Mike Souchak, a Belleair resident for more than 30 years who died on July 10 of heart failure at 81, is best remembered for one scorching week in 1955 at the Texas Open. He shot an opening 60 and a four-round total of 27-under par, both PGA records at the time. It was the first of his 15 PGA Tour victories.
But in the bay area, he is remembered for more than just his tour career. In 1970, after working as the head pro at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan, Souchak came to Palm Harbor to help start Innisbrook Golf Resort. He also started a business in Clearwater, Golf Car Systems, in 1973 with partners Bill Dodd and Bob McGrath. It provides golf cars and service to golf courses.
Both are still thriving, thanks mainly to Souchak's hard work and dedication.
"His last day (at Golf Car Systems) was July 3,'' Dodd said. "He would come in every day around 9:15, then we'd go to lunch and he'd solve the world's problems. He was so well known in the golf world that he gave us instant credibility.''
Jay Overton, director of golf at Innisbrook, was lured from a dream job at Pinehurst in North Carolina by Souchak in 1977.
"In all honesty, I didn't want to come here,'' he said. "How can you leave Pinehurst for anything? They finally convinced me to come do an interview in December of '77. At the end of the day, Mike takes me away from everybody else, we get in his Cadillac Deville, and we end up on the 11th tee at the Island Golf Course. We're all by ourselves and he says, 'What do you see?' I say, 'What do you mean, Mr. Souchak? What am I supposed to see?' He says, 'Do you see Florida?' I said, 'No, I see Pinehurst. I see North Carolina.' The only thing he said was, 'Don't miss this opportunity.' That was that.''
Souchak stayed at Innisbrook until 1981, then devoted much of his time to the golf car business and some tournaments on the senior tour. He was a member at Belleair Country Club and played when he could.
"He always recognized people around here and was very quick to say hello to you,'' said assistant pro Mike Sohanski, who has been at the Belleair Country Club for 34 years. "He was always very appreciative whenever you would change grips or do something for him.''
Souchak is survived by his wife, Nancy, sons Chris, Mike and Frank, and daughter Patti. Overton said he talked to Souchak frequently, and saw him in April and gave him a tour of Innisbrook.
"We rode every hole of the Copperhead and Island Course,'' Overton said. "Then we chatted for a long time, and the last thing he said was, 'Jay, you're the last guy who understands why we started this property.' He was saying, protect what we have going here. It was the last time I got to see him."
Rodney Page can be reached at [email protected]m or (727) 893-8810.