Former pro golfer, East Palestine’s McGee dies at 77
EAST PALESTINE — Former professional golfer Jerry McGee knew he was on the back nine.
McGee, a four-time PGA Tour winner, hadn’t played a round of golf in 10 years. His love for the game never wavered.
“I miss playing it like heck,” he said last April. “I watch as much as I can on TV every week.”
The longtime East Palestine resident died in Florida on Wednesday afternoon at age 77.
“Sorry to say my dad, Jerry, passed peacefully today,” his son, Michael, posted online. “We took him to the ER Friday evening, and he declined quickly the past few days. Happy he moved here and we were together.”
While Florida was where he and his family ended up, McGee often felt at home in East Palestine.
“Jerry loved this area,” said Dave Guy, a longtime friend and retired East Palestine High School principal. “He was very content with being in East Palestine. He had a lot friends and enjoyed the area.”
Guy lives a block away from McGee and talked to him the day before McGee and his wife, Jill, moved to Florida a couple of weeks ago to be closer to their children, Michelle and Michael, who is married to LPGA great Annika Sorenstam.
“I’ve had quite a few health problems the last couple of years that have kept me at home,” McGee said then. “I’ve been quarantined long before all of this (pandemic) started.”
“It was very difficult to see him struggle the last few years,” Guy said. “It was one problem after another. I knew he wasn’t feeling that great, and I understood why he was going to Florida.”
McGee was a Pittsburgh Steelers and Youngstown State University season ticket holder and was a regular at area high school athletic events.
“When I think of Jerry, I think of his love of sports,” Guy said. “He had a great love for sports and never gave that up. There was rarely a game at YSU or top area game that you wouldn’t see him sitting there. In basketball season, he would see six games a week. He loved it.”
Golf was his first love.
“It’s a super sport,” McGee said during last April’s interview. “Just the relaxation — and I use that very, very loosely.”
“I had the opportunity to play golf with him a few times,” Guy said. “It gave me a first-hand look at how good these guys are.”
McGee was known for his quick wit — on and off the golf course.
“He said I dressed like Doug Sanders and played like Colonel Sanders,” said John Butera of New Waterford.
McGee was one of the top players on the PGA Tour from 1975-79, when he placed among the top 18 money winners four of five years. His first win came in the 1975 Pensacola Open after nine years on the Tour, prompting him to say at the time, “At least they won’t be able to say sudden success spoiled me.”
In 1977, he won the IVB-Philadelphia Open and was a member of the United States Ryder Cup team.
“Outside of my family, playing on that team was the greatest thrill of my life,” McGee said in the 2020 interview.
His best year came in 1979 — when he won two tournaments, the Kemper Open and the Sammy Davis Jr.-Greater Harford Open — and earned a season-high $166,735.
“A lot of people told me when I first started the tour I wasn’t big enough to play and I hadn’t had enough experience,” he said. “People never really know what’s inside a person.”
Those around East Palestine got to see it.
“That’s the great thing about golf — nobody gives it to you,” McGee said. “You’ve got to go out there and earn it. If you don’t play well, no one’s to blame but yourself.”
McGee was forced to quit after the 1981 season because he was suffering from hypoglycemia, a deficiency of sugar in the blood. It caused him to be tired and dizzy, and he had trouble finishing rounds.
“It was hard to quit because it wasn’t my game,” he said. “Had it been my game go sour, I think it would have been much easier.”
Then he was Director of Golf at Oak Tree Country Club in West Middlesex, Pa., until leaving to join the Senior PGA Tour in 1993.
“When I played, the only guys who were carrying briefcases were Nicklaus and Palmer,” McGee said. “And with today’s guys, the caddies are carrying briefcases.”
He made his Senior PGA Tour debut on July 23, 1993, in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“I was never so glad to get a round over with in my life,” said McGee, after shooting a 2-over 73 in the first round. “I wasn’t as nervous for the Ryder Cup in 1977.”
He was having fun again.
“I haven’t been here three days and I haven’t been this happy in 12 years,” McGee said.
His last Senior PGA Tour event was in 2005.
“He had stories about the time he played on the tour,” Guy said.
Guy said one of his favorite stories of McGee came during his days on the Senior Tour when Guy had back surgery.
“He came down to the house and a had big get well card,” Guy said. “He went around to all the pros and NFL players who were playing and got all the players he could to sign it. I have it in a frame. It impressed me he took the time to do it for me. It’s a good memory of all the times we spent together.”
McGee saw his first golf tournament at Firestone Country Club in Akron. He was a high school junior in New Lexington when he rode to Akron with some friends to watch the 1960 PGA Championship.
“From that point on, I knew this is what I wanted to do someday,” McGee said.
During his playing days, he met his wife, Jill, an East Palestine girl. They made it their home for many years.
“His basement was filled with pictures of celebrities and other golfers,” Guy said.
“There was never a guy who gave back more to the community than Jerry,” Butera said.