TEQUESTA, Florida — Billy Farrell embodied what might be a motto for his family, a fixture in PGA circles across multiple generations.
“It was an honor (for him) to serve golf, not the other way around,” said his niece, Mary Kay Willson.
Farrell competed in 70 PGA Tour events, spent 37 years as the head professional at Connecticut’s Stanwich Club and struck up friendships with legends Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus while a PGA Touring Professional, according to an online obituary that ran in the Greenwich Time. The sport was a way for Farrell’s father, Johnny Farrell, the 1928 U.S. Open champion, to climb out of poverty, Willson said.
William “Billy” Farrell died May 8 in Jupiter from coronavirus. He was 84.
Farrell’s son, Bobby Farrell, and his niece recalled him as someone who dedicated his life to golf, particularly by teaching others who shared in his love for the sport. Farrell was inclusive, Willson said, bringing women and children into the golfing community.
Even while wheelchair-bound and living at Tequesta Terrace assisted living home, Farrell gave informal golf lessons as recently as last winter, his son said.
“He’d just have so much knowledge and answers on stuff that I’m going to really miss,” he said.
Farrell’s 58-year-old son is part of what Willson called an impressive tree of golf pros who learned from Billy Farrell. Bobby Farrell was an assistant pro under his father at Stanwich before he took his current job as head golf professional at Tamarack Country Club, also in Connecticut.
“Billy helped a lot of young players get started and a lot — a lot — of young golf professionals who met and worked with him through the years,” Willson said, adding that her uncle kept a log of all the people he worked with.
Friendly and gregarious, the man was well-loved, Willson said. Memories from past PGA Merchandise Shows in Orlando came to mind.
“It was really cool for me to see he couldn’t walk three steps without someone saying, ‘Billy!’” Willson said.Billy Farrell’s own golf career more or less began in his late teens, when he caddied for his father, Johnny, in an event that also featured legend Ben Hogan, Bobby Farrell said.
“He watched Ben Hogan shoot, I think he shot 65, 66, or something like that at Baltusrol (Golf Club in Springfield, N.J.) and the next day my father went out and shot 72 and realized that’s what he wanted to do and became pretty good pretty quickly,” Bobby Farrell said.In his playing days, Farrell won the 1964 Metropolitan PGA Championship among other competitions. He’s known for hitting the green at Baltusrol’s par 5 17th hole in two strokes at the 1967 U.S. Open, a feat that golfer John Daly replicated 26 years later to considerable media attention.
Farrell didn’t have much downtime during his career, Bobby Farrell said. Even in retirement, he’d be back out on the links playing with his grandchildren, his son said. He carved out opportunities to fish and travel, often to Colorado to visit family.
His son called Farrell “a really great family man.”
So it was tough on the family when he fell sick and died in May, Bobby Farrell said.
Farrell likely picked up the virus after going to Jupiter Medical Center for an unrelated issue, complications with acid reflux, his son said.
He had symptoms of pneumonia and was moved to hospice, where he died after his health quickly deteriorated, Bobby Farrell said, adding that he holds no ill-will to hospital staff.
“They were doing the best they can do,” he said, adding that the coronavirus “just ripped right through him because his immune system was low anyway.”
One of Farrell’s daughters visited him in hospice, his son said, and Jupiter Medical staff helped members of the large, far-flung family see Farrell via video chat — a setup that has become ubiquitous among grieving families during the pandemic.
In the weeks since his father’s death, Bobby Farrell said the golf community — the Nicklaus family and sportscaster Jim Nantz, among others — has offered considerable support and reached out to the family.
Reflecting on his father’s career, Bobby Farrell said it’s “mind-boggling” that he accomplished so much.
“I had forgotten what his career was like. He was one of the pioneers of a club pro and a touring pro. … I’m still blown away.”
Sam Howard is a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA Today Network. Contact Sam at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @SamuelHHoward.