Courtesy of the Golf Association of Philadelphia
A few years back, there was a TV commercial where an average schlub named Michael Jordan checks into a hotel. When he goes to the front desk and gives his name, the staff—obviously expecting to meet the famous No. 23—walks away disappointed.
I’ve seen that reaction more times than you can imagine—for I am also that schlub. In golf circles, when I show up, people are expecting the real Jim Finegan.
He’s a Philadelphia golf legend, one of the gatekeepers of the game, a champion as a player, a distinguished writer, a historian, a cheerleader and a patriarch for all that’s good about the game. Sadly, we lost him last March at the age of 85, too late for our publishing deadline to pay tribute in 2015. But his impact on golf—and on me—will have no end date.
Because of our connection, not a week goes by where someone isn’t saying, “Oh, I thought you were …” or “I was expecting …” So much so, that my playing partners will answer for me, “Oh, he’s the other Jim Finnegan.” Since it happens so frequently, I have a simple and succinct reply: “I’m nowhere near the writer or golfer that Jim Finegan was.”
No truer words have ever been uttered.
Consider the real thing. As a player, Finegan was a lifelong member of both Philadelphia Country Club, where he won the championship four times, and Pine Valley, where he took the senior championship once. He’s still the only golfer in alma mater La Salle University’s Hall of Athletes.
As a writer, Finegan had written some of the most widely acclaimed books on the sport, including a definitive history of the game in the Philadelphia area, authorized histories of Pine Valley and Aronimink, and award-winning volumes on golf in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. His writings have appeared in every major golf magazine over the past 40 years. Finegan also did pretty well in his day job as CEO of Philadelphia advertising giant Gray & Rogers.
He was as old-school as it gets, typing away on a typewriter, two fingers at a time, right up until his death. But he was better than Google when it came to his knowledge of all things golf.
Sadly, I never got the chance to meet him in person—something I’ll always regret. I knew he’d been ailing in recent years after a fall, and I thought I would reach out when he was well. We always think there’s more time.
A mutual friend who once played at Pine Valley with Finegan remarked how inspiring and encouraging he was. Even an errant shot into the rough was met with, “You really got ahold of that one—well struck!”
At a recent golf event, local sports-media peers Harry Donahue and Joe Juliano recalled Finegan’s prolific vocabulary, joking about how helpful a pocket dictionary would’ve been. Merion head pro Scott Nye commented that men like Finegan “make me want to be a better gatekeeper for the game.”
Finegan embodied everything that’s good about golf and everything that’s good about a human being. A father and a friend to many, he was a family man with a commitment to excellence and a passion for all he did.
Jay Sigel, another Philadelphia golfing legend and one of the game’s premier amateur players, knew Finegan well. When we were introduced a few years back, he nodded knowingly and said, “That’s a good name to have.”
It is a good name to have. And I feel humbled and obliged to honor the name of a man I will never meet, yet come to know more every day.