State).

 

At age 86, he was still an avid golfer, getting up each Thursday at the crack of dawn to shoot a 69. It would have been Wednesday, too, I’m sure, but he was probably writing that column in some form or fashion, trying to bring some acclaim to others. Interestingly, cut his golf score for 18 holes in half and that’s about how many years he was the organizer, director and inspiration behind the hugely successful Inland Valley Amateur Golf Championship that was fittingly named in his honor. Could there have been anyone else?

 

From 1985 to 2015, under his tutelage, the championship crowned the area’s best golfers. “The tournament was open to anybody,” Pat said, noting that the tournament’s inclusiveness perfectly complemented his father’s open, welcoming nature. And with his father’s press connections, of course, splashing the winners’ names and photos on the front page of the Bulletin, the local new heroes lapped up their sudden fame and recognition. Also, 10 percent of the tournament’s proceeds supported local charities. That was Phil to a tee!

 

In 2009, Phil and Pat present the winner’s trophy to the best amateur player in the valley, Eric Fekin.

But while all of Phil’s contributions and acts of kindness and goodness may fade in and out with our memories of them (regretfully, it happens), the words and columns that Phil wrote have been banked forever. His oldest son Pat, a former golf pro and proud guardian of his father’s amazing legacy, shared a number of the old Bulletin columns with me.

Again, at the mere mention of Phil’s name or the sight of his byline, the first thing I think of is the man’s prodigious energy. Despite all of his other commitments (the coaching, teaching, the tournament, the family commitments, etc.), he worked at the Pomona Progress Bulletin’s copy desk during summers and weekends from 1964 to 1987. Whatever he did, he was committed to it for the long haul. He was like a barnacle that you just couldn’t pry loose from whatever he set his mind to.

 

“Back in the day, my dad would put the whole Saturday paper out by himself,” Pat said in reverence. “Friday nights after teaching all day long at Covina, he was there putting the whole sports section to bed.”

Deadlines were as easy for him to meet as a three-foot putt. He had graduated with a masters in education and journalism from the University of La Verne, so he knew how to wordsmith.

 

Because of his father’s passion for golf, newspapers and education, Pat was fortunate to sometimes get to hang out with his dad while he interviewed different legends of the game, icons like Nicklaus, Palmer and Trevino. Before a new golf course officially opened up, Phil would go play and then write about it, and Pat, often got to tag along.

 

Obviously, some of those special father-son times together had an impact because Pat later worked as a field reporter during the 1984 Olympics for ABC. “I was covering the shooting range competition with, of all people, Arthur Ashe (the tennis legend) for ABC sports in Chino,” Pat said, hardly believing that episode in his life actually happened. “That was a good run, it was a lot of fun.”

 

He also became a golf pro (playing and teaching) in 1987. With every round he played or lesson he gave, perhaps, he was simply honoring his father’s favorite quote: “The world would be a happier place if everyone played golf.”

 

To this day, Pat retains a foot in the game, promoting, emceeing and helping host golf tournaments and helping keep his father’s flame alive. He also helped start a golf program with Tommy Borba, anothe local golfing guru, at St. Lucy’s in Glendora.

 

“We had 35 girls turn out, all beginners,” Pat said, chuckling.

 

But despite these efforts, the local golf scene is facing a void and a vacuum that likely won’t be filled any time soon. But it didn’t just occur with the passing of Phil. It actually was exposed years earlier, as our local newspapers were losing their print audience and shifting online.

As such, Phil’s Wednesday must-read column was dropped, with little explanation from the newspaper’s conglomerate owners.

 

Pat said there are plans to relaunch the Championship in 2018.

 

“That was one of the saddest days of his life, I think,” Pat said.

 

But here’s all you need to know about Pat. He kept writing that damn column anyway, sending it in every Wednesday like clockwork. Eventually, he moved his column to a website, mycommunitygolf.com. But if you go on the site today, there are few current items. The voice and visionary behind it are gone.

 

If anyone wonders why the sport of golf, and local golf, in particular, is in decline, the answer is pretty simple. Without the Phil Roches of the world, loving the sport, nurturing it, staying up past midnight to pen a column about a new player, you have a sport in trouble. Today’s local golfers, unfortunately, play, for the most part, in anonymity. Unlike an NBA, NFL or MLB, which all are hugely promotional at the local level, there’s no one to promote it the up-and-coming local golf talent.

 

That one key journalistic link to the local links has been broken — and the damage looks irreparable. “I really wish you could have interviewed my dad,” Pat said wistfully.

 

No one has stepped up to replace Phil. Perhaps, that’s what this story is all about. Some people, some eras, some things are irreplaceable, and all you can do is say, “Thank God, I looked up and saw that comet streaking across the sky.”

Local coverage sponsored by La Verne Realtor Colleen Bennett, Sotheby’s International Realty. Colleen is also the author of The Real Dirtt, found on the home page. If you have a real estate question,

call Coll at 909.374.4744.

LaVerneOnline.com is La Verne’s No. 1 Source of News

 

 

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