By Clair Goodwin
The Joplin Globe
When I first met Lee Larimore, I had no idea that I was in the presence of a future Joplin Hall of Fame golfer.
It was a brisk, bright Saturday morning at Loma Linda Country Club. I don’t remember all the circumstances, but somehow I wound up on the same cart as Lee. Given the quality of the competition of those Saturday morning games — Barry Franks, David James, Mickey Mantle and Dave Williamson, among others — I suspected that the young man with the infectious smile must be pretty good.
But on the course, I wasn’t all that impressed. I outdrove him by 15 yards and I hit one to two clubs longer than him with the irons. He was erratic until he reached the greens. Then he displayed one of the smoothest, most consistent strokes I ever witnessed.
The fog of passing years has dimmed my memory, but I believe that Lee managed to shoot a 75 or 76 that day by making putts from all over the place. I don’t think he hit more than seven greens. And his driver was erratic. You know, Army-style golf: left, right, left, right.
But that putting stroke ... it simply was a thing of beauty.
I have no idea whether Lee had a secret putting technique or if the stroke was simply natural.
Over the next few weeks, I got to know Lee a little better. His game remained pretty much the same, short on consistency and long on putting, but he saw the possibility of improvement. He planned to take some lessons from Ben Pell, head pro at Loma Linda.
Whatever Ben told him, it worked. Almost overnight, Lee started hitting the ball longer and straighter off the tee and much more crisply with the irons. My 15-yard lead with the driver suddenly became a 25-yard deficit. And if I hit an 8-iron, Lee also would hit an 8, or perhaps a 9.
The putting stroke never changed. Balls continued to drop in from every direction. I never knew what Lee’s USGA handicap was, but I suspect it was scratch or perhaps even minus-1 or better. Lee gave a perfect example of his short-game ability a number of years ago at Briarbrook. He hit only one green on the front nine and still shot 1-under par.
I’m sure you would hear other stories of similar feats by Larimore from other players.
Although Lee knew that he was good, I never heard him brag, never tried to make an opponent uncomfortable. He was a good guy with whom to play golf, a sportsman who offered compliments for a good shot even if it came from a competitor.
He also was funny and could take a ribbing as well as give it.
Lee was elected to the Joplin Hall of Fame in 1997.
Over the years, Larimore won quite a few tournaments. I recall Lee telling me that winning the Joplin Globe City Championship and playing on the Joplin Horton Smith Cup team in the annual matches against Springfield were his greatest golfing thrills.
He won the city a record seven times and claimed multiple Michelob Golfer of the Year titles. His collection of titles also included four Briarbrook Invitationals and three Ozark Amateurs. In the Ozark Amateur last July, Larimore won B Flight, firing a 3-under-par 68 in the final round.
Lee had the outlook of all great players. He felt as if he could hit every shot, make every putt and get every chip close to the cup. Much of the time, he did it.
Through good times and bad, Lee never really changed. He remained positive until illness knocked him for a loop about a year ago. He fought it and, at one point, appeared to have beaten it. But a few months later the illness returned.
The last time I saw Lee was an unhappy occasion. It was at the funeral of the daughter of a close friend. He was crying, not for himself but for the tragic loss by his friend’s family.
I asked him how he was feeling that day. “Not good,” he replied, but then quickly turned the conversation to the friend and the funeral.
Lee has lost his battle with cancer, passing away this past Wednesday with his family at his side. He was only 46 years old.
Joplin golf has lost a great proponent of the game. More than that, it has lost a nice guy.
A seniors two-player scramble for golfers 50 and older is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, June 20, at Briarbrook Golf Course. Entries will close at 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 18, or when 72 teams have entered.
Entry fee is $20 for Briarbrook members with their own carts, $30 for members without their own carts and $40 for non-members. Players may pay on the day of the tournament.
Players may sign up in the pro shop or may call 417-649-6777.
Winners of flights in the member/guest tournament on July 6 will receive memberships to Center Creek Golf Course in Sarcoxie. Play will begin at 8 a.m.
Entry fee is $40 per person. Checks should be made payable to Center Creek Golf Course. Prizes will be based on the number of entries. There will be closest to the pin and longest drive contests for men and women.
Entries may be mailed to Center Creek Golf Course, Attn. Carl Houck, 2650 Highway 37, Reeds,Mo. 64859-9796. Payment can be made on the day of the tournament.
The Neosho Shrine Club and Masonic Lodge No. 247 will hold its eighth annual 18 holes of golf on Saturday, June 22, at Neosho Municipal Golf Course. A shotgun start is planned at 8 a.m.
The tournament will feature 2-person teams playing six holes of scramble, six holes of bramble and six holes of best ball competition. Entry fee is $140 per team.
For more information, contact Eldon Smith at 417-438-2048, Mark Franks at 417-825-5604 or Neosho Golf Course at 417-451-1543. Entries may be mailed to Neosho Shrine Club, P.O. Box 501, Neosho, Mo. 64850.