The calm and collected Borner would make his first mark on history during the summer of 1968, following graduation. He finally put an end to the greatest streak in Nebraska Amateur history, halting Astleford’s incredible run of six straight titles. Borner captured his first of three Nebraska Amateur titles that year at Hillcrest Country Club in Lincoln, his home club and a place he would make his professional home later in life.
"That was really cool," Borner said of his 1968 win. "It was quite a thrill to win your first state amateur."
Borner ushered in a new era of youngsters when he won the 1968 title at just 22-years-old. Astleford, then 38, would never win another title. After a long stretch of mid-amateur winners, Borner was the youngest champion since Dick Spangler Jr. won his first title in 1952. The next decade was dominated by young stars, but it was Borner’s 1970 campaign that really set the bar.
"Things have changed dramatically now, because today, your top players in state ams are your college players, but back in my day, you kind of had to work into that, because your veterans, your older players were really good," Borner said. "(Young players) have the skills to beat a lot of people today, but back then you had to just try to get better and better, and learn to play the game as you grew up."
The 1970 Nebraska Match Play Championship was played at The Country Club of Lincoln, a stellar site for the three-year-old championship that was introduced in 1968. Borner was very familiar with this course as well, having caddied at the club for a number of years as a teenager. It was Borner’s second time making the bracket, which was filled from the top 16 finishers at the previous year’s Nebraska Amateur. Borner, thanks to a final round 68 (-4), had finished tied for third at that 1969 Nebraska Amateur, along with familiar foe and eventual finals opponent, Astleford.
The match play in 1970 was as close as Astleford would come to winning another state title. He cruised to defeat former Nebraska Amateur champion General K.K. Compton in his first match 5 and 4, then pulled out a couple 2-and-1 victories to get to the final.
Borner had no trouble dispatching his first three opponents, rolling to victories of 5 and 4, 6 and 4, then 4 and 2. The 18-hole final brought gusty winds and temperatures pushing triple-digits, and the difficult conditions showed. Only one birdie was recorded in the match, with Borner sinking an eight-foot putt to win the par-4 second hole.
The match swayed to Borner early, as he built a 3-up lead through four holes. The veteran Astleford fought back to close the lead to just 1 up, but Borner was able to weather the storm and a steady barrage of pars led him to a 4-and-2 win.
"I really didn't play an opponent that much, I would play the golf course, perhaps a little bit more than the opponent," Borner said. "I just happened to be on my game for that entire week, and things came pretty easy, really. I never really doubted that I wouldn't come out the winner, especially in that last match, even though Bob was such a great champion."
Just a few weeks later, Borner was back at it, trying to become the first player to win both major amateur tournaments in the same year. The 1970 Nebraska Amateur was scheduled for 72 holes at Happy Hollow Club in Omaha.
He entered the championship brimming with confidence. Not only had he become the match play king the previous month, but he was also fresh off an incredible showing at the Western Amateur. Borner had fought through the grueling 72 holes of stroke play and match play bracket that followed to advance to the Western Amateur championship final.
On the way, he defeated a 21-year-old Tom Watson in the quarterfinals, 1 up. The semifinals included three other future-major winners, including his opponent John Mahaffey, the 1970 NCAA Champion. In the other semifinal match, it was Lanny Wadkins against Tom Kite. Borner defeated Mahaffey, 2 up, and faced Wadkins in the final.
The 1970 Western Amateur Semifinalists, from left to right: Charlie Borner Jr., John Mahaffey, Lanny Wadkins and Tom Kite. (Photo Courtesy of Charlie Borner Jr.)
Champion Lanny Wadkins, left, and Runner-up Charlie Borner Jr., right, during the 1970 Western Amateur awards ceremony. (Photo Courtesy of Charlie Borner Jr.)
"I know there was probably 1,000 to 1,500 people watching that final, it was quite a sight," Borner said. "I thought I'd beat (Wadkins), to tell you the truth, because I was playing really well. But he wasn't going to let me beat him. He was an ultimate competitor. I won the first two holes, and those were the last two holes I won in the match."
Wadkins took the title, 4 and 2, but Borner returned to Nebraska with a sharp game and a load of confidence.
Borner actually found himself four-strokes behind after 36 holes at Happy Hollow, following rounds of 75 (+3) and 72 (E). It was an opening nine 39 (+3) that set Borner back, but he rebounded to play even-par golf over the next 27 holes.
It was an impressive third round that vaulted him back into contention. Borner fired the round of the day, which was the most difficult day for scoring of the four rounds. His 71 (-1) was the only round under-par and launched him into second place, one stroke behind the 54-hole leader, Jim Shade of Norfolk.
Borner was the epitome of a champion during the final round. Cool, efficient and disciplined, as the Omaha World-Herald’s Don Lee described him. Borner put together a final round 72 (E), to surge past Shade, an Oklahoma State golfer.
"The master was at work in cool, deliberate fashion at Happy Hollow Saturday. He was Charlie Borner, the efficient, poker-faced golfer from North Platte. With the deftness of a surgeon, the physical education teacher displayed his disciplined golf talents through the last 18 holes of the Nebraska Men's Amateur Tournament - and won the championship again." -Excerpt from Don Lee's July 26, 1970 article in the Sunday World-Herald.
Shade birdied the first hole to extend his lead to two strokes, but Borner answered with a birdie on the third hole, which tied the lead. The lead continued to exchange hands during the final round, but it was a shot on the par-5 16th that seemed to seal it for Borner. He launched a fairway wood to just 14-feet from the hole, and nearly sank the eagle putt. The tap-in birdie was good enough to give Borner the lead for good, and he’d take his second title by two strokes, after Shade bogeyed the 18th hole.
Charlie Borner Jr. and his wife, Sally, with the Nebraska Amateur trophy in 1970 (photo courtesy of Stu Pospisil, Omaha World-Herald).
"I really didn't even think about winning the state match (Nebraska Match Play) and the state medal (Nebraska Amateur), it just didn't enter my mind that much, I don't know why, but I guess I was just focused on that tournament and not what I had done in the state match," Borner said. "But it was really nice after the fact, to realize that I had won two state tournaments in the same year, and it's very, very special to me."
Borner went on to play in three more Nebraska Amateurs before transitioning to the professional side. He finished inside the top 3 each time, including winning the 1973 title by four strokes over three players, including a young Omahan, Tom Sieckmann. Sieckmann followed in Borner's footsteps, going from runner-up to a sweep of the majors the following year. Since then, only four more players have been able to accomplish the feat.
After a handful of years in North Platte, Borner had an opportunity to teach the game to junior golfers, much like his uncle taught him. So, he and his wife packed up and moved to Iowa, where he began his new career as a teaching professional. Eventually, he was able to return to the course he grew up on in Lincoln, Hillcrest Country Club. He began working for the club in 1983, and retired as the Director of Golf about 30 years later. Although, he still continues to work for the club and help current Director of Golf Mike Brown with some events, junior programs and club repair.
"Over the last 30 years, Charlie has been the “face” of Hillcrest Country Club, acting as a true golf ambassador, teacher, tournament director, equipment expert, and the list goes on and on. I feel his most impactful contribution to Hillcrest is the generations of golf enthusiasts he has cultivated. When it comes right down to it, our job as professionals is all about the people who play this special game. Charlie has impacted so many lives of members and their children through the years. Each golf season, we receive visits from golfers who grew up at Hillcrest or were members for a time and moved away. It never fails to amaze me how they recall the great memories they have of the club, its members and (particularly) Charlie. Stories are heartfelt and meaningful to these individuals. They share two important and happy elements: Hillcrest and Charlie Borner. What a legacy!" -Mike Brown, Director of Golf, Hillcrest CC
This year not only marks the 50th anniversary since Borner's wins, but the 2020 schedule includes a return to Hillcrest Country Club for the 53rd Nebraska Match Play Championship in June. Borner said the course is much longer than when he played it growing up, and even since the club last hosted the championship in 2007. However, he said there is a premium on finding the fairway at the parkland style course.
"It's a tight enough golf course that you need to put the ball into play off the tee," Borner said. "We still are a tree-lined golf course, an older-type designed golf course, and you can't score if you're playing from the trees, so you've got to drive the ball in the fairway."
Borner could also offer some advice to those competing in the 112th Nebraska Amateur in July. The championship will be conducted at Happy Hollow Club in Omaha, site of his 1970 win. He hadn't played it before that championship, and was in awe of the place when he first saw it.
"I was so impressed not only with the golf course, but with the facility they had at Happy Hollow, it was on a grand scale to a younger player," Borner said. "What a beautiful place, sitting up on that hill, and what a beautiful layout."
It's been 50 years since his incredible summer of 1970, and he's accomplished a lot since, including playing in two U.S. Senior Opens. However, when asked to think back on that half-century and what he's achieved, he just remembers the people who helped him get there.
"I've been truly blessed, and those two championships, I owe it a lot to having a great wife and having a great coach as my uncle, and a great family who supported me as well," Borner said.
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