Cornelius “Connie” Campbell of Torresdale-Frankford CC has won eight club championships. In the 24 years Campbell competed in the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Team Matches, he never lost. Campbell even birdied all five of Torresdale’s par 3s in one round.
But those feats appear pale in comparison to the success he experienced 50 years ago. Campbell captured the Association’s Amateur Championship, defeating Robert Lindinger of St. Davids GC, 5&4, at Philmont CC’s North Course.
“It was the highlight of my golf career,” Campbell, who resides in the Mayfair section of Northeast Philadelphia, Pa., said. “I was very fortunate in many cases.”
Fortune, fused with fortitude, followed Campbell throughout the 1959 Championship. In the first round of match play, Campbell and Edward Marshall of Huntingdon Valley CC were All Square after 18 holes. On the second extra hole, the dogleg, par 4 No. 2, Marshall’s approach found the center of the green, but he encountered a problem. A large chunk of mud covered the side of his ball.
“In those years, you couldn’t touch the ball on the green,” Campbell said. “Unfortunately for him, the blob of mud was on the side he had to hit the ball. He had about a 12-15-foot putt. He took a whack at it, and it didn’t go very far. The mud didn’t come off the ball. I made my putt and won the match.” The rule changed a year later.
In his second-round match, Campbell was 3-down after nine holes, but he “started making a lot of putts” to advance to the semifinals. He faced Louis Riggs, Jr. of Manufacturers G&CC and entered the par 3, 17th hole, standing 1-up. Campbell’s tee shot settled on the green while Riggs blasted his into the bunker. As both players walked to the green, Torresdale-Frankford members approached Campbell and congratulated him.
“They said, ‘Connie, you’re in the finals,’” Campbell recalled. “I started to realize it, and I started to get nervous. I got on the green. The caddie was behind me to show me (the read), and I said get away from me. I’m going to be lucky to hit this thing. The last thing I remember is I put my putter in my stomach and I released it and hit the ball. It came down about this far (six inches from the cup). Lou said ‘Pick it up. You’re good,’ and I won that match.”
Campbell’s fellow Torresdale-Frankford members also showed overwhelming support in the finals. Clubmate and close friend Bill Chamberlin leant Campbell his recently purchased golf shoes the day before the Amateur final. Another clubmate, Mike Russo, gave Campbell a new pair of slacks.
“So they dressed me,” Campbell said jokingly. “I guess I looked like a ragman before. The members here were very supportive. That last round, every member of the club must have been there. I hit a good shot, and they’d be clapping.”
During the final, Campbell hit “the best” — and perhaps most fortunate — “shot of all” from the left-side rough on No. 2.
“I wanted to make sure I hit it hard enough. I was a little bit under a tree, but I hit a swift shot,” Campbell said. “The ball hit hard low, landed in the water and skipped twice up onto the green. He (Lindinger) was so upset, he three-putted.”
To this day, Campbell, 77, feels humbled by his 1959 achievement. Herb Good of The Philadelphia Inquirer classified it as “the most incredible feat in Philadelphia golf history.” It was incredible not just because of Campbell’s spectacular play throughout, but also because of his status as a relative unknown among the region’s competitive circuit. Campbell, a graduate of North Catholic High School, joined Torresdale-Frankford CC in 1958 and had only played occasionally at public courses in Langhorne, Pa.
“I really enjoyed it (winning the 1959 Amateur). I was surprised there was so much attention,” Campbell said. “I took a week off that year to play in it.”
After Campbell’s triumph in 1959, he competed in the Amateur Championship eight times, but never advanced to the final. He didn’t compete in other Association Majors, such as the Joseph H. Patterson Cup and the Open Championship, mainly because of work. At the time of his Amateur triumph, Campbell worked as a draftsman, an occupation he held for three years. He later changed careers and spent 25 years working for the Department of Defense.
But golf was always a part of Campbell’s life. He grew up playing alongside his older brother Bill, now a member of Wilmington CC, and younger brother Robert (now deceased) of Manufacturers G&CC. In fact, evidence of Campbell’s championship mentality can be uncovered from his match against Bill for Torresdale-Frankford’s Club Championship.
“After 27 holes, I was 2-up, and Robert brought our mother out,” Campbell said. “She had never been on a golf course. She knew nothing about golf. So we get to the 10th tee, and Robert comes over to me and says mom wants to see you in the cart over there. She tells me, ‘Now listen. You’ve won this several times. Let your brother win this one.’”
“Well, it didn’t turn out that way, and she didn’t talk to me for two weeks.”
Naturally, Campbell’s Club Championship titles remain well-documented in Torresdale-Frankford’s record books. His name is the final one engraved in the Cameron B. Buxton trophy (The J. Wood Platt Trophy is now awarded to the Amateur victor). Needless to say, Campbell is a fixture in his club’s lore.
“He’s a legend,” Club President Joseph C. Flueher, Jr., said.
“Everybody kind of looks up to Connie, and that’s the truth because of his stature,” head pro Michael Sulpizio added.
Today, Campbell, now retired, tries to play golf three times a week, but has been restricted over the past month by a bad back. He’ll forever cherish his 1959 victory as well as the camaraderie that the sport offers.
“You meet a lot of good people,” he said.