Johnny Pott, Ben's boy, still shooting his age
John Francis “Johnny” Pott, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame golfer, turned 78 last November.
“Makes it a little easier for me to shoot my age,” said Pott Thursday morning, just before he tried to do just that at his home course in Lake County, Cal., in wine country.
“That’s the one good thing about growing old,” Pott said. “If I play from the right set of tees, I can usually shoot my age.”
Johnny Pott, who grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and won an NCAA Championship at LSU, won five times on the PGA Tour. He was a three-time member of the U.S. Ryder Cup. The man could flat play.
“I never won a major and that’s how golfers are remembered these days,” Pott said in our phone conversation. “That’s OK, I did have a pretty good run.”
Yes, he did.
I will best remember him for chipping in to beat the great Billy Casper and Bruce Devlin in a three-way playoff for the championship of the 1968 Bing Crosby National Pro Am. I told him so. I also told him I remembered him making birdie of the 16th and 17th holes at Pebble Beach to force the playoff.
“You’ve got a great memory,” Pott said. “What most people remember is that I chipped in just before the start of the second Super Bowl. Some people were happy I won, but most were just happy it was over in time for the football game.”
Vince Lombardi’s Packers beat the Raiders 33-14 if you’re keeping score.
Pott never won a major but he did win the next best thing. Long before there was a Tournament Players Championship, there was the American Golf Classic, played at storied Firestone Country Club. All the top players from around the world played. In 1963, Pott won it, beating the second place finisher by four shots. That guy’s name? Arnold Palmer.
In 1960, Pott won twice, including the West Palm Beach Open, in which Slammin’ Sammy Snead finished second, three shots behind. In 1965, Pott lost two sudden death playoffs, one to Casper and another to a young player named Nicklaus.
Pott retired from active play on the tour at the age of 37 in 1972 when he was still had plenty of gas in his tank.
“It was like a woke up one morning and I had four kids living in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and I just didn’t want to be out there every week,” Pott said.
Back then, there wasn’t enough money on tour to pick and choose tournaments the way the leading pros do these days. You had to grind. Pott was tired of the grind. Plus, he had opporunities in golf course architecture and management.
Pott oversaw the design and construction division of Landmark Golf, helping to build more than 50 golf courses worldwide. Among those are the six renowned courses at PGA West in LaQuinta, Calif., where he worked with Pete Dye, Nicklaus and Palmer.
By the time the senior (Champions) tour came along, Pott had no wish to grind again.
“Sure, I would love to have won a major but I’ve got no regrets,” Pott said.
Pott was the son of popular Gulf Coast club pro Ben Pott, the long-time pro at Gulf Hills Dude Ranch and one of the nicest men you’d ever want to meet.
Thursday, I told Johnny Pott his voice reminded me of Ben Pott, who was good friends with my father.
“Thank-you,” Johnny Pott said. “For the longest time I was known as Benny Pott’s son, and there’s lots worse things to be known as. If I can be remembered anywhere near as fondly as Ben Pott, I will have done all right.”
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