David Leiss wins Greater Houston Senior City Amateur

By Richard Dean

Winning his first Houston city amateur championship brought satisfaction as well as a sense of gratitude to David Leiss, who over a three-day stretch at Gus Wortham Golf Course outplayed the field.

The former TCU golfer had his share of near misses in an attempt each year to being called the Houston area’s top amateur golfer. But for the weekend of Oct. 2-4, 2020, Leiss was the best player around. Leiss’ 1-over-par 211 was 2 shots better than runner-up Houston Martin (League City) in winning the 2020 Greater Houston Senior City Amateur Golf Championship.

“This is just a blessing. I’m so grateful and thankful,” said Leiss, who has been head golf coach at Houston Christian High School the past 11 years and has accrued a long list of accomplishments as an amateur golfer and club champion. “It’s wonderful at 62 years old, and playing once a week, to come out and put it together.

“Every once in a while I play well enough to compete well. I just focused on speed (of the greens), not making any double bogeys and try to keep (the ball) below the hole.”

Leiss, who plays out of Royal Oaks Country Club after previously being a longtime member of Whispering Pines Golf Club in Trinity, put together rounds of 70-69-72. In Saturday’s second-round 1-under-69, Leiss hit all 18 greens in regulation.

William Shock (Pasadena) and 2016 champion John Dowdall (Fulshear) shared third at 5-over 215 in the 54-hole tournament conducted by the Houston Golf Association.

In the city amateur, Leiss’ best finish is second in 2003. Counting this year, Leiss has placed in the top five of the senior city am four times over his six years playing this event.

Leiss credits much of his golf success to his longtime friend Jack Sturdivant, an accomplished amateur who finished fifth this weekend in the super senior division at age 71.

“He’s the guy I really owe this to,” said Leiss, who has won the club championship at Whispering Pines twice and has won club championships at Royals Oaks Country Club and Riverbend Country Club.

Making the win special is that it occurred at Gus Wortham Golf Course, which is managed and maintained by the Houston Municipal Golf Association, an operation of the Houston Golf Association, on land that once was the original Houston Country Club.

“This has unbelievable history and I’m so glad they kept it,” Leiss said.

The place where the golf cart originated, Houston Country Club was the site of the famous Ben Hogan-Sam Snead match played in 1964 and aired on TV in 1965 on Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf. It was the final head-to-head match between the legends. Years earlier Bobby Jones played in a prestigious amateur tournament on this site.

“This is an unbelievable piece of property,” Leiss said. “It means a lot to win this tournament at Gus Wortham.”

This is the second straight year that Houston’s premier amateur tournament has been played at Gus Wortham, located just minutes southeast of downtown Houston, after moving from Memorial Park Golf Course.

“We were a little disappointed that we were moving from Memorial to here,” Leiss said. “Some of us because that’s such a great tract. We had no idea how great this was. And there’s not anybody who’s disappointed anymore because these greens are some of the hardest I’ve ever played, and I’ve played from Winged Foot to Augusta National to Pebble Beach. I’ve played all those courses and these greens are amazing.”

Gus Wortham has won the approval of the amateur players and is one of the top daily public golf courses in the Houston area for recreational golfers as well.

What makes the greens a true test is the numerous undulations, difficulty in reading, and the pace. Leiss had to be focused at all times when sizing up a putt during the senior city amateur.

“I never once stopped thinking about speed on the holes in the three days I played here,” said Leiss, an independent insurance agent. “If you ever take your mind off the speed once, you’re in trouble. You have to get the speed right out here or you’re going to three putt. You can’t be too aggressive.”

Competing at TCU from 1977-80, Leiss faced top competition and his game was tested by some of the best college players at that time. That included Fred Couples (Houston), John Cook (Ohio State), Hal Sutton (Centenary), Bob Tway (Oklahoma State), Payne Stewart (SMU) and David Ogrin (Texas A&M).

Leiss’ first year playing in the Houston city amateur was 1991 when he placed fourth.

A highlight of Leiss’ was at age 49 he played Augusta National, site of the annual Master’s, from the back tees and shot even par. He’s also qualified for the U.S. Senior Amateur and has played in the U.S. Amateur Public Links.

In 1978 Leiss teamed with Sturdivant to win the Golfcrest Four-Ball championship after just meeting each other 10 days earlier.

“He and I, 10 years later hooked up and we’ve been playing once a week every week for close to 30 years,” Leiss said. “Jack has helped me a lot. I call him my mentor and teacher.”