Former pro baseball player Harry Morgan is not only one of the most familiar faces at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, but he is also a constant presence on major area tournament leaderboards, despite the fact that he is 72 years old.
The big-hitting left-hander from Herndon, W. Va., can surprise you with his length off the tee and his down-home quips.
“I was born in a little old coal town. In its heyday, we probably had 25 to 30 houses, two gas stations, two mercantile stores and two beer joints,” he said with a laugh.
Morgan may have come from a small town, but he has a big golf game. Aside from his regular open play at Muny, he has become a constant threat in both the Gazette County Amateur and the Gazette Senior County Amateur.
“I guess my best year was [finishing] 12th or 13th in the County Amateur, but I’ve been the first-round leader in the Senior County Amateur twice,” Morgan said. “I finished second twice and third another time. One year, I had a three-shot lead going into the 14th hole, and then my nerves got the best of me. All of a sudden, I’m on the 14th tee thinking that I could win this thing. Obviously, I didn’t.”
Besides a career-low round of 68 at Stadium, Morgan’s most memorable round occurred at Muny in 2009.
“I’m playing from the blue tees, and I’m standing on the 15th tee at one-over-par,” he said. ”I ended up shooting a [three-under-par] 69. I birdied the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes. It was definitely the best round I can remember.”
Morgan, who makes many of his own golf clubs, said he is ready for a big season.
“I was recovering from a hernia operation back in November, and I couldn’t do all of my stretching and my regular exercises,” he said “But I’m back in the full swing now, and I’m stretching and lifting weights. I can’t wait to play.”
Morgan was originally a talented pro baseball player, and some of his power off the tee comes from that background.
“We didn’t have any golf courses where I grew up, so I played baseball. I made all-state in 1957, and I played pro Class D ball in Salem, Va., and in Clinton, Iowa,” he said. “They turned me into an outfielder, which was a big mistake. I was originally a third baseman, and a pretty good one, but in those days, we had just a little old baseball team, and they needed to move people around where they needed them. I was a third baseman in Babe Ruth, but they switched me to the outfield.”
Although Morgan never got to play in the major leagues, he did demonstrate his power to a scout.
“I was hitting in the Midwest League one time, and I hit a home run over the centerfield fence, which was not only 400 feet away, but also 50 feet high. I belted the ball right over the top of the fence. When I rounded third base, the coach wanted to know where I got all that power. I guess it was in my arms.”
Despite his power, Morgan said the strength of his game isn’t the big stick.
“I can hit my driver long. I used to hit it out there with the rest of the guys, but it cost me more strokes than I gained,” he aid. “Sometimes, I could fire the driver 50 yards to the right or 50 yards to the left.
“I would have to say the strongest part of my game is my irons. I can hit them pretty straight. If I can keep one swing thought, I can make a decent run at the flag with my irons.”
Morgan said he still battles putting woes.
”I use a belly putter. Once you get the yips, you can’t get rid of them,” he said.
Morgan began to play golf in the Navy, and he went to work in a government job at a Virginia military post, He ended up joining a golf club, and playing almost every day.
But he quit the game for 18 years because of what he calls “personal issues.”
“I got into bass fishing and became a tournament fisherman,” he said. “I fished all over the state of New York, and I used to win a few tournaments. I was a member of the area Bassmasters, and I was Angler of the Year five times.
“Then, a friend of mine who hadn’t played golf wanted to play one time, and he asked me to go out with him. He kept bugging me, and I rented a set of clubs. I had been fishing for 15 years, and I was kind of burned out from all of that traveling. Once I picked up the golf clubs again, I caught the fever, and I was hooked. I eventually quit fishing, and I’ve been playing golf at Muny ever since I moved to Schenectady in 1975.”
Morgan said he learned rudimentary clubmaking from Dick Bogdan and started making his own clubs, which he still uses today.
His main goal now, besides competing in area tournaments, is to shoot his age every year.
“It’s a very hard thing to do,” Morgan said. “The key is to work out and stay in good shape. My body feels great right now.”