Alfonzo King presided over Kansas City’s public golf courses in the 1960s and 1970s. That was especially true at Swope Park, where he’d regularly play 18 holes with barbeque icon Ollie Gates and civic leader Bruce Watkins.
“A lot of guys used to come down from L.A., Chicago,” the 73-year-old said. “Everybody wanted to come to Kansas City to beat me. I was the drawing card.”
But when it came to qualifying for the PGA Tour in the 1970s, King discovered that it was a different world. The regional qualifying tournament took place on a private course outside Dallas.
“See the carpet down there?” King asked as he sat at a table in his apartment, where he regularly watches golf on television.
“If I drop a ball there, it might roll just about that far,” he said, measuring a distance of a few feet. “If I drop it on this table, it’s going to roll off the table. That’s the difference in being from a public course and a private course. Pssshew! I’d hit the ball. I’d get it on the green. Speed!”
A 9-over par 80 in the third of a four-round tournament took King out of contention for one of the top 15 spots needed to advance. Among those top 15: Ben Crenshaw, who at the time played on University of Texas’ golf team and would go on to win the Masters in 1984 and 1995.
King never got over the hump to secure a card on the tour, nor did he ever qualify for a U.S. Open or become a club professional.
But King, who moved from Texas to Kansas City in 1964 and worked for REA Railway Express on Pershing Road, developed a local reputation. He often gave tips to the Kansas City Chiefs players from the 1970 Super Bowl championship team — people like the late Buck Buchanan and current Chiefs assistant coach Emmitt Thomas.
And when King, who walks with a cane these days, goes to Swope Park now, he’s still greeted with “Al King! We miss you up here.”
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.