STEVE BERRY “The Ultimate Team Player”
Fortunately Steve sat down for an extensive interview describing his illustrious career before his passing. Steve is an honoured member of the Golf Hall of Fame in two categories: as an individual player and as a member of the 1979 BC Willingdon Cup Team. Four Marine Drive members – Steve Berry, Rick Gibson, Kelly Murray, and Doug Roxburgh – won the 1979 Willingdon Cup. This is the only time in Canadian golf history this has occurred.
Steve’s father Harold and his uncle Eric have a long time association with Marine Drive. In the mid twenties Steve’s grandparents lived near the course. The two sons joined the caddy ranks at Marine from 1925 – 1928. When Fraser View opened in 1934 both sons became regular members at Vancouver’s newest public golf course. After the WW2 the two government employees, Harold and Eric, joined Marine Drive.
Steve began appearing on the practice fairway at Marine around 1960. “I was at the course caddying from the summer of 1960, and was everywhere including the practice range. In fact, I used to putt for hours on the three practice greens we had then while my Dad was inside playing cards. On January 1, 1964 I became an official junior member. So my practicing became ‘legal’ then. Generally I was one to three years younger than most of the guys I played with, and I was at that time short for my age. I loved to play so I joined up with everyone. The other juniors liked playing with me because they knew they could out drive me. I liked playing with them because I picked up tips. Generally my putting and chipping practice gave me an edge on them. As the youngest of six children I learned very young how to deal with older people of all ages, and how to fit into the group. I mostly played with other players, but I wasn’t afraid to go out alone as I just loved playing and being on the course.”
In July 1966 Steve registered his first success on the Marine Drive course. Playing with his friends John Graham, Doug Roxburgh, and Lorne Drummond, he aced the 130-yard 4th hole. In 1966 Bill McIntosh and Bill Wright began the Little Masters Championship to give young boys their first opportunity to compete in an organized golf tournament. (The title “Little Masters” refers to the British term for boys under eighteen years old.) The founders hoped this introduction would plant the seed for the youngsters to become BC’s future champions. In 1967 Steve launched his championship golf career by winning the overall title.
Playing on the 1970 and 1971 championship Magee High School teams introduced Steve to team golf. Team play became a significant component of Steve’s championship golf career. At the same time Steve began striking the ball really well. His short game that he practiced for years became the basis for his future success. In the 1969, 1970, 1971 BC Junior championships, he placed in the top ten. Because of this success, he became a member of the BC Junior B Team that played annual matches against Alberta teams. Steve led his teammates to success each year. He appeared on four winning Avery Cup teams from Marine Drive at the BC Junior Championships.
During his long career spanning five decades Steve has won over eighty individual championships. His first title came at Capilano in 1969 as member of the Marine Drive team in the Zone 2 Tournament of Champions. Doug Roxburgh won the 18-under championship and Steve won the 15-under event. Playing on the first annual Junior Golf Tour a seven event series in the 1970 summer, Steve accumulated 150.1 points to win the title. Consistency over time would become one of the trademarks for Steve’s career.
In 1972 everything fell into place for him to win his first provincial title, the BC Junior Championship. “The Marine Driver, who has been described as built like a one –iron, won like a true champion in the rain delayed 72 hole championship at Point Grey. Leading by three shots going into the final round, Steve shrugged off his triple bogey on the ninth hole to finish with a two over par 74 and a 296 total. He felt he had been stuck in neutral for three years and had now emerged. “ He then followed his title by winning the 36 hole BC Junior Invitational to determine the 1972 BC junior team.
Playing for the Simon Fraser golf team from 1972 – 1975 Steve won four individual titles. In his best year 1973 he qualified to play in the NAIA National Championship in Gramling South Carolina. Playing the four-year-old Village Green GC, ”I was the only Canadian in the field. The officials placed me in the first group on Day one. I started with a three-putt triple, and then had rolled in seven birdies on the way to an opening round four under par 68. The second round was washed out by torrential rain, thunder and lightening. I heard one person on the course stood too close to a tree that was struck by lightening, was hospitalized, but did not survive. So I led for two days. The tourney became a three rounder. Unfortunately I just could not duplicate my first round to win.” For his efforts the NAIA named him a 1973 All-American.
In 1974 Steve received an invitation to play in the Sahalee Invitational Amateur. “I arrived the day before the event for a practice round. The officials had a 2-man team event for the different associations represented in the tournament. I was picked for the BC team probably because of my handicap. In any event, we played the North and East 9’s. I shot 68 which was the competitive course record at the time.”
Steve played in every BC Men’s Amateur starting in 1969 at age fifteen with little success. In 1981 he ascended to the top of men’s amateur golf in the province. The championship commenced at Royal Colwood for the first round and moved to the Victoria GC for the final three rounds. Steve showed his determination that he desperately wanted to win the championship by scoring under par in all four rounds – the only player in the field to do so. On the final day with no experience being in this position in the Amateur, he displayed the coolness of an experienced champion. Partnered with his club mate Doug Roxburgh probably assisted his success. “There was no particular pressure. I’d sooner have been playing with Doug than anyone else. We play together most weekends at Marine.” Although Steve stood one stroke back at the start, he evened the score with a birdie on the first hole. He never let up. At the end of the championship Steve won by eight strokes over Doug and ten over Grant Milliken. When asked about wearing the sneakers Steve responded, “If I swing to hard, I slip which I wouldn’t do if I wore spikes. The sneakers serve as a conscious reminder that I must swing easier.” Steve’s strange footwear for that time is now the norm.
In 1994 Steve transferred to the Victoria Workers’ Compensation Board office. He maintained his Marine Drive membership until 1999. Then returned to the club in 2009. On the Island Steve continued his winning ways. He won the prestigious Island Open championship 3 times plus over 20 local weekend island championships. He had a strangle hold on the Long Beach amateur winning seven times.
The BCGA introduced a new competition for players 30 – 54 years old in 1986. To follow the RCGA Mid Amateur the event changed to 40 and over players in 1992. Steve showed immediate success in this championship. During the period 1994 – 1998 he won the championship twice, represented BC on two teams, and lost in the final of the 1994 Canadian Mid-Amateur.
In the 1994 BCGA Mid-Amateur at Pitt Meadows he won the medal and the championship final. Later in the summer, at Ile Bizard Quebec Steve qualified fourth. He lost in the final to four-time winner Stu Hamilton of Mississauga Ont. 4&2.
Like all golfers Steve has numerous stories relating to his tournaments and matches. He related this one for the 1995 Canadian Mid Amateur. “Tod Stewart won the 1995 BC Mid-Amateur, so he was our playing captain at the nationals. For the entire week we referred to him as ‘Captain, my Captain’ (from the movie Dead Poets Society). After qualifying we played two matches per day as long as you kept winning. Tod won his first match, then had to play Stu Hamilton (who defeated me in the final in 1994) in match #2. Tod played some great golf with many clutch shots and putts winning 1up. The next morning he lost in the 3rd round. He came to caddy for me in the afternoon 4th round. As we were walking off the first tee, he was pulling my cart and turned to me ‘yesterday I was a giant killer, today I am a mule’. That one liner simply broke up the rest of the group, particularly given Tod’s deadpan delivery. “
With absolutely no expectations Steve entered the 1997 BCGA Mid Amateur. Due to sickness over the previous six months, he had played less than ten rounds of golf. Furthermore he had never played two of the three courses being used. All the competitors complained about the traveling distance between the venues and about the lack of practice opportunities. Here Steve’s experience playing competitive golf came to the front. He shot 73, 71, 70 to win by three strokes. Now came decision time. As the reigning BC Mid-Amateur champion does he join the BC team to travel to the nationals OR does he accept the PNGA offer to be part of their Morse Cup team playing in the prestigious Pacific Coast Amateur on the Hawaii Islands. Steve chose the sun on the Islands.
Steve describes how playing team competition is much different than individual. “You must stay focused on more than yourself. When it’s just you, you can go for broke or just mail it in by way of effort any time you wish. When you’re on a team, the team is more important than your ego or pride – your effort has to be the same as what you are expecting out of each of your teammates.“
Steve’s career illustrates the importance team competition has played in his career:
two Magee High School team championships in the BC High School Championship, three Junior B teams, one BC Junior team, one Junior America’s Team, one BC Junior World team, one Eddie Hogan team, two BC Mid-Amateur teams, and eleven BC Willingdon teams. Five have been winning teams: 1972 Canadian Junior, the 1979, 1987, 1989 Willingdon’s, and the 2009 Canadian Seniors team.
At the 1986 Willingdon Cup team matches at the Mactaquac Provincial Park GC in Fredericton NB, “Brian Wells ended up with a pair of plus fours much too large and too long. I used my black electricians tape that I carry in my bag for my putter, to hem his pants. The pants were dogwood tartan plus fours that all the team members refused to wear. The BCGA officials and the team came to a compromise. We would wear the tartan pants for the teams photograph only. The regular dogwood tartan long pants would be worn for play in the regular tournament.”
Steve felt one of his most memorable moments in golf occurred at the Simon Bolivar matches. .”I was chosen for the team in 1987 and 1989. In one of the years I was asked to carry the Canadian flag. During the playing of the national anthem it struck me I was one of two players representing our country… that was a special moment for me in my golf career.”
“Over the years Steve became a thinking golfer, the easy and productive abandon of his youthful game was replaced by an awareness of the pitfalls and the possibility of disaster. If there was a cloud hovering over Steve’s career it was a very tiny one inhabited by the inconsistency bug. At times he astounded himself with a ten-stroke difference between rounds. When asked what words of wisdom he would offer an ambitious junior he responded keep things in perspective.”
We have posted Steve’s playing record to date on a separate post.