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Jack Connelly to head PGA of America

At this year’s annual meeting of the PGA of America in Charleston, S. C., the second weekend in November, Jack Connelly will become the president of the organization that represents 25,000 golf professionals across the country.

Connelly was elected secretary of the PGA in 1996; he became vice president two years ago, and he will spend the next two years as president. After completing his term as president, he will then serve another two years as the honorary president, a total commitment of eight years to the leadership of the national association.

Connelly has been a fixture in Philadelphia golf for almost three decades, and while he’s been the head professional at Huntingdon Valley Country Club for the past 26 years, his career wasn’t always as stable as it is now.

His career started in 1962, when at the age of 15 he started working in the pro shop at Tall Pines (which later became Ron Jaworski’s Eagles Nest) in Sewell, N. J., for Bill DeAngelis. In 1965, he became an assistant pro at Montauk Golf Links on the eastern end of Long Island; however, a year later he received a letter from “Uncle Sam” inviting him to trade in his golf clubs for an M-16 rifle for a couple of years.

Connelly’s tour of the world with the U.S. Army was limited to a year in Vietnam, and he tells a gruesome story about spending 14 days aboard a troop ship making its way across the Pacific from Seattle to Southeast Asia.

The first weekend after his return to Ft. Hood Texas, he met Orville Moody, another golf pro taking time out to serve his country, and together they defended that part of the world with their five irons at the ready position. After his discharge, Connelly hooked up with Harry Obitz and Dick Farley in a show called “The Swing Is The Thing,” and for the next three years they performed their golf exhibitions all over the United States as well as in England, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Connelly and his wife, Inge, met in 1966, but they didn’t get married until 1970, and by that time he was back working with Bill DeAngelis as a teaching pro in the Bahamas. In 1972, Connelly decided to take his game on the PGA Tour, where “the swing is only part of the thing,” and one of the high points on the tour was a 26th place finish at the Bob Hope Classic in Silverado, Calif.

After a year of living out of a suitcase, Connelly took the job as first assistant pro at Huntingdon Valley, and in 1975 he became the club’s head professional. He’s still there, and he’s been a key part of the Philadelphia golf scene ever since.

Connelly’s involvement in the PGA started in 1975 when, as a player in the local section’s events, as he tells it, he made a lot of “helpful suggestions” to Dick Smith, the local tournament committee chairmen. According to Connelly, “Dick’s solution to the ‘Connelly problem’ was to make me a member of the tournament committee.”

From there he moved through the sectional officer ranks, he became a PGA board member in 1992, representing District 2, and he was elected secretary of the PGA of America in 1996.

Asked about his objectives once he becomes the PGA president, Connelly was quick to respond that the “growth of the game” and “making places to play the game available” were at the top of his and the PGA’s priority list, along with continuing the effort to promote “grass roots” support from the PGA membership.

He said he wants the PGA to continue building on the example set by Alice and Pete Dye, who with their own money established a “Growth of the Game” program at Purdue University. Under this program, juniors and seniors have free access to the golf course and instructional facilities in the hope that they’ll become life-long participants in the sport.

Connelly will be the PGA president when the next Ryder Cup matches roll around, and he said he hoped the financial arrangement worked out with the PGA Tour players last year will continue to be acceptable. Each Tour player on the Ryder Cup Team may direct $100,000 of the event proceeds to a chosen charity and another $100,000 to a college or university of his choice for a “Growth of the Game” program at that institution.

Interestingly, the PGA of America maintained control over the Ryder Cup matches after the 1968 split between the PGA and the PGA Tour, because as Connelly explained it, the Ryder Cup matches were a significant cost, and they were certainly not the glamour event they’ve become today.

The PGA of America is responsible for the PGA Senior Championship, the Ryder Cup matches, the PGA Championship and the Grand Slam of Golf, which involves the winners of the four major tournaments each year.

One of Connelly’s first duties, as the new PGA president, will be to fly to Hawaii to oversee this year’s Grand Slam event, which is a long way from his start as a pro shop employee in 1962. Connelly’s father, John Connelly Jr., his brother Danny and his sisters Donna and Debbie will all be at his side when he takes office in Charleston, as will his wife, their son “JP,” who is following in his father’s footsteps as a golf professional, and JP’s wife, Tara.

Also attending the weekend ceremonies will be about 60 members from Huntingdon Valley, and Jack said that he and the other officers are totally overwhelmed by the fact that so many HVCC members will be making the trip to South Carolina.

Connelly said in an interview that the true magnitude of his new responsibility hasn’t really sunk in. but he’s looking forward to the challenge. As he’s maintained all along, he’s just glad to be able to give something back to the game that’s done so much for him over the years.

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