By Daron Casey
Just like any other tournament before, professional golfer and Pierce County resident Ken Still teed up his golf ball. The previous day Ken had shot a devastating seven over par round of 78 at the Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas.
Assuming that he would not make it to the weekend portion of the Houston Classic tournament, Ken purchased his plane ticket home to Fircrest. The second round of the tournament he fired an impressive round of 69, completing the seemingly impossible task of making the cut by two strokes. This particular event in April of 1967 became much more significant when Ken Still heard the news that his intended flight home had crashed, killing all 85 passengers on board.
Upon hearing this news Still said, “I started trembling like you wouldn’t believe.”
Still realized that the previous days’ round of golf had decided his fate. This miracle round of golf saved the life of a man who would continue to influence many in the Puget Sound region.
After his life changing incident, Still went on to win three PGA Tour tournaments and become the first of only two Washington State born golfers to participate in a Ryder Cup tournament.
In 1969, Still, alongside famous golf icons Jack Nicklaus and captain Sam Snead, helped the United States have the first ever draw with the European team at the Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England. Still played in several major tournaments, including the 1970 U.S. Open where he placed fifth at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota.
After graduating from Clover Park College, he became a professional golfer and started his career with the tour from 1957-59, making it full time in 1960.
The now 76 year old Fircrest resident spends much of his time trotting about the campus of Fircrest Golf Club shaking hands and making friends.
He hosts a number of golf tournaments including the Ken Still Celebrity Classic, which took place at The Home Course in DuPont in 2010. The tournament benefitted the Tacoma Athletic Commission’s (TAC) Scholarship Fund and the Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Commission’s (TPCSC) Amateur Athletic Fund.
Ken also teaches weekly golf lessons at Fircrest Golf Club as well as junior golf clinics. At the end of each of his clinics he tells the young golfers the story of the 1967 plane crash and what it meant to him.
“Don’t you ever quit,” Still tells his young golfers. “I don’t give a darn how bad it is don’t you ever quit.”
Owen Dahl is a member at Fircrest Golf Club and has been a student of Still’s for the last seven years. Dahl spoke keenly of Ken when he was asked how Ken has influenced his life.
“In so many ways Ken inspired me. With his stories and enthusiasm Ken will turn your interest in golf into a passion. He taught me so much about the tradition and history of the game, and had a very positive influence on not only my golf game, but my life as well. I’d run through a wall for that guy.”
When asked how Ken has benefited Fircrest Golf Club and the surround community, Dahl responded:
“We are proud to have him there. It brings us an incredible sense of pride that we have one of golf’s greatest characters playing golf with us. It is going to be a really sad day when he isn’t running around the club anymore. You can always hear him coming from a mile away and we will all miss that. He is part of the aura of the club. He is as important to the club as the trees.”
Owen takes time to participate in as many Fircrest golf and social functions as he can as well as any of Ken Still’s tournaments. Earlier this month he participated in the Ken’s benefit tournament for the American Lake Veterana Golf Course. This tournament raises money to keep the golf course operational for the war heroes at the Veterans Hospital in Lakewood, WA. Ken also got golf legend Jack Nicklaus on board to potentially help design a second set of 9 holes at American Lake. To read more about this story see an article written by Rhonda Glenn on thepnga.org at (http://www.thepnga.org/layout9.asp?id=521&page=26704&newsID=143). This is just another example of how Mr. Still has been having a lasting impact of the Puget Sound region.
Former PLU student and golfer Jason Casey was also mentored by Ken Still. From the time he was 9 years old until college Jason took occasional lessons with Ken at Fircrest. When asked how Ken influenced Casey’s golf game he responded by saying that
“growing up with a man like Ken was definitely a treat. I can’t think of a man who has had more of an impact on my golf game both mentally and physically. He always had a way of articulating just what I needed to hear to cheer me up and to keep my head in the game. I give him more credit for my success than anyone else.”
Jason went on to have a successful career with the PLU golf team from 2005 to 2009, including a victory in 2008 at the Pacific Invitational, where he played as the only PLU representative.
In and outside of the golf community, everyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Ken Still has been impacted by him. It is impossible not to smile while conversing with him. Those magical eighteen holes of golf in 1967 saved this man’s life, thus improving the lives of many others over the following forty years. Fircrest Golf Club, the Puget Sound region, and the world would have been a different place without him.
It is difficult to think of a more impactful human being, however maybe you the reader have a mentor of the same stature. So I ask you bloggers who your mentor has been throughout your life and how has he or she attributed to your success?