In life you meet special people. Ronnie Wenzler was certainly one of them. I moved to Memphis in 1990 and the first night I was there the president of Kraft Food Ingredients and Ronnie, the VP of Sales, took me to dinner. Making conversation the president asked me if I played golf and mentioned that Ronnie played “a little” golf. So I asked Ronnie what his handicap was to which he responded “It’s a 3 or better if it has to be”
I spent the next 20 years figuring out just what that meant. The figuring usually meant losing a bet or two. It turned out that Ronnie was gifted golfer and one of the most entertaining people I ever met. Amongst his many golf accomplishments was having beat the great Jack Nicklaus in the 1956 US Amateur. As Ronnie would say with his Memphis drawl “Jack was just 18 years old but I was only 21”.
In the 1990’s Kraft had a business meeting at Butler National in Chicago. Someone mentioned to Ronnie that Jack Nicklaus just happened to be there that day. Ronnie went to the locker room and found Jack putting on his golf shoes. Ronnie walked up to golf’s greatest champion saying “Jack you probably don’t remember me”. Jack cut him off with “Ronnie Wenzler you old SOB how are you doing?” Jack then asked him if he wanted to join him that afternoon for a round of golf. Ronnie politely declined telling Jack he was happy to leave their competitive record where it was.
Ronnie and I had another special connection. We were the son’s of very influential fathers. Ronnie’s dad Jack Wenzler was a legendary golf pro in Memphis. He taught golf for over 60 years in Memphis and Florida. It turned out that Jack and my dad (A college dean from New York) both spent winters in Winter Haven Florida. For Christmas one year I bought my dad a package of golf lessons with Jack Wenzler. Turned out they didn’t work much on dad’s golf game rather, they got together regularly and talked about their sons.
After Ronnie retired form Kraft he became a golf coach. In that role he gave me a great gift. He taught my son Brian to play, and love golf. Brian was a latecomer to golf and didn’t show an interest in the game until he was well into his high school years. Ronnie taught Brian the swing fundamentals and broke the “Kenny curse”. My father taught me to play golf and my swing looks like my father’s swing. A curse of a swing that Jack Wenzler couldn’t fix with my dad and Ronnie couldn’t fix with me. Brian on the other hand has a beautiful swing crafted by Ronnie.
More important than the swing is the love of the game. A golf lesson with Ronnie was 50% golf and 50% life lessons and laughs. Ronnie made golf fun for Brian. Brian loves the game and we had a great time in Scotland earlier this month (check out the blog). Many times during that trip I told Ronnie stories and thanked him for the gift.
Ronnie passed away in 2010 after battling cancer. His old golf opponent Jack Nicklaus called him towards the end to wish him well. My guess is that Ronnie reminded Jack of where their record stood during the call. I also called Ronnie towards the end and thanked him for the gift. Ronnie made me laugh and asked me to pray for him. Something I do regularly.
If you enjoy this blog and similar other stories/supper club lessons subscribe to get future blogs at www.impromptufridaynights.com/blog and be on the look out for my book Impromptu Friday Nights a Guide to Supper Clubs. Morgan James Publishing published the Kindle-Version on September 5, 2017 and the hard copy coming out January 30, 2018.
Note: The feature picture is of a young Ronnie Wenzler and the legendary Ben Hogan. Ben is congratulating Ronnie for winning the 1953 Memphis Junior Golf Championship