By John Lambert
John Gerring was sixteen years old when his dad got a phone call from Jim Weaver, the golf coach and Athletic Director at Wake Forest. His dad, the golf pro at the Blair Park Club in High Point, told his son that Wake Forest was interested in his attending the college on a golf scholarship.
Gerring had already been offered a golf scholarship at UNC and other schools, but he and his dad traveled to Wake Forest to meet Weaver. “Coach Weaver was a big, intimidating man in a small, non-descript office in the back of Gore Gym,” recalls Gerring about the meeting in 1953.
“Right away he asked me if I could play. Well, I had been taught to be humble and never boast, so I just mumbled a response that I enjoyed the game or something like that. He replied, ‘Son, if you are ever going to brag about yourself, now is the time.’ So, I replied, ‘Sir, I can play.’ ”
Weaver then set out to find out if Gerring could back up his words. He sent Gerring to play a round against Dick Tiddy, a star on the team who became the NCAA Long Driving Champion, on the 9-hole campus course.
“I played pretty well that day, and I assumed Tiddy would report that to Coach Weaver, but I wasn’t sure. A few days later my dad got a call that a scholarship was being offered to me.”
Gerring remembers how hard it was to call the UNC coach and tell him he was going to Wake Forest. “I felt more comfortable in a small school. I could walk to the golf course, and that was important because I did not have a car. We played golf every day after classes,” he remembers. Wake Forest’s reputation in golf also was a factor in his decision.
Gerring enrolled in the fall of 1953, the last year Arnold Palmer was a student. “Back then freshmen could not play on the varsity team, so I did not play with Arnold in matches but we practiced together and played side matches.” Gerring had just turned 17, and Palmer, having returned from his Coast Guard service, was 23.
In his new book, Simple Enough, Gerring describes a weekend 4-ball match in Raleigh he and Palmer played against the Raleigh City Amateur Champion and a player for NC State. “Arnold gave the Raleigh City Champion two strokes. The City Champion shot 69. Arnold shot 68 and, with the gift of two strokes, lost the match. The match was for $100. We had won the 4-ball match ($45). The group sponsoring the Amateur Champion ended the day kidding Arnold. Arnold turned towards them and said, “I’ll be back next Saturday—the same bet for $1,000.” He had courage, confidence and tenacity. There never was a second match.
In his four years at Wake Forest, Gerring played on two ACC Championship teams and won the ACC individual title his senior year after the college moved to Winston-Salem.
Weaver was the coach Gerring’s first year and then resigned to become the first Commissioner of the ACC. Bones McKinney, then the assistant basketball coach, coached the team Gerring’s second year. When Bones was named head basketball coach, Jesse Haddock was named the golf coach. “Each was a great person who cared about us players and made a difference in our lives,” said Gerring, who added that none of the three provided much golf instruction. “Their basic job was to get us to and from our matches.
“In all candor, we didn’t need much instruction. Four of us had fathers who were PGA pros,” said Gerring, referring to Sandy Burton, Mickie Gallagher and Dave Ogilvie.
They were joined by Al Birmingham, Henry Kerfoot, Joe Turner, Ralph James, Bill Greene, Phil Weichman, Eugene Sapp, Charlie Strack and Sonny George on the teams from 1953-57. “I don’t recall our overall record, but at one stretch, we won 25 consecutive matches.
“All of us could play. We were good friends but competed because only six of us could play matches. I remember shooting a 30 on nine holes, and I did not win a hole. My personal best competitive round was a 64 against South Carolina.”
The team also practiced occasionally at Carolina Country Club. The players would pile into a beat-up wood paneled station wagon called the “termite wagon” to drive to Raleigh.
For road matches, the team traveled in a limousine. “I’m not sure how we acquired it, but I recall I was made to sit in the jump seat because I was the youngest player on the team.”
Gerring became a PGA Professional and continues to teach today in Greenville, SC. He has served as head professional at Atlanta Golf Club, Peachtree Golf Club, Sea Island Golf Club, Bloomfield Hills Country Club in Detroit, Greenville Country Club, and Biltmore Forest Country Club in Asheville among others in a career that now spans 55 years.
Club members hounded him about writing an instructional book so in 2010 he started writing his thoughts in pencil on a legal pad, one message at a time; 27,000 words later there is a book.
The book is a collection of lessons and insights from Gerring’s career. “The purpose of the book is to make playing golf simple. Simple is right but difficult to achieve. Simple will beat high tech every time,” he writes.
His long-time friend Palmer puts it this way: “John Gerring has put his keen knowledge of the game into easily-understood form…it’s well worth a read.”
Simple Enough is published by AuthorHouse and is available as an e-book and in softcover and hard back editions by clicking here. Gerring is donating a portion of profits from the sale of hardback editions to the Deacon Club.