Stan Thirsk is presented with his PGA Hall of Fame plaque by former PGA President Roger Warren in 2013.
Published: Wednesday, May 20, 2015 | 9:19 a.m.
PGA of America Hall of Famer Stan Thirsk of Overland Park, Kansas, who stamped each golf lesson with his signature smile, died May 16, at age 87.
Thirsk was a PGA member for 58 years, during which time he quietly became golf instruction “royalty” while serving at Mission Hills Country Club (1956-61); Kansas City Country Club (1961-93) and Blue Hills Country Club (1993-2013). He was the first golf instructor for World Golf Hall of Famer Tom Watson.
“Stan Thirsk represented the best of our profession, exhibiting sincere passion and love for the game of golf as an accomplished player and as one of our Association’s most respected instructors,” PGA of America President Derek Sprague said. “He instilled in students young and old a sincere appreciation for golf, asking just one thing – don’t forget to have fun with the game of a lifetime. The PGA’s extended family lost a wonderful ambassador, and we send our thoughts and prayers to Stan’s family.”
Watson, who was introduced to Thirsk at age 8, by his grandmother, said that his longtime coach “was the epitome of what a PGA Golf Professional is. His good humor, constant smile, fairness with all people, along with the fact that he could really play, made him loved by so many people. He was a man of faith which defined his character.”
The news of Thirsk’s passing was particularly emotional for another his longtime students, Justin Unell of Orlando, Florida.
“When I heard that Stan had passed, I had a flashback,” said Unell, an associate producer for Golf Channel. “Stan gave me a lesson at Blue Hills Country Club in Kansas City, Sept. 26, 2013. I could never forget that date. Stan confided in me that he had given his final lesson.”
Thirsk said that he “was slowing down” and that he “wanted to go out on a high note.”
As it turned out, Unell met his teacher once more that year for a refresher tip on Thanksgiving weekend in Thirsk’s driveway. Unell used to caddie for Thirsk in the former TD Waterhouse Championship, a Champions Tour event that visited Kansas City.
“It was an honor to call Stan my friend,” Unell said. “I appreciated his strong character and everything he stood for. I admired his knowledge and passion for the game. He taught so many top players but would never brag. The same effort he would give to Tom Watson he also would give to anybody.”
“The PGA of America lost a dear friend and incredible colleague,” Midwest PGA Section Executive Director Brad Demo said. “Stan Thirsk was an amazing player and teacher of the game of golf. Professionals and amateurs who had the opportunity to take a lesson and/or listen to him speak on teaching the game will cherish those memories forever.”
Kansas City Country Club recruited Thirsk from Mission Hills, and the “marriage” lasted 29 years.
“Stan was the consummate golf professional, exhibiting class and grace,” Kansas City Country Club PGA Head Professional Andy Fisher said. “He both taught and played the game so well, and was full of integrity.”
Golf was meant to be fun, Thirsk reminded his students.
“You always heard him leave you with those words, just like a swing thought,” Blue Hills Country Club PGA Head Professional Todd Loechler said. “Stan was a mentor to me, motivated by a love of God that guided him and such a well-respected man."
Students will long remember him stressing that they should “feel the clubhead,” and what rhythm means to the golfer.
“Rhythm,” Thirsk once said, “you can’t play golf without it.”
Thirsk’s peers called him the perfect blend of talented instructor and player. The two-time Midwest PGA Player of the Year competed in 10 PGA Championships, nine U.S. Opens and 16 Senior PGA Championships. Thirsk won the inaugural Senior PGA Professional National Championship in 1989, defeating Bob Reith of Sioux City, Iowa, in a two-hole playoff at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
“I still remember that playoff and remember how excited and fortunate I was to win that year,” said Thirsk in 2012. “The field was very strong, and it felt great to come out on top in the very first one.”
Thirsk was inducted into the Kansas Golf Hall of Fame (1992); was the first inductee into the Midwest PGA Section Hall of Fame (2003); and in 2011, was enshrined in the PGA of America Hall of Fame.
Thirsk’s love for the game and his ability to play and teach at a high level was evident, even as a child.
“I fell in love with the game at 12, and never looked back,” he once said. “My whole life, everything I did revolved around golf and getting better each day.”
During the 1992 Kansas Golf Hall of Fame ceremony, Watson closed a tribute to Thirsk, noting that he had absorbed a lot more than the finer points of the game from his longtime coach and friend.
“The greatest thing Stan has taught me is character,” Watson said. “He’s been more than a father to me on the golf course.”
He then looked Thirsk in the eye and said: “Thank you for all you’ve given me over the years. I’ll never forget you.”
Stan Thirsk’s memorial service is Thursday, May 21, at Overland Park (Kansas) Funeral Chapel. He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Audrey; daughters, Gay Scharlau and Jodie Lyman; seven grandchildren and eight grandchildren. Memorials may be sent to Harvesters – The Community Food Network, P.O. Box 412233, Kansas City, MO 64141
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