/James Ray Carpenter, a Mississippi original, rose to president of PGA of America

James Ray Carpenter, a Mississippi original, rose to president of PGA of America

Carpenter achieved this partly due to his commitment to golf, but mostly because of his down-to-earth personality. J.R. Carpenter was a Mississippi pioneer. He was intelligent. He was kind and friendly. He was funny. He was genuine. After a short illness, he died Wednesday morning in Hattiesburg. He was 91. Carpenter was the B.O.’s pro in the 1960s and 1970s. Carpenter was the pro at the B.O. in Hattiesburg in the 1960s and 70s. You could find him with grease all over his face, repairing an old cart or mowing greens. He also helped to make the pairings for the State Junior Golf Tournament, which is held annually at his course. Carpenter was a master of many trades. He even acted as a babysitter for several kids who spent their summers at the course. One of them was me. Fast forward to 1986, and I was making my first visit to Augusta National or The Masters. J.R. spotted my presence at Thursday’s PGA party and asked me to join him. He wanted me to meet his friends, Jack (Nicklaus) and Arnie (Palmer). Carpenter was a well-known rules expert who officiated major tournaments all over the world, including at the Ryder Cup. He was the chairman of the U.S. Ryder Cup in 1985. The 1985 Ryder Cup defeat to Europe was the first loss of the U.S. team since 1957. His friends didn’t let J.R. forget it. How does one go from a humble, South Mississippi public course pro to the president of the powerful PGA of America? You may be asking yourself how you can rub shoulders with legends of the game. “J.R. “J.R. was such a people person,” stated Ben Nelson, a Madison-based official of the PGA Tour rules. He loved people, and they loved him back. People gravitated towards him.” “J.R. “J.R. was so approachable and a great story teller. It didn’t matter who you are,” stated Ken Lindsay, former Colonial Country Club pro, who served as PGA president. He made friends with everyone he spoke to, and people respected him. He became an officer in the Gulf States Section and then just kept climbing up the ranks. He was funny, J.R. Carpenter. His often sun-burned skin seemed to be perpetually grinny. His wit was evident in 2004, when the University of Southern Mississippi decided to close the Van Hook golf club long after Carpenter had passed away. J.R. decided to honor the old course in the best possible way: with a scramble tournament, one final round, and a reunion of many who loved it. J.R. had six teams instead of four. He called us pall bearers. J.R. made a ceremonial final shot at the tournament’s end, while far down on the fairway, a single bugler played Taps. Some of us cried, while others laughed. The Van Hook course was perpetually underfunded and became known affectionately as “The Ranch”, short for Goat Ranch. Carpenter made it a second home for many of us. Before our schools, the Ranch was integrated. J.R. was the same for all. He did not cult anyone. Carpenter was an excellent athlete at Hattiesburg High School and USM before he became a professional golfer. Carpenter was an all-state basketball player at Hattiesburg High and was a three-sport athlete (basketball baseball tennis). He was a basketball player for Lee Floyd, Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer. After working as a basketball coach in high school, he sold insurance and then oil field supplies. He was 33 when he discovered golf at the Duncan Park course in Natchez. He was soon hooked. Carpenter’s rapid rise up the ranks of golf was amazing. Carpenter began playing golf in 1959. In 1964, he became a professional golfer. In 1969, he joined the PGA of America. He was elected president of Mississippi PGA in 1973. In 1974, he became the president of the Gulf States Section of PGA. In 1974, he was also the treasurer of PGA of America. In 1983, he was the President of the PGA of America. According to the PGA of America’s Wednesday morning website, Carpenter used “both his homespun wit as well as his counsel to become a respected golf leader.” Paul K. Levy, President of PGA of America, said that the loss of J.R. Carpenter has “sadden the PGA of America.” Carpenter was a loyal and passionate PGA Professional. He followed a simple but effective formula in life: “Leave the place better than you found it when you arrived.” “J.R. “J.R. Carpenter was a great person with a sense of humor and a wonderful personality. However, he never lost sight on the mission of PGA and the potential benefits that the Association could offer its members. We will miss him, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.” Carpenter was inducted into the USM Sports Hall of Fame as well as the USM Alumni Hall of Fame. Carpenter is a Captain’s Club member of Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament’s Captain’s Club. He will be inducted into the Hattiesburg Hall of Fame posthumously on Oct. 4. While the golf, sports, and alumni halls of honor are all nice, J.R. would be an inductee if there was a Hall of Fame of Wit. Another example: This was in 1973, when Tiger Woods was a rookie player on the PGA Tour. He was playing in the PGA Championship. Paul Azinger, who was telling Ryder Cup stories, to Tiger Woods and J.R. (who Woods only knew as Mr. Carpenter) early in the week. One story involved Jack Nicklaus, James Ray Carpenter. Azinger referred as J.R. Woods listened and was puzzled. Azinger finally asked Azinger: “Who’s that J.R.?” Azinger and J.R. laughed and pointed to J.R. Carpenter. We now move on to the first round of the tournament. J.R. was the one who announced each player at the first tee. Woods was ready to tee off. The crowd had grown to the largest that day at the first tee. J.R. Carpenter was at the ready. “Ladies, gentlemen, we are next on the tee. Winner of three USGA National Junior Tournaments and three U.S. Opens. Amateurs, two PGA Tournaments, Tiger… (long pause), young man, what’s your last name?” Tiger Woods laughed and pointed at J.R., as if to tell him, “You got my back!” Visitation will be held Friday from 4-8 p.m. and Saturday morning (11-11) at the church. Hulett-Winstead Funeral Homes is handling the arrangements. Following the service, there will be a private funeral for the family.