Edward L. Meister
1940 team captain and longtime amateur
Ed Meister (Class of 1940) was a golfing prodigy. At age fifteen he had reached the semifinals of the Cleveland District Championship, which he later won five times. At Yale he was undefeated as a freshman. In 1937 he was the first freshman to win the annual University Championship, when he defeated varsity player Fred Borsodi. For the next three years Meister was the number one player and captain of the varsity team in 1940. But, during that time, the team suffered a championship drought.
After graduation Meister returned to the family publishing business in Willoughby, Ohio. His father had started the American Fruit Growers Publishing Company in 1932. Meister grew the business and was president for thirty years of the company that is now know as Meister Media Worldwide. For the next thirty-five years he was a prominent figure in amateur golf. He qualified for the US Amateur twenty-five times and played in the Masters Tournament three times. He reached the semifinals of the French and Canadian championships and the US Senior Amateur.
The semifinal match with Arnold Palmer in the 1954 US Amateur at Detroit was the high point of Meister’s career. It was the same for Palmer’s amateur career. Palmer had defeated Frank Stranahan and Don Cherry in the quarterfinals. Hearing that their son had made it to the semifinals, his parents back in Latrobe drove all night to Detroit, as Palmer himself was later to relate:
Mother and Pop drove all night to be there for the match with Ed Meister, a publishing executive from Cleveland whom I had beaten to win the 1953 Ohio Amateur. Boy, did they get a good show!
I think fatigue set in early in our match. Ed and I had played six intense matches in the previous four days, so we were a little sloppy in our morning round. I held a 1-up advantage after the first eighteen, but shot 76. Things got a little better in first nine holes of the afternoon session, but in the final nine holes our adrenaline started pumping, and we both played some pretty awesome golf. All square through thirty holes, I hit one of the best shots of the week at the par-three thirteenth. The ball stopped forty inches from the cup, leaving me an easy uphill putt for birdie. But Ed rolled in a twenty-five footer for birdie ahead of me, which put a lot of pressure on my short one. I made it, but the match remained all-square.
He did it to me again on sixteen. I was 1-up with three to play and had hit my tee shot on the par three to within nine feet when Ed rolled in another twenty-five footer for birdie. This time I missed my birdie putt, and we were tied again. It stayed that way through eighteen, where I had to make a knee-knocking five-footer to take the match to extra holes.
I thought I’d lost it on the first extra hole. Ed hit his approach to five feet and had a much easier putt to win than the one I’d made one hole before to extend the match. But his putt hit the low side of the hole and spun out. He missed another putt of sixteen feet on the thirty-eight hole, which would have ended it. It wasn’t until the thirty-ninth hole—the 510 yard, par five third that I ended the match by hitting a 300-yard drive and a 3-iron second shot onto the green thirty feet from the hole. Ed struggled after his tee shot found the trees. After he left his fourth shot short, he took off his hat and conceded what turned out to be the longest semi-final match in US Amateur history at that time.
The next day Palmer defeated Bob Sweeny to win the championship. If Stranahan, Cherry, Meister, or Sweeny had won, it is doubtful that their subsequent lives would have been changed. But if Palmer had been defeated, his life and the face of professional golf during the next fifty years might have been very different. For, as he told James Dodson, this event was “the turning point in his life.”