When Lili Geehr visits Pinehurst, she can feel her father’s presence
BY ALEX PODLOGAR
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – It doesn’t take long.
Lili Geehr walks to the North and South Amateur’s Wall of Perpetuity in the distinguished hall of the Pinehurst Resort Club and has little trouble finding the name.
M. Pierpont Warner. 1932.
Geehr pauses, her right hand coming up to her face before she extends it to the bronze nameplate on the wall. Her eyes fill with water and her voice breaks ever so delicately. She rubs the plate.
Geehr lets out an audible sign. She pats the nameplate again, lifts her hand to her eyes, and dabs away the tears.
“He was about as moral as the day is long. A very, very kind man,” Geehr says of her father, who passed away at 88 in 1998. “He had big hands, but he held a golf club, especially his putter, like a bird.”
Warner, nicknamed and called “Pipie” by his friends and family alike – his daughter included – beat John B. Ryerson 5 & 3 to win the 32nd playing of the North and South Amateur, the longest consecutively running amateur championship in America. Born in 1910, Pipie was a young golfer at Yale when he won one of the land’s most prestigious amateur championships, the only man in a span of six years to take the trophy away from all-time North and South winner George T. Dunlap Jr. Dunlap would go on to win the next four North and South Ams.
The trophy that got away from Dunlap, though, would be put to good use.
As he ventured into adulthood and raised his family, Pipie rarely talked about his past – or present – golfing achievements, though they were many. He won the Mountain Lake Club Championship in Lake Wales, Fla., numerous times, capturing the title an amazing 50 years apart – 1935 and 1985. But over the years he told his children, David, born in 1949, and Lili, born in 1952, little about his win in Pinehurst.
“He was very humble,” Geehr says. “He was not the kind of person to share that. He might get in a glint in his eye, though.”
Pinehurst meant a great deal to Pipie. More than anyone knew. And like everything else Pipie did in his life, he showed that love more with actions than words.
The winners of the North and South Amateur today receive the iconic Putter Boy trophy. One look at it and you know what tournament was won to receive it. It is still cherished by many of the top amateurs today. Dartmouth’s Peter Williamson, another Ivy Leaguer like Pipie, took the Putter Boy home with him to Hanover, N.H., after dominating the 112th playing of the Amateur in July.
But in Pipie’s day, the winner received a large silver bowl, engraved on the outside with the champion’s name, the North and South title and the year. Lili still has Pipie’s.
“It’s a beautiful silver bowl,” she says. “Hammered silver.”
It’s more than a keepsake of her father’s past, though. More than simply something to remember her father by 60 years after his win.
His worn golf instruction books, like Ben Hogan’s legendary Five Lessons, can fill that role for Lili and her family. They are lined with notes written in the margins in Pipie’s hand, ink underlining the most articulate phrases, later further annotated with highlighting marker. Pipie’s file cabinet of handwritten notes from golf lessons through the decades are an added treasure trove to his love for the game.
But that North and South trophy, that’s different.
Pipie may never have said as much, but that trophy meant something. So much so that when it was time for David’s christening in 1949, Pipie brought the silver bowl with his name engraved on it, with “Pinehurst” engraved on it, to the church with him. As the words were said and the water descended over David, it collected in the bowl.
Three years later, on the 20th anniversary of his winning the North and South, Pipie took the bowl again.
The same words were said, the water mixed with faith.
And in 1952, as she lay in the buffed silver bowl, Olive Young Warner was christened.
Lili Geehr has visited Pinehurst’s Resort Club just twice. She participated in the U.S. Senior Women’s Golf Association event in Pinehurst in late September, playing the game she grew to love after she got over the intimidation of being Pipie’s daughter.
“I was intimidated,” she says. “I really didn’t think I could play like my dad, and so I was a tennis player. But then I blew out my knee, and that was the end of my tennis career. So I started playing earnestly about 30-35 years ago. And I can remember my dad saying to me, ‘Great, you’re finally playing. Now I can die.’ “And I looked at him and said, ‘That’s really rude. The number of people you coached and helped – now it’s my turn.’”
As it did 60 years ago, Pinehurst continues to connect Lili with her beloved Pipie. She steals a moment in the North and South Amateur Championship locker room, finds locker No. 26, and kneels beside it, her hand again coming up to brush the brass plate. With some pressure applied by her thumb, Lili wipes away the smudges of time, and M. Pierpont Warner’s name shines once more.
“I feel very close to my dad here,” she says, the mist in her eyes building again, “and that’s a wonderful feeling.”
Her voice cracks.
“I miss him.”