How many timely lessons were absorbed? How many swings dissected, putts studied, course strategies discussed? Of the countless nuggets and wise counsel dispensed by longtime PGA professional George “Moe” Demling, which ones proved to be the most impactful for his grandsons, Robbie Bender and Drew Doyle, in their successful quest to reach this week’s 122nd U.S. Amateur Championship?
As it turns out, the longtime instructor who now teaches out of Crescent Hill Golf Course, a city-owned nine-hole layout in Louisville, Ky., has provided mentorship that extends far beyond the boundaries of the golf course.
“The biggest things he’s taught us don’t necessarily have anything to do with golf,” said Doyle, 20, a rising junior at Louisiana State University who started swinging a club at age 2. “Being kind to everyone you meet, no matter who they are. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get mad about anything.”
“He’s more of a life coach than a golf coach,” agreed Bender, 20, a rising junior at Indiana University. “He tells us to talk to people and make friends; you never know who you’re going to meet down the road.”
There’s no telling whether those life skills have been equally important as knowing when to play aggressively and when to lay up, but Bender and Doyle are here competing in their first USGA championship. They opened play on Monday afternoon at stroke-play co-host Arcola Country Club, and will play at The Ridgewood Country Club on Tuesday morning in their bid to reach the match-play bracket.
Bender sealed his spot in the field on July 6 at Nevel Meade Golf Club in Prospect, Ky., punctuating his 11-under-par day with an eagle 3 on his 36th hole to take the qualifying medal by three strokes.
“I remember my grandfather saying afterward, ‘Now we’ve just got to get Drew in,’” said Bender with a laugh. Little did they know how daunting that would turn out to be.
On the night before Doyle’s July 19 qualifier on the Scarlet Course at Ohio State, his cousin Riley and his grandfather got a flat tire 35 miles out of Columbus. Doyle, who was already there so he would be rested for his 7 a.m. tee time, came and picked up Demling while Riley, his caddie, waited for the tow truck. The next day, Doyle shot 2-under 140 to get into a 3-for-1 playoff for the last available spot. He battled Tyler Goecke, of Xenia, Ohio, evenly for seven holes, finally prevailing when he made a 20-foot putt on the eighth extra hole.
“Getting through in a playoff like that was pretty special,” said Doyle, who had tried to qualify for five previous USGA events, including a U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. “Having my grandfather there was so fun for me; I’m sure he was more excited that we both qualified than we were.”
The 79-year-old Demling, who was inducted into the Kentucky Golf Hall of Fame in 2019, has seen a lot of talented players rise through the Louisville ranks. Bobby Nichols, the 1964 PGA champion, and Frank Beard combined for 23 victories on the PGA Tour in the 1960s and 1970s. Demling taught Fuzzy Zoeller, who grew up across the Ohio River in New Albany, Ind., and went on to win the 1979 Masters and the 1984 U.S. Open. Jodie Mudd of Louisville won back-to-back U.S. Amateur Public Links titles (1980-81) and four PGA Tour events, including the 1990 Players Championship, while his brother Eddie won the 1976 U.S. Amateur Public Links. Demling made a run of his own in the 1966 U.S. Public Links, reaching the semifinals before losing to Monty Kaser, the eventual champion.
The more recent lineage includes two-time PGA champion Justin Thomas, who like Nichols and Beard, is part of a long line of players who starred at St. Xavier Prep in Louisville. One of Thomas’ teammates at Xavier was another Demling grandson, Brendon Doyle, Drew’s older brother, who now competes on PGA Tour Latinoamerica. Brendon, 27, who preceded Robbie Bender at Indiana, won the Greater Cedar Rapids Open in Iowa on July 23, a $30,000 payday that will help finance his upcoming fall trip to Europe, where he will compete in the DP World Tour qualifying series.
As a matter of fact, Doyle and Bender are St. Xavier graduates as well, and they are joined this week in the U.S. Amateur field by two of their former high school teammates – Jay Kirchdorfer and Campbell Kremer.
It’s not as though the Demling golf genes skipped a generation. Moe’s four children all played college golf: Gary competed for Eastern Kentucky, Greg for the University of Louisville, and daughters Lori (now Doyle) played on the men’s team at Centre College in Danville, Ky., and Leslie (Bender) played at Vanderbilt. Leslie went on to coach girls’ golf at Sacred Heart Academy in Louisville, where she guided the team – including daughter Ryan – to six state titles in 12 years.
Gary is here this week to caddie for Robbie Bender. He has worked with both of his nephews on their putting, part of the golf legacy that Demling shares with his family, as well as those he is meeting for the first time. The title of the book by renowned golf instructor Harvey Penick, “And If You Play Golf, You’re My Friend,” comes to mind.
“I never put a golf club in any of their hands,” said Demling of his numerous family protégés. “I never took them to the course, but they knew it was there if they wanted to play.”
Demling ran a series of clinics for 10 years during his previous job at Louisville’s Long Run Golf Course, teaching students from the second through the eighth grades, and today he coaches about 30 juniors in a program at Crescent Hill, with help from his children and grandchildren. The twice-a-week, 90-minute sessions cost $35 a year, said Demling, just enough to cover essential costs.
“I’ve got seven grandkids and five of them are active in golf,” said Demling. “They help out with our clinics; the more the merrier. Drew and Robbie love to show off, so I have them hit balls. And I make sure that the kids’ parents are listening when I tell them that you can get a college scholarship if you work at it. If they want to take advantage of it, we’re going to give them some knowledge.”
Just two months from his 80th birthday, this dynamic disciple of golf is showing no signs of slowing down.
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.