Tony Holguin

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Interviewed by
William Luna
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By Jason Weddle

Tony Holguin would rather talk about golf than about the time he spent as a soldier in the Army during World War II. He even says he might very well have been the Tiger Woods of his day.

To Holguin’s credit, there aren’t many people who at 22 can claim to have beaten the legendary golfing champion Sam Snead by six shots in a professional tournament. The fact that Holguin is of Mexican American ancestry made the feat that much more impressive for its time.

Holguin beat Snead en route to winning the 1948 Mexico City Open only three years after he was discharged from the Army following WWII.

"I did win everything as an amateur and quite a few things as a pro," Holguin said. "So I got to be where I was one of the best golfers in the country."

Looking back on his life, the lush fairways and neatly cropped putting greens were a stark contrast to the brutal conditions he’d encountered fighting his way through Europe against German forces. Holguin fought with the 76th Infantry Division, which was involved in a number of skirmishes.

"I was lucky to never get wounded all those times," Holguin said. "I think of the 11 guys in our squad, there were four or five that got wounded. Nobody -- luckily -- got killed, but we were in towards the end of the war."

Though Holguin was never wounded, he witnessed numerous horrors that linger in his mind to this day.

"As I saw the place, as most of the GIs could see, there was an awful lot of fighting over there, and you could see twisted metal, houses ripped up. I mean, there was a lot of fighting up there," Holguin recalled.

One incident in particular sticks with him to this day. When he and others from his squad were ordered to patrol a heavily wooded forest in Germany, they were alerted that a German motorized unit was on its way to check out the area. So when the Germans arrived, each of the Americans picked a brush or tree to use for cover. As it was nighttime, the Germans tried to check the bushes by prodding at them with the butts of their rifles.

"You could hear them talking and laughing," Holguin said. "When they were gone, we breathed a sigh of relief."

He says that as the war was coming to a close, the 76th Infantry Division was held in reserve in Europe, but the Division saw no further combat action.

He was shipped back to the U.S. on the Queen Mary. In anticipation of his return to San Antonio, Texas, he remembers that five-day trip being one of the longest of his life.

Holguin was welcomed back to the U.S. with "some real big steaks, all the fresh fruit and eggs," he recalled

After months of powdered eggs and powdered milk, Holguin was finally home.

His war experiences inspired him to continue the pursuit of his dream of becoming a professional golfer. Although he demonstrated the promise of a professional golfer on tour, he determined that being a touring professional wasn’t as lucrative or consistent as being a pro at a country club.

"At that time, I won two tournaments and won $2,000," Holguin said. "Today you win half a million, a million dollars [for winning a tournament]."

He says his dream was to be a golf pro, a unique aspiration for a young Mexican American man in 1948, and credits Tom Crawford, a local oilman, for providing the means to make his dream a reality: Crawford sponsored Holguin and another young golfer, Gil Cavanaugh.

"He backed us both, so he made us practice hard -- six hours a day we practiced," Holguin said. "I never did get a job; I was just working on my golf game."

Holguin's hard work and dedication soon paid off, as he quickly became San Antonio's best golfer: He won the City Amateur Championship of San Antonio in both 1946 and 1947.

"I did win everything as an amateur and quite a few things as a pro," Holguin said. "So I got to be where I was one of the best golfers in the country."

The oldest of six children, Holguin was born Oct. 18, 1926. His parents married and settled in San Antonio.

His father was a stonemason who built chimneys, sidewalks and worked with limestone; his mother worked primarily as a housekeeper. As a child, Holguin admired his father's work ethic and drive.

Both of Holguin's parents spoke English. However, before the children went to school, they spoke Spanish in the house.

"I think the first five or six years of our lives we spoke Spanish, then after that we spoke English," Holguin said. "When we went to school, I was told to speak English, period, even though we spoke Spanish at home. You just fall into a pattern of speaking English."

He graduated from San Antonio Tech High School in 1944 and was immediately drafted into the Army.

Soon thereafter Holguin was on his way to Fort Hood, in Killeen, Texas, for basic training.

"I thought I was going to be in a tanker," said Holguin, because of Fort Hood's reputation for being a heavy-duty base, "but I was in the infantry as it turned out."

When basic training was over, Holguin was shipped to Fort Meade in Maryland, where he stayed for about three weeks, before making one last stop in the U.S. at New York’s Camp Shanks, where he boarded the Queen Elizabeth, headed for Glasgow, Scotland.

From Glasgow, Holguin crossed the English Channel in a British boat and went into France, where he joined the 76th Infantry Division.

Holguin married Lena May in 1951. In 1952, the couple moved to Chicago, Ill., where he took a job as head pro of a country club in Midlothian, a Chicago suburb. Ten years later, the couple's only child, Tony Jr., was born. More than 50 years later, the couple still lives in Chicago.

"I think the Mexican race -- or the Latinos -- have gotten ahead strictly because of their desire,' Holguin said. "I think it is good sometimes if you get a little bit of a knock, because that makes you come back and fight harder."

Mr. Holguin was interviewed in Chicago, Illinois, on October 18, 2002, by William Luna.