Bob Goetz, a teammate of Ab Justice's at Oklahoma State in the 1950s, recalled the time the two lifelong friends played a round with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer at the 1968 PGA Team Championship at Quail Creek and Twin Hills.
“On the putting green Ab said, ‘I don't know if I can do it,'” Goetz said. “I said, ‘Do what?' Ab said: ‘Hit the ball off the first tee. I'm already shaking.'”
A towering figure in Oklahoma golf, Donald “Ab” Justice died earlier this week at age 79. Oklahoma State's first All-American golfer, a seven-time club champion at Oak Tree National, Justice owns eight course records.
As for that round with two of golf's greatest legends, Goetz and Justice fared just fine. They matched Nicklaus and Palmer with a best-ball 67 to finish in the top 10.
“There were probably 10,000 people there,” Goetz said. “There were a lot of great golfers in the field, but most people were there to see Jack and Arnie so we had a huge gallery. There were people everywhere.
“After four holes we were already 3-under. I remember Jack turning to Arnie and saying, ‘I don't get these two guys. One of them putts with his tongue out and the other putts cross-handed and they're already up on us three shots.' We had a great time.”
Justice always had a great time. Sometimes compared to Oklahoma folk legend Will Rogers, Justice was one of the most popular golfers in the Oklahoma City area.
“Will Rogers is a great comparison,” said Alsie Hyden, a lifelong friend and director of golf at Lake Hefner Golf Course. “He'd always extend that hand and start talking, a very outgoing individual. So many people felt close to him because he had that type of personality.”
Justice learned to play golf at the now-defunct Capitol Hill Golf Course in Oklahoma City, the course his parents ran, the course Orville Moody learned to play. Justice attended Capitol Hill High School before playing at OSU.
At OSU, under coach Labron Harris, Justice, Goetz and Hyden were part of Cowboys teams that dominated.
“We never finished worse than fourth at the NCAAs,” Goetz said. “One year we won the conference by 105 strokes. The next year we only won by 46 strokes, and Coach Harris got all over us. We had some really good teams.”
In addition to working with the family business — Justice Golf Car, a company founded by his parents, Dave and Dolpha — Justice played briefly on the PGA Tour and later the Champions Tour.
A golf pro in Warren, Ohio, Justice also was a club pro at Rolling Hills Country Club in Wichita, Kan., and Okmulgee Country Club.
Justice owns the course record at Elk City (59); Stillwater Memorial (62); Broadmore (62); Hillcrest Country Club (62); Trosper Park (62); Lawton Country Club (65); Independence (Kan.) Country Club (65); and Trumbell Country Club (65) in Warren.
One of his top achievements was winning the Oak Tree National club championship seven times, starting with the first three events in 1977, 1978 and 1979. He won the club title in three different decades, notching his final two titles in 1990 and 1993.
“Ab never had an enemy,” said Oak Tree PGA Tour pro Scott Verplank. “He was a great guy, fun to be around, always entertaining. And he was a pretty damn good player.”
Justice and his son, David, and son-in-law Chip Cutler ran and expanded Justice Golf Car. The company has grown from 35 employees decades ago to the premier golf cart company in Oklahoma. The company holds nearly 85 percent of the market share in Oklahoma City and 70 percent of the Tulsa market.
Justice's funeral service will be 10 a.m. Friday at First Baptist Church in Moore.
“He was in the golf business his entire life,” Hyden said. “He's one of my dear friends. Me and my first wife, that we lost in '96, and, Ab and his wife and (Oak Tree co-founder) Joe Walser and his wife, the six of us spent a lot of time together. Ab was a gregarious individual, a person everyone liked.”