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Bob Panasik's golf career had numerous milestones after his 1957 debut at the Canadian Open at the age of 15, including playing in another 13 Canadian Opens, as well as nine U.S. Opens, as well as winning national titles as a junior, a professional, and as a senior, and earning induction into at least five sports halls of fame.The Canadian Press

Bob Panasik shot a par 71 in his debut round at the Canadian Open, an admirable score made remarkable by the golfer’s tender age of 15.

The achievement earned headlines around the continent. The boy also qualified the following day for the final two rounds, making him the youngest player to make the cut at a PGA Tour event, a record he would hold for 56 years.

Mr. Panasik, who has died at 82, went on to become a golfing legend in Canada. He played in another 13 Canadian Opens after his 1957 debut, as well as nine U.S. Opens, earning his spot each time through a gruelling and unforgiving qualification regimen. He won national titles as a junior, as a professional, and as a senior, earning induction into at least five sports halls of fame.

Known as Panny by other golfers, a nickname which appeared on his license plate, the one-time wonderkid of Ontario golf enjoyed an extraordinary professional career lasting more than four decades. He had seven victories on the Canadian Tour, as well as Canadian Professional Golfers Association championships in 1972 and 1973. He played three times for the two-man Canadian team in World Cup play.

He was named Robert Panasiuk on his birth (later dropping a vowel from his family name for professional reasons) on Oct. 20, 1941, in Windsor, Ont. He was a first child for the former Virginia Makarenko and Nicholas Panasiuk. Both parents and all three children (two boys and a girl) golfed out of the Roseland club in Windsor. In the early 1960s, the elder Mr. Panasiuk purchased 60 acres of land near Tecumseh on which he carved nine holes out of the bush to create the Hydeaway Golf Club. When it opened, a round cost just 50 cents, though the only amenity was a cooler filled with pop. The course later expanded with another nine holes.

With his father as tutor, young Bob won a novice championship at age eight. The following year, he shot a 90 to qualify for the championship round of a regional tourney, appearing in a photograph published in the Windsor Star as he lost 5 and 3 (five strokes behind with three holes left) in match play against a teenager several years older. Even at age 10, the newspaper noted several years later, the boy “possessed the temperament and ability to concentrate coupled with a feeling of confidence.”

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Bob Panasik smiles as he looks at his club after he birdied the ninth hole during the first round of the du Maurier Champions Seniors PGA tournament at St. George's Golf and Country Club in Toronto on June 12, 1997.Kevin Frayer/The Canadian Press

While he appeared regularly in the hometown newspaper, his performance at the 1957 Canadian Open at the Westmount Golf Club in Kitchener caught the attention of the Toronto newspapers. As well, American newspapers published a photograph released by a wire service showing the boy’s form after making a fairway shot with an iron.

Among the gallery following the wonderkid at Westmount was his mother. He was said at one point to have exclaimed, “Look, mom, a birdie!” At the end of the day, she pecked him on the cheek. He was 15 years, eight months, and 20 days old. He gave his father a stroke-for-stroke accounting over the telephone.

His historic first round left him just three strokes off the lead and ahead of such notables as Jack Fleck, Gene Littler and defending Canadian Open champion Doug Sanders. “I only had three long putts on the round,” he told the Toronto Star. “I sank 10-footers on the sixth and ninth and a 15-footer on the 17th and was in trouble just once, on the seventh, when I pushed my second shot into a trap.”

On the second day, he played in a trio including 25-year-old Gay Brewer Jr., a professional from Cincinnati who went on to enjoy a storied career, including winning the Canadian Open in 1972 and the Masters Tournament at Augusta National in Georgia in 1967, his lone major championship. A gallery estimated at about 400 spectators followed the golfers, attention which did not seem to faze the youngest of the trio, dressed in a pink shirt and yellow cap with white golfing shoes, who shot a 74 to make the cut. The boy followed with rounds of 75 and 76 to finish tied for 64th.

After such a promising beginning, it took years for the golfer to complement his booming drives with a touch around the greens. In the meantime, he squabbled with the golfing establishment and expressed bitterness at not being hired as a club pro. He was casually described as a “vagabond,” a “golfing gorilla” and an “impatient maverick” by golf writers.

Still, his game showed occasional brilliance and in the early 1970s his game came together. In 1972, an opening 64 led to a three-stroke victory and the CPGA championship at the Rivermead Golf Club in Aylmer, Que. He held on to his crown the following year by winning at the Burlington (Ont.) Golf Club, a highlight in a season during which he had already won three tournaments and finished second in five.

His participation in the World Cup representing Canada saw him play in Australia, Spain and Thailand over a four-year span.

He twice won the PGA Club Professional championship of Canada. He also won three PGA Seniors championships and two PGA Super Seniors championships.

In 1993, he was inducted into the Windsor-Essex County Sports Hall of Fame. He has also been named to the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame (2005), the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame (2005), the PGA of Canada Hall of Fame (2014) and the PGA of Ontario Hall of Fame (2020).

Mr. Panasik died on Dec. 27 from complications following heart-valve replacement surgery in late November. He leaves a daughter and a brother. He was predeceased by a sister who died earlier in 2023.

A celebration of life was held earlier this month at Beach Grove Golf and Country Club, the course he was playing when photographed by the Windsor Star 73 years ago.

The Hydeaway Golf Course, which was in family hands for more than 50 years, closed in 2014. The land was later purchased by a Roman Catholic diocese for use as a cemetery.

Mr. Panasik’s record as the youngest player to make a cut on the PGA Tour was eclipsed in 2013 when a Chinese amateur made the cut at the famed Masters tournament in Augusta, Ga. Guan Tianlang was just 14 years, five months, 18 days old.

“How can you be disappointed? I had it for 56 years,” Mr. Panasik told Jeff Brooke of The Globe and Mail. “If there was ever a place for it to be broken, I’m glad it was the Masters. There’s no bigger stage. The whole world is watching.”

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