2008: Bobby Penn Jun 9, 2008  (11 years ago)

By Randy King
Jun 9, 2008, 14:35

The Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame's 2008 inductee, Bobby Penn, gives body position instructions to Kelsey Dickerson, 12, at First Tee training session. Photo by Josh Meltzer

Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Penn adds a new title to his slew of nicknames.

Most of Bobby Penn's closest friends simply call him BP.

Fine with Penn. Sure beats some of the plethora of monikers that he's picked up through the years.

He's been called "Big Foot." He's been called "Windmill." And then there's the cat from Fredericksburg who tabbed him as "Super Jumbo" a few years back.

"People just come up with them," said Penn, laughing. "And I've been called a lot of names, too, that you can't put in the newspaper."

Now the roll call has expanded again. Add Hall of Famer to the list.

Bobby Penn was member of the Andrew Lewis golf team that won the Group AA a state title in 1976. Photo by Josh Meltzer

No nickname this time. We're talking title ... make that major title here.

In testimony to Penn's stellar golfing career the past three decades, not to mention all the countless hours he's contributed to The First Tee program and the Scott Robertson Memorial junior tournament in recent years, the Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame has selected the 48-year-old Roanoke native as its latest inductee. Penn will be formally inducted as the hall's 33rd member in a ceremony at the HOF's 2008 banquet in early November.

As anyone who knows him would expect, the self-effacing Penn questioned whether if he's genuinely worthy of such an honor.

"I'm still not sure that I feel like I deserve to be in a hall of fame," the strapping 6-foot-5 Penn said. "I'm just me. I'm an OK golfer. I don't think I'm anything special. There are some incredible people in there, so it's very humbling to be connected with them. Believe me, I'm honored."

Penn earned his way to the hall by compiling one of the most successful playing resumes in the area. He has won five Roanoke Valley majors, capturing the Hall of Fame title in 1982, 1992 and '93, and back-to-back Roanoke Valley Match Play crowns in 1990-91.

Still, that incredible four-year run takes a back seat to his triumph in the 1977 VSGA Junior Championship, Penn said. He won the title by two strokes at Bluefield's Fincastle Country Club in becoming only the second Roanoke native to ever win the event. Billy Herbert (1962) was the other.

"The State Junior was obviously the biggest win," Penn said. "It's the only time in my life I've ever beaten Keith Decker [of Martinsville]. It will probably be the only time, too. He's been the best player since I was 15 years old. And he still is!

"He happened to have a bad tournament and I played great. Keith Decker and Robert Wrenn [former PGA Tour pro from Richmond] were the two really good juniors when I was growing up. Your goal was to try to finish second to them because you knew you weren't going to beat them."

Penn's other big triumph came in the 1981 Virginia Intercollegiate Championship, a victory that he still remembers more for his James Madison team's one-shot loss to Virginia at the Lower Cascades Course in Hot Springs.

"The funny thing was I didn't even know that I had won and didn't even care," Penn recalled. "I was just so mad because our team lost because we should have won."

To make a long story short, Penn hit his tee shot on the second hole in a bed of rocks that used to include railroad tracks. He played his original ball from the rocks, and a second ball after dropping from what he thought was "ground under repair." He made bogey on the original ball and chipped in for birdie on the second ball.

"If I get the ruling I should have gotten, we'd beaten Virginia by one," Penn said. "I'm still mad about that cause I hate losing to UVa."

Penn, a sophomore starter on Andrew Lewis High's state championship team in 1976, qualified and played in the 1982 U.S. Amateur in Brookline, Mass., the same year fellow Roanoker David Tolley lost to Jay Sigel in the championship match. Penn said he found out that week that his game didn't compare to the nation's elite.

"That made up my mind: I wasn't good enough to turn pro. I've heard people say that I've got all this talent, but I've never believed it. I shot 81-82 there and I drove the ball great and the ball would roll a foot into the rough and I couldn't even hit it. I just couldn't imagine me getting to the point where I could shoot even par on that course.

"I mean I have a friend of mine, Jimmy King a guy who I grew up playing with at Hidden Valley and later at JMU, who still says he'll pay for me to go try the Senior Tour. Yeah, right! And know how he described my golf game? He said I was the best player he's ever seen who couldn't hit it worth a lick."

Because of chronic back problems, Penn doesn't tee it up often anymore. He said he's played eight rounds in the past nine months.

"It's real close to totally ending my golf," Penn said. "[Monday] was the first pain-free round I've had all year. If I was not who I am and that golf didn't mean so much to me in my life, I would not even consider playing golf anymore."

Some of that void has been filled by his work with The First Tee, where Penn is a volunteer instructor for the kids in the program that caters mostly to the underprivileged.

"I got interested in that program when a buddy of mine paid for a group of kids from The First Tee in a captain's choice tournament and asked me to play with them," said Penn, a seventh-grade teacher at Andrew Lewis Middle School the past 12 years. "So I called and I got three kids lined up, and after the round the boy took off his hat off and shook my hand.

"And I really had nothing to do with the First Tee until then. And after that, I decided that they're doing something right. So I thought it was a good reason to go over there and help out some. I'm a school teacher and I see a lot of poor behavior. And that was something that where good stuff was happening."

Penn has been instrumental in developing the strength of girls players who come to Roanoke every May for the Robertson. "Lots of phone calls ... but I like doing it. I love the girls," he said.

Penn has found another love in the past year or so. He's loading up his car and leaving June 21 for Montana, where he's going to do some fly fishing with some of buddies who have hooked him on the sport.

Some more new nicknames may be coming down the river, folks.


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