Stories of U.S. Amateur Champion Nathaniel Crosby

The Clambake

The Crosby's have been there throughout the entire history of the Clambake. In fact, the tournament that Bing Crosby created has been around longer than the PGA Tour. The event started in Rancho Santa Fe near the singer's home and then moved to Monterey in 1947. Some of Nathaniel's earliest memories of the event are being around eight years old, staying in adjacent rooms to his mother and father, and handing out scorecards to the players on the first tee at Cypress Point. Whether it was Sidney Poitier, George C Scott, or Dean Martin, Nathaniel remembers them all coming to compete and having the week of their life. When Bing died in 1977, Nathaniel took over hosting duties. "My mom was off doing theater, and my brother was in London going to college. I was a known golfer, and my mom thrusted me into the limelight." Crosby told me. "When [Bing] Crosby died last fall, any question that the tournament he started 41 years ago would be disrupted was quickly put to rest. His 16‐year‐old son Nathaniel, also an avid golfer, and the large staff that had been built up over the years are simply continuing the pattern he evolved," said Leonard Koppett in the New York Times in 1978. Every year, it seemed the field was jam-packed with every A-lister who loved the game of golf. Many got their invite, but even more were left off the list. In early October, Bing would go to Baja in Mexico, where he owned a piece of property with no telephone, as the invite list for the tournament would go out in mid-September, and he did not want to be bothered. When the high schooler Nathaniel took charge of hosting duties, the bribery attempts were in the form of chocolate bars and toys. During his hosting days, he would join the board meetings at Cypress Point and go play nine holes after; not a bad life.

The Amateur at Olympic 

Nathaniel learned the early foundation of the game through Bridget Brennan, his nanny, and a golf pro. Like many of us who played the game, he grew up hitting shots around his house and once broke the window of his parent's bedroom window, "I tried to hit wedges around the wing of our house, which featured my mom and dad's master bedroom and I cracked open their window on multiple occasions." Through the tutelage of Maurice Ver Brugge and then Tony Penna, he developed into a competitive amateur golfer. Many know about his week at the Olympic Club in 1981 but he also had a pretty good week two years previous at Hilton Head, South Carolina, "everyone thinks of me as the one-hit wonder, but I won the qualifying to go to the U.S. Junior AM, setting a course record beating the field by seven shots. I was the favorite to win the U.S. Junior and then the fluke to win the amateur two years later," Crosby said as he laughed. The course was challenging, with fast, firm greens and terribly thick rough. In 2023, the U.S. Amateur had a qualifying score of even to get into the match play. At Olympic in 1981 it was 17 over par. Crosby had his championship match against another California amateur, Brian Lindley. Dawning a blue and red striped shirt with maroon pants, Crosby made several putts of medium to long lengths, showing significant emotion each time with hands up in the air or a punch-like extension with his arm, "I like to think I invented the fist bump," Crosby joked. On the par 5 1st, Crosby had a putt from a foot or two off the green to win it. The putting surface was heavily sloped from front to back, so it was a speedy putt, "I got over the ball, and I basically pretended I was at the Burlingame Country Club practice green…they talk about Jack Nicklaus with spot putting, that's what I did. I hit that putt to spot about a foot and a half, maybe two feet away. It was a putt you could easily knock five or six feet by," Crosby remembered. He would hit the 15-20 foot putt with a stroke that looked like it was intended for a 15-inch tap-in, and it would fall with his emotions rising to a level of jumping in his caddie's arms so hard he almost broke his nose. 

From Hogan to Nathaniel

Between the ages of 16 and through college, Nathaniel took lessons from his teacher, Tony Penna, at the Tony Penna Golf Factory. He used the Tony Penna woods and irons while winning low am at the 1982 US Open, but also played competitively with a different set. George Coleman, one of Bing's great friends and then later on Nathaniel's, was a prominent businessman who "was chairman of the board and president of the First National Bank in Miami [and] a director of Pennzoil Company." Coleman was president of Seminole, but fans of golf history might remember him for organizing "the match" between Ken Venturi/Harvie Ward and Ben Hogan/Byron Nelson. "He seemed to own 5% of everything," Nathaniel said. Coleman was also close and personal friends with none other than Ben Hogan. The other set that Nathaniel would go on to use were found in Colemans' garage, and they had "long grips and coat hanger reminder under them." That particular set was one of Ben Hogan's personal set of clubs that he played with during his career.

University of Miami

Crosby initially received a couple of offers and committed to the University of Miami in Coral Gables before winning the U.S. Amateur. “Most of the offers came in after I won the Amateur, but I was already going to Miami.” He would no longer be able to participate in the Clambake lead-up meetings at Cypress Point as often but would begin his collegiate career representing the Hurricanes. Crosby had a very good season as a freshman, finishing near the top in many tournaments across the country. The story would take a sudden shift as it turned out the golf coach was getting into deep waters, “I think I would have qualified individually for the NCAA individually, the team might have as well, but our golf coach had blown the entire budget on the first three tournaments, he was participating in a pyramid credit card gambling scheme. In Vegas, the Bahamas, and Lake Tahoe, he would run up about $300,000 gambling, and they canceled golf after February,” Crosby remembered. Where all their early season tournaments were, the coach would increasingly run up his debts. Crosby finished in the top 10 of multiple events, but because of the lack of playing in more tournaments, neither he nor the team could qualify for the NCAAs.

Medaling in three straight

In Crosby's impressive amateur career, spanning only 9 USGA events, he achieved a feat that very few can boast of- medalling in the first three events. The USGA is home to champions like Andy North, Curtis Strange, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer, but almost none had done what Crosby did. "I knew Tiger had not done that; I knew that Jack Nicklaus did not do that, I knew that Bobby Jones didn't do it. I remember thinking, 'Who did it?'" Crosby said. It was at the sugar tournament in Caso de Campo that he found his answer, in the form of Jerry Pate, who was having lunch with the former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg.

Crosby: "I've got to ask you a really quick question. What was the first USGA event you played in?"

Pate: The U.S. amateur, I won.

Crosby: Did you defend?

Pate: No

Crosby: What was the second USGA event you played in?

Pate: I was low amateur in the U.S. Open.

Crosby: Damnit, what was the third?

Pate: I won the U.S. Open.