Tap 'er Light: Picture for the ages

2009-07-27T23:00:00Z Tap 'er Light: Picture for the agesBy Bill Foley - 07/28/2009 Montana Standard
July 27, 2009 11:00 pm  • 

I'm not a very good photographer, so here's almost a thousand words to go along with my picture.

Friday afternoon, I snapped a photo on my phone. The photo quality isn't very good, but the content is unbelievable.

It just had to be published.

It was one of those moments that I needed proof that it even happened.

It was as if I was hanging out with three of the five living presidents.

I felt like I was among royalty as I stood by Ed Zemljak, Rick Lyons and Louie Bartoletti.

As far as golf in Montana goes, I was.

If you don't believe me, then keep on reading.

Zemljak, Lyons and Bartoletti are the only three living Butte State Amateur champions — at least as far as I know.

Their first names alone are pretty much all you need to say when speaking at any golf course in the state.

Zemljak and Lyons still live in Butte. Bartoletti is in town for a visit.

Bartoletti, 49, won the State Am in Butte in 1979, when he was a little more than a year out of high school.

Two years later, he beat Montana legend Gene Cook of Great Falls in a playoff to win it again, this time in Bozeman.

In 1978, Bartoletti led Butte Central to the Class A state title. He won the individual crown while leading a team that included Lyons and three guys I've never heard of.

"If it wasn't for Louie, we wouldn't have won," Lyons said.

Bartoletti left the state to play golf at UCLA, and he now lives in Palm Beach, Fla., where he co-owns a golf course management company.

In 1983, Bartoletti played in the PGA Championship. He also missed the cut at the Doral Open by one shot that year.

OK, so he's not Tiger Woods. But I'd like to see what Tiger would do if he grew up in a climate like Butte.

Bartoletti, who played in the Honda Classic two years ago, is starting to really get back into the game.

"I played more this year than I have in the last 10 years," he said.

"I got away from it, and it's hard to get back. I've got more time now that my kids are getting older." So we might not have heard the last of Bartoletti.

I'm thinking the senior tour.

"It's fun again," Bartoletti said of the game.

If you didn't know any better, you'd think Lyons, also 49, is acting like Jerry Seinfeld.

Ten years ago, Lyons shot a 9-under-par 271 to run away with the State Am title at the Butte Country Club. The score was the lowest in tournament history.

In Seinfeld, Jerry once beat the fastest kid in school in a race. Seinfeld false started, but nobody caught him.

When the loser cried for a rematch, Seinfeld said "I choose not to run." Lyons chose not to play the State Am again, though the smart money would have said he would have one more.

His motives, however, are far different than Seinfeld's.

Lyons, who has three children, doesn't put golf ahead of his family.

"It's four days, and you have to play three or four days a week to get where you need to be," he explained about not playing the tournament. "I'd rather spend time with my kids." Lyons didn't start getting really good at golf until his late 20s. He really arrived on the state scene when he won the Mid-Am at the Butte Country Club in 1995.

When Lyons plays at the Country Club, he's nearly unbeatable. He played two rounds there this year. He shot a 4-under-par 66 on the second round.

So, with all due respect to Missoula's Bill Dunn, who won the State Am at the BCC at even par over the weekend, the victory carries an unofficial asterisk because Rick chose not to play.

After two rounds, young Butte golfer Ty Wengel shared the lead at one-under.

"We're all really lucky," Wengel said at the time. "Rick isn't playing in this tournament." Only the late E.J. Barker has won the State Am more than Zemljak, 72.

Zemljak took home the title at the prestigious tournament six times. He also took second six times.

His last State Am victory came in 1970 at the BCC. He also won it in 1957 and 1961 through 1964.

The soft-spoken Zemljak plays golf nearly every weekday at the Country Club, and he usually shoots in the low 70s.

"Eddie's swing hasn't changed in 50 years," Lyons said.

Zemljak would also be the last one to tell you that he's probably the best amateur golfer this state has ever produced.

Even to guys like Bartoletti and Lyons, he is still a legend.

"I remember as kids, he was always so modest," Lyons said. "He was humble and nice. Whenever I won something, I wanted to act like Eddie." Lyons, Bartoletti are also pretty humble.

They probably won't like that all this was written about them.

I couldn't help it. Some things just have to be said.

A picture could never tell that whole story.

  • Sportswriter Bill Foley, who thought about photoshopping himself into the picture, writes a column that runs Tuesdays in the Standard. See more from Bill at mtstandard.com/blogs.

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