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Sigel's chat with Palmer paid off for Wake Forest

June 14, 2006                                                                                                                                    

By Lauren Deason                                                                                                                         Staff


It was 1961 at the Bing Crosby National. As Champions Tour player Jay Sigel recalls it, snow fell that week on the entertainer's annual pro-am at Pebble Beach. If Crosby's tournament that year fittingly resembled a white Christmas, then it was Wake Forest University who got quite a gift.            

Enrolled at Houston at the time, Sigel was considering transferring to Wake. One of Crosby's famous soirees gave him a unique opportunity to hear about the college from a legendary Wake alumnus.                        

"During the week, I got up the courage to ask Arnold [Palmer] for some time to tell me about Wake Forest," Sigel said. "I remember he excused himself from a conversation with Crosby and Bob Hope, and we sat down in front of the fireplace at The Lodge at Pebble Beach. "In 30 minutes, I made the decision to make a visit and subsequently transferred there." 

As it turned out, Palmer was smart to forsake the legendary entertainers for a conversation with the young golfer. While at Wake Forest, Sigel accumulated a number of accolades, including All-America honors in 1963 and '64. He won the Atlantic Coast Conference individual crown in 1963 and led his team to the ACC team title that same year. 

In 1984, Sigel was inducted into the Wake Forest University Hall of Fame and was named to the ACC 50th Anniversary Men's Golf Team in 2002, celebrating the most talented golfers from the league's member schools. He may have had talent on the course, but it took Sigel two shots to land on Wake's renowned golf squad. 

"I was the top junior player in the country but was not a good student in high school," Sigel said of his original recruitment period. "I applied to Stanford, Wake Forest, Miami and Houston. Dave Williams, the Houston golf coach, recruited me, and I ended up going there after I wasn't admitted to Stanford and Wake Forest." 

A little prodding from a family friend helped him eventually end up in Winston Salem, N.C. Sigel's father and Arnold Palmer's father-in-law, Schub Walzer, were fraternity brothers at Penn State. "Mr. Walzer stayed on my dad about me eventually still going to Wake Forest," Sigel remembered. 

Sigel, considered to be one of the best amateur golfers of all time, won several amateur titles and still holds the record for most points won in Walker Cup history. He turned professional when he turned 50 and joined the Champions Tour, winning Rookie of the Year honors in his inaugural season in 1994. Since then, he has captured eight Tour titles, with his biggest victory coming at the 1996 Energizer Senior Tour Championship.

In 2000, the Philadelphia Sportswriters Association named him the Most Courageous Athlete for his contributions to golf and charitable organizations. It took a bit of that courage to speak to Palmer, but the transfer to Wake that followed helped start his successful career.