Tucker brothers writing special history at Bellerive
PGA Professionals Jerry and Mike Tucker share in Bellerive Country Club History in preparing for 74th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid.
PGA Professional brothers Jerry and Mike Tucker each earned a college degree in journalism, and have been writing their own special chapters in their respective careers. This month, they happen to be sharing a piece of the stage at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, which opens its doors, May 21-26, to host the 74th Senior PGA Championship present by KitchenAid.
Jerry, 63, the oldest of three brothers, is a member of the 156-player field that will compete in the most historic and prestigious event in senior golf. Tucker is a PGA Life Member who owns the Jerry Tucker Golf Academy in Stuart, Fla.
Mike Tucker, 48, succeeded Jerry in 1996 as PGA head professional at Bellerive, and is a past Gateway PGA Section president and former District 7 Director on the PGA Board of Directors. Middle brother, John, 61, is an engineer and will be a member of the gallery at the Senior PGA Championship.
It was evident from the beginning that the Tuckers, born in Carbondale, Ill., and Southern Illinois University graduates, didn’t want to stray too far from their roots.
“There is something about the Midwest that is different from other parts of the country,” said Jerry. “It’s easy to make friends, the people are polite and there’s just good values. That was what made me so comfortable at Bellerive. It was a family club and had legacy membership. We accomplished many things there, and it was a highlight of my life.”
Jerry Tucker served 15 years as PGA head professional at Bellerive Country Club, the last stint from 1987-97. During that period, he was the first PGA Master Professional to compete in a major championship, when he teed it up in the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes in Hawthorn Woods, Ill. In 1992, while busy overseeing his staff at Bellerive, he had time to become the last host PGA Professional to compete in a PGA Championship.
That Championship also was special for Mike, who served as his brother’s caddie.
“It was a great experience for both of us, a great week overall,” says Mike. “Growing up, and with Jerry 15 years older than me, I looked up to him. Somewhere in my mid-20s, I began to compete. It was pretty tough catching him.”
Mike won’t serve as caddie this month for his oldest brother. That honor goes to someone Jerry gave instruction to over the years, Brett Burton, son of Professional Bowling Hall of Famer Nelson Burton Jr.
Jerry Tucker graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1976, and turned professional that year. Mike graduated from the same alma mater in 1987, and in 1989 began a two-year term as an assistant professional at Old Warson Country Club in St. Louis, site of the 1971 Ryder Cup. He followed by serving from 1990 to 1993 as PGA head professional at Green Hills Country Club in Mount Vernon, Ill.
In 1994, Mike Tucker was named associate professional at Bellerive, and two years later became co-head professional with Joe Schwent. The arrangement was unique, but not exclusive.
“I was asked by the board my opinion who I would recommend to succeed me,” says Jerry. “I knew that both Joe and my brother were the best in-house candidates. I said that we had 94 percent membership approval in surveys, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I also added that if Augusta National could have two professionals for 23 years sharing the job, it could work here, too.”
The arrangement worked to perfection, and Schwent would ultimately land a PGA head professional position in 2006 at The Country Club of St. Albans in St. Albans, Mo. From that point, Mike Tucker has been the sole leader of his staff at Bellerive.
“We are very fortunate to be able to do some neat things in golf,” says Mike. “I am very happy with where I am, and the great staff here at the club.”
Mike proved that he also has game and versatility in his position. He was the 2003 Gateway PGA Player of the Year, the 2004 Gateway PGA Golf Professional of the Year and was a two-time Section Merchandise of the Year, from 2003-04. Mike has competed in eight PGA Professional National Championships.
Jerry keeps adding to his playing résumé, making his 10th Senior PGA Championship appearance, to go with trips to two PGA Championships, two U.S. Opens, two U.S. Senior Opens and 20 PGA Professional National Championships. He tied for 34th in the 1988 PGA Professional National Championship.
Already a 2002 Gateway PGA Section Hall of Famer, Jerry Tucker has just about achieved everything a senior could and more in the South Florida PGA Section (SFPGA).
In 2011, he became the first player in Section history to capture a regular Section Player of the Year and Senior Player of the Year, and Chapter Player of the Year in the same season. He earned that distinction in May 2011 in Vero Beach, Fla., due to the weather-delayed SFPGA Section Championship, which was finally completed after being postponed from the previous fall.
For someone who has won what he calls “105 significant events as a PGA Professional,” there were three moments that Jerry quickly recalls as “special” in his career.
“My getting to play golf three times with Arnold Palmer were my highlights,” says Jerry. “The first was in 1989 at the PGA Championship, then in 1992, when he called to play a practice round with me, the host professional, at Bellerive before the PGA Championship. And, the third came just before the course closed in a practice round near dark and in misty rain at Ridgewood Country Club (in Paramus, N.J.) before the 2000 Senior PGA Championship.
“Can you believe it? There were two spectators watching us on the third hole. I went up to one of the guys in between shots and said, ‘Do you know I’m playing with? That’s Arnold Palmer. I surprised the guy so much, we ended up having dinner together that night and remain friends today.”