Golf historian Mike Trostel helps put things in perspective

Posted: July 11, 2015 4:24 pm

Mike Trostel, 31, didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Teacher? Lawyer? Businessman? Indecision turned out to be not such a bad thing.

Because he liked to play golf and to read history, Trostel got an internship at the USGA Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey, which later hired him.

One thing led to another, and there was Trostel this week moderating press conferences at the USGA U.S. Women’s Open and sharing center stage with the greatest women golfers in the world.

Has a history major ever landed a cooler job?

Trostel, senior curator/ historian at the USGA Museum, played well enough as a teen to qualify for the 2000 U.S. Junior Amateur at the age of 16.

Now he’s just happy to get in a round when he can and to be places where he can talk to the pros and watch them play.

“You start to appreciate how good these players are, even the amateurs,” Trostel said. “You see the preparation, the planning, the course management. There is a game plan.”

Meet the press

At the press conferences, Trostel generally asks players a few questions before opening the floor to reporters. He said he tries to reveal something about golfers the press may not know.

When he’s not at a tournament, Trostel is back at the museum with its 50,000-plus artifacts — from 19th-century clubs and balls to more than 10,000 hours of film.

One of his recent projects was preparing exhibits for a new Jack Nicklaus wing. Trostel visited the golfing legend at his home in North Palm Beach, Florida, and interviewed him for hours.

“He just loved to compete, whether it was golf, pingpong or fishing” Trostel said of what he thinks drove Nicklaus to greatness.

Favorite stories

Ask Trostel about golf history and you’ll get great anecdotes.

He loves the story, for instance, of Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old amateur who in 1913 defeated two British greats in a head-to-head playoff to win the U.S. Open. “He had a 10-year-old caddie,” Trostel said.

Trostel also cherishes the story of Annika Sorenstam’s last shot in her last U.S. Women’s Open. A three-time U.S. Womens Open champ, Sorenstam planned to retire after 2008 and wasn’t in contention during the 2008 Open. But she went out with a bang.

Swinging a 6-iron for her second shot on the par-5 18th hole, Sorenstam watched the ball bounce, roll and drop into the cup.

Famous theft

And then there’s the story of Ben Hogan’s stolen 1-iron.

Sixteen months after suffering four fractures in a head-on collision with a bus, the hobbling, 37-year-old Hogan used a 1-iron on the 18th hole at the 1950 U.S. Open to force a playoff, which he won.

Because a photographer captured an iconic picture of the 1-iron shot, the USGA Museum in the 1970s asked Hogan to donate the club. But Hogan didn’t have it. It had been stolen before the 1950 playoff began.

A collector in 1983 bought a set of clubs with a mismatched 1-iron. Wondering if it was Hogan’s, he got it into the legend’s hands. Hogan confirmed it was his and donated it to the museum.

“But the crime,” Trostel said, “remains a mystery.”