Billy Maxwell, a feisty, gritty competitor who won seven PGA Tour titles with the help of a lethal 4-wood and precise short game, died Monday at the Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, at the age of 92. He had suffered a stroke on Sept. 5.
In addition to a golf career that included eight top-10s and 19 top-25s in major championships and a 4-0 record in the 1963 Ryder Cup, Maxwell also owned the Hyde Park Golf Club, long considered one of the top public-golf experiences in the area.
He loved nothing more than to set up shop at the practice range, hit balls, tell golf stories or give free tips to customers.
“That’s all he ever wanted to do, was play and talk golf,” said his daughter Melanie Bevill. “I asked him one time, ‘do we always have to talk about golf in this family?’ But it was fun to watch him with people. He had an amazing career and an amazing life.”
A golf pro to the end, Bevill said as recently as last week her father was giving a nurse at Brooks a lesson on how to grip the club.
“I walked in and asked how he was doing and one of them said, ‘Oh, he was just giving us golf lesson,’” she said. “Then the nurse told me that she Googled Dad’s name and didn’t realize all that he had accomplished.”
Duke Butler III, a fellow member of the Texas Golf Hall of Fame with Maxwell and former PGA Tour pro and Tour executive, said Maxwell had “enormous passion for the game, and for playing it correctly.”
Maxwell grew up in the game
Maxwell was bred to play golf. He and his twin brother Bob were the last two of seven children born to W.O. and Eudona Maxwell and his father was the head pro and superintendent of the Maxwell Municipal Golf Course in Abilene, Texas, which is still operating.
Maxwell went on to win the 1947 Texas State Junior, the 1951 U.S. Amateur and play on three NCAA national championship teams at North Texas State – in a lineup considered the best in college golf history, along with Don January, Buster Reed and Joe Conrad.
Maxwell beat Joe Gagliardi, 4 and 3, in the U.S. Amateur final at Saucon Valley in Pennsylvania but that wasn’t his biggest victory of the year. It was earlier when he married Mary Katharine, known to family and friends as “M.K.” They were married for 47 years before she passed away in 1999.
Maxwell carved out a respectable career on the PGA Tour, winning 10 professional tournaments in all, adding the Mexican, Puerto Rican and Florida Opens to his Tour ledger.
Maxwell’s best season was in 1961 when he won the Bob Hope Desert Classic by two shots over Doug Sanders, then out-dueled Ted Kroll on the seventh playoff hole to win the Insurance City Open, the forerunner to the PGA Tour’s current event in Hartford, Connecticut.
Maxwell finished 10th on the PGA Tour money list that season with $28,335.
He also won the Memphis Open and the Dallas City Open, which later morphed into the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic.
Breaking 90: Billy Maxwell celebrated at TPC Sawgrass
Maxwell, Blocker buy Hyde Park
Maxwell then found a second career as a golf-course owner. Through his years of playing in the Greater Jacksonville Open, Maxwell discovered Hyde Park, which had been owned by the of Jacksonville. He and fellow Tour pro Chris Blocker got the money together to buy the course in 1971, and it has since become a favored place for players of all ability levels and backgrounds.
When he wasn’t touring, Maxwell was often at Hyde Park, either hitting balls or giving lessons on the range, or telling tall tales in the pro shop.
“He was always very positive and very supportive of my career,” said 10-time Tour winner Mark McCumber, who grew up across the street from Hyde Park.
McCumber said that after he began winning on the Tour, he could count on a congratulatory hand-written card being in the mail from M.K. Maxwell.
Later, he played with Maxwell at the Tour’s team championship at Disney World and got a taste of Maxwell’s legendary competitiveness.
“Billy had a 50-foot putt that was really breaking hard,” McCumber said. “It burned the edge. I yelled over, ‘Nice roll, pro.’ He yelled back, ‘If I wanted nice rolls I’d go to the bakery.’ Billy was a very determined competitor. Put hit his head down and plowed forward.”
Another product of Hyde Park, former Tour member and two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner Charles Raulerson, said Maxwell told him how to handle the day-to-day competition on the Tour.
“He said to get on the first tee, and be a gentleman,” Raulerson said. “Shake their hands and be polite but in your head, tell yourself, ‘you’ve got to beat these guys today. If you don’t, you’ll never win a golf tournament.’”
Maxwell continued playing competitive golf into his 70s at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf event on the PGA Tour champions. He also played in Northern Chapter PGA events, the Henry Tuten Gator Bowl Pro-Am and an earlier version of the Underwood Cup matches.
He also was a member of “The Munchkins,” a group of former PGA Tour executives, players and charter members of the TPC Sawgrass who frequented the Stadium and Dye’s Valley Courses.
Fond caddie memories of Maxwell
Raulerson said Maxwell was never afraid to speak his mind. One day while chatting with Maxwell in the pro shop, a customer came in and asked how much a golf glove cost. When Maxwell was told he could buy the glove cheaper at Edwin Watts, a golf retail chain that had just opened its first store in Jacksonville, Maxwell replied, “then go play their course.”
Former TaxSlayer Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett came to know Maxwell through his father and brother, PGA Tour player Terry Catlett, and caddied for Maxwell at the GJO when he was a student at Parker.
Maxwell then offered Catlett a working vacation: before entering the Air National Guard in 1970, Catlett caddied for Maxwell in all four Florida Swing events.
The trip to Miami to play at Doral included a visit one night to the Miami Playboy Club to hang with Maxwell and one of his friends – baseball legend Mickey Mantle.
“I was mesmerized,” Catlett said. “Caddying for Billy was one of the top-five experiences I’ve had in my life and I’ve had some pretty good experiences. He was very good to me, a lot of fun to be around. It wasn’t like a typical player-caddie relationship where the player would go one way and the caddie another at the end of the day. I stayed with him at the best hotels, ate dinner with him, went to the pro-am parties. It was a unique insight into PGA Tour life.”
Bevill said funeral arrangements are pending and may include a memorial for her father at Hyde Park, which is undergoing renovations in its 96th year of operation.