This Crosby isn't a star, but he sure is a winner

John Steadman

September 20, 1993|By John Steadman

So much attention was drawn to the name Crosby that Nathaniel, son of Bing, grew up realizing a preference for his own identity. The fame of an illustrious father made him proud, yet it couldn't be used as a ticket through life.

An unspoiled Nathaniel handled the situation with understanding and decorum. Bing Crosby was a momentous figure in the entertainment business and an international ambassador for golf.

So, with an inherited love for the same game, Nathaniel went about writing his personal numbers on the scorecard and earning the reputation as a first-rate gentleman -- self-effacing, considerate of others.

He won the Northern California high school golf championship three times, earned a golf scholarship to the University of Miami and at 19 achieved a coveted goal, the U.S. Amateur title, which had been won earlier by such renowned golfers as Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Francis Ouimet.

Although having Bing for a father was important, he couldn't use the connection to blister par. Nathaniel proceeded to build his own resume.

In winning the 1981 U.S. Amateur, he was the third youngest player in history, behind only Robert Gardner (1909) and Nicklaus (1959). Now, he's associated with Nicklaus in a major undertaking, president of the Nicklaus Golf Co., where he's directing the organization in the highly competitive world of merchandising and sales.

Crosby has played enough golf around the world to have a keen perception of courses, their playability and scenic splendor. He puts Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Sunningdale (outside London), Seminole, San Francisco Golf Club, Augusta National, Pinehurst No. 2 and Portmarnock in Ireland high on his list of extraordinary venues to visit.

After playing the 1982 Masters, he tried the European Tour for three years, and one season finished 87th among the top 125 competitors in the Order of Merit rankings. He also tried to qualify for the PGA Tour, barely missing, but twice set course records of 66 at Fort Ord and in Chico, Cal.

Again, further evidence of the capabilities of Crosby. "But, I knew," he says with refreshing candor, "I'd have to play over my head to make the U.S. tour and, realistically, if I made it, felt it would be a struggle."

Crosby, though, wanted an association with golf, and at age 26 headed a group that bought the Toney Penna Corp., which ultimately evolved into a deal with Nelson Doubleday and Nicklaus to be a part of a company producing a new line, known as N-1 metal woods and irons.

Although on the market only eight months, the Nicklaus clubs have produced $10 million in sales -- an auspicious start in an industry crowded with competition and high-powered advertising. Crosby, at 31, is earning respect and praise for his leadership.

He is a friend of Greg Fudge, owner of the Pro Golf outlet in Severna Park, and visited him during the weekend.

"He's one of the most personable and sincere individuals I've ever met," Fudge said. "His personality draws people."

That Crosby is involved in golf is not exactly a surprise. His father, along with his ability to entertain, was an outstanding amateur who established the Crosby Pro-Am as one of the world's most celebrated invitational tournaments, plus being an early investor in the Ben Hogan Corp.

Nathaniel, named for an ancestral Irish ship captain, has Jack Burke Jr., a distinguished player, as his godfather. Burke, when Nathaniel was 2, sent him a miniature set of clubs.

Now his own 3-year-old son is using some of the same clubs, but, for the moment, isn't swinging after knocking out a window in their house at Hobe Sound, Fla.

Nathaniel plays golf better than his father. How about singing? "I can't carry a note," he answers. "I'm counting on one of my children to do it." Then, with a laugh, he adds, "I hear a good singing voice skips a generation."

Bing died in 1977 after a round of golf at La Manga, Spain, on a course designed by Nicklaus. When Nathaniel was later playing in Europe, the tour took him to the same club, which made for an emotional experience.

Crosby won the Middle-Atlantic Amateur in 1982 at Woodholme but, since then, hasn't played in the Baltimore area. He has just been approved for reinstatement as an amateur and no doubt will be making playing appearances hereabout and elsewhere.

Nathaniel says as a youngster he had a Nicklaus-like approach, which meant an upright stance and a square-to-square concept. "I think now you are seeing a return to flatter swings," he said. "Things in golf tend to move in cycles."

In an interview 11 years ago, Nathaniel talked about the most persistent suggestion his father gave him about the swing. And he repeats it again. Obviously, what dad had to say made a lasting impression.

"He always reminded me to stay low through the shot as you hit it," Nathaniel explains when asked again about the most meaningful swing advice his father ever provided.

No doubt, Bing Crosby would be happy. His son is in golf, working with a one-time playing partner, Nicklaus, and carrying himself in a manner that fosters goodwill along every step of life's highways, byways and fairways.

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