New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
(This is the first in a series of feature stories on the 2012 inductees into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame).
There’s a large rock with a name on it as people approach the first tee at Tam O’Shanter Golf Club.
The relic commemorates one of the greatest golfers in the history of the sport, Sam Snead, who set the course record in 1949 with a 7-under 65.
There should probably be another rock — possibly a little bit smaller, maybe even a stone — that bears another name: Wynn Hassan.
Hassan, a New Castle native, tied the record in June of 1995, and considering he’s played that course hundreds of times and knows nearly everyone who works there, he had to ask if there was room for two.
“So, I shoot 65 that day, and I say, ‘Johnny, am I going to get a stone next to Sam’s or at least a smaller plaque under his name that on this date I tied his record,” Hassan said, jokingly. “He just laughed. But I played well that day.”
Hassan played well on a lot of days.
He took up golf at the age of 10 when he and his dad used to go to Sylvan Heights Golf Course. He then played at New Castle High in the 1970s, graduating in 1972, and admitted he was just an above-average player at the time. He didn’t immediately move on to college, but he realized he “was going in the wrong direction,” and at the age of 33, Hassan enrolled at Slippery Rock University and walked on to the golf team.
It was one of the smartest decisions he ever made.
“I tried out, and after a while, I got on the team,” he said. “It was fun. I just said, ‘Hey, I’m going to try and play golf.’ So I tried out. It was a great, great experience, college golf, just tremendous.”
His golf game reached new heights in college.
Hassan was a four-year letterman and won multiple tournaments in 1989, including the Allegheny College Invitational, the Ashland (Ohio) College Invitational and the Wooster (Ohio) College Invitational. He became a Division II All American in 1990 as well as an Academic All American. It all came as a surprise to a guy who was competing with kids 10 to 15 years younger than him.
“I was 33 at the time, and I’m traveling with and rooming with 19-, 20-, and 21-year-olds, so I was kind of like — I don’t want to say mentor because sometimes I could be a bad influence,” he said with a laugh, “but I enjoyed that part of it.”
Hassan got another pleasant surprise this year when he was informed he’ll be joining a few of his golfing buddies in the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame.
“To join these guys, it’s really unexpected and it’s humbling,” he said. “I would never have thought that this would happen, but I’m really glad it did. It’s a real honor.”
Hassan graduated from Slippery Rock in 1991, but he wasn’t done playing golf just yet. He won the New Castle News Golf Tournament in 1998 and 2001 and was the New Castle Country Club Champion in 2001. He also finished in the top four at a local U.S. Open qualifier at the New Castle Country Club in 1995, qualifying him for the Sectional U.S. Open Championship, where the top two finishers earned entrance into the PGA’s U.S. Open. He missed out on advancing, but the performance again showed Hassan’s talent — even at the age of 41.
“He overcomes bad shots,” longtime friend and golf buddy Gary Joseph said. “He’ll make a double bogey and come back and hit a birdie. Like all good golfers, he keeps his composure. And he hates to lose, so that helps him even more.”
It’s hard to ever hear Hassan talk about himself like that. He’s more liable to crack a joke than boast about his accomplishments. He said golf isn’t about beating others as much as it is about not beating yourself. The theory is one he began to grasp at Slippery Rock, where an old coach, Dr. Albert Schmittlien, an English literature professor at the school, took a chance on an old student.
“He gave me a chance,” Hassan said. “And he helped me understand that to play good golf, number one, you need peace of mind. If you don’t have peace of mind, you can’t play good golf. And number two, you have to stay in the present, and that is so hard to do.”
One facet of the game that isn’t as difficult for Hassan is putting. The short game, which often times gives even the most avid golfers fits, is an area Hassan has excelled at since his college days. Many, including longtime friend and golf buddy, Gary Joseph, said Hassan is automatic from within 10 feet. It’s a skill he developed over many years, Hassan said.
“When I was pretty good, there weren’t too many putts I missed inside eight feet,” said Hassan with a bit of a proud smile on his face. “I putted really well for a while, and again, it started in college. The competition in college made me a better player. It really did, along with my coach.”
These days, while Hassan still hits up the golf course on a regular basis at age 58, he spends a lot more time with his wife, Maria, and two daughters, Sophia, 8, and Isabella, 7. He admits he hopes they pick up the game as well, just like he did as a young kid.
Even all these years later, he said he’s still trying to improve. Not to win any tournaments or set any more course records. That’s not what golf is about if you ask Hassan.
“It’s the search for perfection — the search for the holy grail — and you just can’t find it,” he said. “When you think you’ve got it, when you think you’re getting close, it’ll humble you in a second and bring you to your knees.”
Even the man whose name is etched in stone as one of the all-time greats would agree with that statement. Maybe if Hassan coerces Johnny into adding another rock, Hassan can add a quote every golfer can relate to.
TOMORROW: Chuck Cuba