Charles Owens, Golfer, Dies at 85; Novel Putter Brought Late Success

Owens, who died at 85 on Sept. 7 in Winter Haven from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, would live to see other golfers, like Adam Scott and Rocco Mediate, use long putters, and for golf’s rule-making bodies to later bar golfers from anchoring them against their bodies while putting.

Owens was not as well known as the few African-American golfers who had won on the PGA Tour, among them Lee Elder, Charlie Sifford and Calvin Peete. He had victories on the low-profile circuit of mostly black tournaments organized by the United Golf Association, but found little success during his short time on the PGA Tour.

It was the Senior PGA Tour, however — now called the PGA Tour Champions — that brought him a second chance at glory, as it has for many other professional golfers 50 or older. It allowed him to compete against the likes of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Bruce Crampton.

Photo

Charles Owens using one of his long putters.

Credit
Craig Litten for The New York Times

They, of course, did not have Owens’s physical limitations. His stiff left knee, damaged during a botched jump as a stateside Army paratrooper in the early 1950s, had been fused and caused him to limp badly. His right knee was not much better, having been operated on several times. His lower back was chronically arthritic. Eye inflammations caused occasional blindness.

But in 1985, Owens’s revived game was showing positive results. He finished in the top 10 in eight of the 16 Senior PGA tournaments he entered and won $78,158, ranking him 18th on the tour.

The next season was his career breakthrough. Victories at the Treasure Coast Classic and the Del E. Webb Senior PGA Tour helped carry him to earnings of $207,813 (about $463,000 in today’s money).

“I’ve got a new life now,” he told The New York Times in July 1986. “But for a while, I thought it might never happen. Two years ago, my wife, Judy, and I had seven credit cards, each with a $2,000 limit. We lived on those cards.”

At a tournament that year, Billy Casper, one of the tour’s legends, smiled as he saw whose name had replaced his on the leader board, The Washington Post reported.

“Why, it’s Charlie Owens!” Casper said excitedly. “Isn’t that wonderful?”

Charles Lee Owens was born in Winter Haven on Feb. 22, 1932. His father, Fred Sr., was the…

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