Top 10 CNY Sports Stories EVER! – Wayne Levi
I’d be remiss during this series if I didn’t cover someone from the sport that everybody seems to play whether pro or otherwise… Yup, I’m talking about golf. Unlike other sports where you retire in your 30’s or younger, you can play all the way until the day you drop in this one and it’s cross-generational so people of all ages can go out and have a good time whether they’re good at it or not. But, let’s talk about who’s good though… The undisputed quintessential golf king from our area has to be Wayne Levi.
Wayne Levi was born in Little Falls and went to Herkimer High before packing his bags and heading off on his own to hit some balls for SUNY Oswego. He only spent two years there before turning pro at the age of 21. Mid-way through his twenties he got his first taste of the PGA Tour and began making a name for himself as one of the best club-swingers during his twenty-plus years on the tour, most notably between 1978 and 1990 where he racked up 12 wins. Four of those wins came in 1990 which was the pinnacle of his career and led to his being named PGA Player of the Year not to mention that he came in second place to Greg Norman in winnings for the year. So CLOSE! Fresh off of his star year, he also played on the winning U.S. Ryder Cup Team just the following year. Since his heydays on the PGA Tour, he has been playing on the Champions Tour which is made up mostly of former PGA guys who are aged 50 or over and he has unsurprisingly won the title on that tour too… Twice!
Just a couple of years ago Wayne suffered a heart attack and underwent double-bypass surgery but that hasn’t stopped this workhorse. He was back on the tour just two months following the surgery and once again kept putting his name on that leaderboard. Here’s what he said during the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open back in 2010 not long after his return:
“The first day I saw my name leading the tournament I had goose bumps. That’s how good it felt to finally be back on the board and see my name up there,” he said. “For years on the regular tour, the first or second round my name was up there all the time, but I wasn’t 58. To see it back up there again, that was great. It felt so good.”
He nearly won his third Champions Tour title at that tourney but ended up losing on account of a couple of ‘oops’ shots on the last two holes which put him just two strokes behind the leader. But that didn’t phase him:
“That’s a good way to finish. I haven’t been anywhere near the lead for a year,” he said. “It really kind of energizes you a little, gets you pumped up for next week. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of critiquing how I missed those last couple of putts, but who cares?”
Now remember, this is post heart attack, which makes this already solidly pro player, even more amazing in this golf rookie’s book. Now, at 60 years old, 22 years after his record year he’s still playing and pops back and forth on his downtime from his primary home in Florida to the home he raised his kids in here in New Hartford. Maybe this left-handed greenhorn golfer will get a chance to bump into him at Cavallo’s and share stories some day, or rather I should just shut up and listen! Whether or not that ever happens, I’m simply happy including this golfer’s golfer on my list as one of our area’s greatest athletes. In case you’ve never had the privilege of sharing the green with him, here’s a peek at the master in action just this past year: