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Subject: Lewis "Sweet Lew" Oehmig, only three-time Senior Amateur golf champion

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Date Posted: September 29, 2002 11:39:40 EDT

Lewis West Oehmig died Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2002, following a lengthy illness. He was 86 and was the state of Tennessees most renowned and beloved amateur golfer.

Often called "Sweet Lew" for his fluid golf swing and winsome disposition, Oehmig was born on May 11, 1916, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the second son of William Gallupe Oehmig and Ruth Daniel Oehmig. The Oehmig family returned soon thereafter to Chattanooga, where Lew grew up with his three brothers in North Chattanooga an Edenlike area called "Riverview." It was at this time, because of the frail health of his youth, that his father encouraged him to take up the game of golf.

As the family lived within walking distance of Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, what started out as a childhood elixir soon evolved for Lew Oehmig into a lifelong romance with golf. This pursuit of golf as an early "tonic" for a spindly child would lead to the most storied record of any amateur golfer in Tennessee history, and one of the most stellar in the United States of America.

As a seventh-grader, Oehmig was the leading golfer at Baylor School. He would go on to win the school championship and be the team captain for the next five years. An excellent student, he graduated in 1935 from Baylor, cum laude and cum honore. In the summer of his senior year at Baylor, Oehmig won the first of eight Tennessee State Amateur titles, defeating Emmett Spicer at the time, the states finest amateur. Over the next five decades, Oehmig would win seven more TGA Amateur Championships, his last coming at the age of 55 at old Colonial Country Club in Memphis. His score was 282. An oft-overlooked fact in his TGA career was that he finished runner-up a record six times in the amateur event.

Oehmig took two degrees from his beloved University of Virginia: a B.A. in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1939 and an L.L.B. from the School of Law in 1942. At the University of Virginia, Oehmig played varsity golf all four years, and in his fourth year he captained the remarkable 1938 team which boasted of having four current state amateur champions as starters. In 1938, he won medalist honors at the National Intercollegiate Championship, and finished the tournament as a semifinalist.

At UVA, Oehmig had a rich extracurricular life. He was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and a member of the prestigious IMP and Z honor societies. In his last year at the university, Oehmig earned a coveted room on the "West Range" of the Lawn the student residences that made up the heart of what Thomas Jefferson created as his unique "academical village."

Rather than pursuing a career as a golfing professional, Oehmig enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served his country as a first lieutenant in Air Group 10. In 1944, on the USS Intrepid, he survived a kamikaze attack off the coast of Okinawa in which he saved the lives of several sailors, leading them out of a belowdeck inferno.

Following his discharge from the Navy in 1947, Lew Oehmig married Mary Augusta King of Lookout Mountain, his dearest sweetheart. She has been the light of his life and his faithful companion for over 55 years.

After working for the Coca-Cola Thomas Company, Oehmig served as vice president and director of Fleetwood Coffee Company in Chattanooga. While at Fleetwood, he was elected the president of the Southern Coffee Roasters Association, and served as a director of TENCO an international consortium of coffee producers that was the first to produce "instant coffee."

Following the sale of the Fleetwood Company to Duncan Foods and then to the Coca-Cola Company in 1963, Oehmig became president and director of the First-Flight Golf Co. Under Oehmigs leadership, First-Flight would grow into one of the leading golf manufacturers in the nation, and would boast of staff players such as Masters champion Gary Player. First-Flight later would merge with the Arnold Palmer Golf Co., forming the Professional Golf Co. in 1968. During the 1973 recession, Oehmig left the golf manufacturing business and became the vice president of new business at American National Bank, a position he would hold until he retired in 1986. As a senior golfer, Lew Oehmigs career reached unparalleled heights. He won the TGA Senior Amateur a record seven times. In 1976, he won the International Seniors in Gleneagles, Scotland, and was runner-up in 1977. He would go on to play in eight U.S. Senior Opens before his career ended.

But Oehmigs most sterling record in senior golf came in the USGA Senior Amateur Championship. Here he qualified a record 18 times for the event. He captured the championship an unprecedented three times: in 1972, 1976 and 1985. He finished runner-up in 1973, 1977 and 1979. Altogether, he amassed more victories in this national event than any other competitor before or since. In addition, Oehmig remains the oldest USGA champion in history, taking his last win at Wild Dunes in Charleston, S.C., in 1985. He was 69 years of age.

In 1977, Oehmig became the only non-Walker Cup player to captain the American contingent at Shinnecock Hills. The Americans would decisively defeat the team from Great Britain and Ireland 16-8 under Oehmigs leadership, leading USGA President Harry W. Easterly to remark at the prize presentation: "Lew Oehmig should be the permanent captain of the Walker Cup team."

The capstone of Oehmigs career as a gentleman champion, however, came in 1994, when, at the annual meeting of the USGA in Scottsdale, Ariz., he was given the Bob Jones Award for Distinguished Sportsmanship in Golf. In winning the highest award the USGA bestows, Oehmig joined the elites of golf Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Charlie Yates and Peggy Kirk Bell, among others honored for his example of excellence in character and for being an ambassador for the game. Since Bob Jones was his life model and consummate hero, receiving Jones own award truly crowned Lew Oehmigs golfing life.

In 2001, sports writer Chris Dortch captured the essence of Lew Oehmigs life in his biography, "Gentleman Champion, Lew Oehmigs Romance with Golf" (Chattanooga: 711 East Publishing). A book signing at Black Creek Club followed publication.

Of all the courses he played, Cypress Point in California was Oehmigs favorite. Among other courses he loved, many include the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, Lookout Mountain Golf Club, Augusta National, Seminole Golf Club, Peachtree Golf Club, Black Creek Club and Creeks Bend. As one of the original honorees at The Honors Course, Oehmig loved the course, and relished all that it represented to amateur golf throughout the world. He held with equal esteem what John T. Lupton did for the game of golf at Golf House in Franklin, Tenn.

Oehmig was a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd on Lookout Mountain, where he served on the vestry. In his later years, he worshiped at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Trion, Ga., with his family. He served as president and member of the board of the Tennessee Golf Association, and was a director of the Southern Golf Association. He was the president of the Westend Foundation of Chattanooga, and chairman of Tennessee Valley Travel Agency. Oehmig served as a committee member of the Robert Tyre Jones Memorial Scholarship Fund, and was a director of Lookout Mountain Golf Club, Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, and the Mountain City Club. He was a member of the U.S. Seniors Golf Society, and captained its International Team in 19821983. Lewis West Oehmig was preceded in death by his brother, William Gallupe Oehmig Jr.

He is survived by two other brothers: Von Daniel Oehmig and Daniel West Oehmig. Oehmig is also survived by his lifelong friend and fellow golfing competitor, Ira Templeton.

Surviving older son is Lewis West Oehmig Jr., chairman of Tennessee Valley Travel Agency along with his wife, Regina Matthews Oehmig. Second son is the Rev. Henry King Oehmig, vicar of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, editor-in-chief of Synthesis Publications, and golf coach at Baylor School, along with his wife, Margaret Davenport Oehmig.

Grandchildren were a tremendous blessing in the life of Lew Oehmig, and they include Henry King Oehmig Jr., a senior at the University of the South; John Davenport Oehmig, a third-year student at UVA; Lewis West Oehmig III, a second-year student at UVA; Neil Matthews Oehmig, a first-year student at UVA; William McRedmond King Oehmig, a junior at Baylor School; and Mary Francis Christine Oehmig, an eighth-grade student at Baylor School.

The Lew Oehmig family received visitors in the parish hall of the Church of the Good Shepherd, 211 Franklin Road, Lookout Mountain, at 3 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 27. A service for the burial of the dead followed at 4 p.m. and interment was in the Harriet Caldwell Memorial Garden at Good Shepherd.

Funeral arrangements are made through Heritage Funeral Home, East Brainerd Road.

Memorial gifts are requested for the following:

The Jefferson Scholars Foundation of the University of Virginia
P.O. Box 3446
Charlottesville, VA 22903

The Baylor School, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Trion, Ga., The Church of the Good Shepherd, Hospice of Chattanooga, and the Tennessee Golf Foundation.

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Re: Lewis "Sweet Lew" Oehmig, only three-time Senior Amateur golf championEmilyOctober 01, 2002 2:03:19 EDT

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