Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Larry Eaton, who survived plane crash and became one of the top senior amateurs in Colorado golf history, passes away
By Gary Baines – 8/9/2023
Larry Eaton of Greeley, who recovered from a broken back suffered in a 1983 plane crash to become one of the best senior amateur golfers in Colorado history, passed away on Tuesday. He was 92.
Eaton died peacefully — of pneumonia — with family present. Among his survivors are his wife, Phyllis.
A longtime member at Greeley Country Club, Eaton won a record seven CGA Senior Amateurs — all from 1981 through ’91 — and added a record-tying four CGA Senior Match Play victories during the same period. (Ed Nosewicz Sr., Bert Welz and John Olive also each captured four CGA Senior Match titles during their careers.)
Eaton was part of a prominent Colorado family. His great-grandfather, Benjamin Eaton, was the fourth governor of Colorado. And his niece, Kim Eaton, is a fellow Colorado Golf Hall of Famer, having won a record 29 CGA women’s championships in her career.
Eaton himself earned the individual championship at the third boys state high school tournament ever contested in Colorado, in 1949, while competing for Greeley High School. He went on to play golf at Notre Dame, and later owned and operated an auto dealership in Greeley, Weld County Garage, for years.
When Eaton swept the CGA senior majors in 1981 as a 50-year-old, he told the Rocky Mountain News, “In 32 years between puberty and senility, I haven’t won anything.”
But Eaton would become a state tournament victory machine in the 1980s and early ’90s. That despite breaking his back in a twin-engine plane crash in January 1983 in Scottsdale, Ariz., in which he was the lone survivor out of seven on board, one of which was longtime Greeley CC head pro Dick Billehus. In fact, Eaton won the CGA Senior Match Play that same year year at Fort Collins Country Club.
Eaton would finish his career with a combined 11 CGA senior major titles — the most of anyone in history. He was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 1991.
Eaton racked up a record 11 CGA senior major titles in the 1980s and early ’90s.
“He meant a lot to Colorado golf,” Kim Eaton said on Wednesday. “He endured a lot of pain from that airplane crash and he came back. Golf is what motivated him to come back strong.
“To me, he was my inspiration. I was honored to follow in his footsteps into the Hall of Fame. And his support in the last years — where he’s come to banquets (where she was honored) or he’d come out and watch me play — that meant the world to me.
“And his family — his children and wife — meant the world to him.”
Eaton didn’t win an open-age CGA major championship, but he came darn close — and in his mid-50s, no less.
At the 1987 CGA Amateur at Boulder Country Club, Eaton finished a stroke behind champion John Schabacker, who that week had now-Colorado Golf Hall of Famer Brandt Jobe caddying for him. But during the final round, Eaton called a one-stroke penalty on himself as his ball moved as he was setting up to address a putt on the 10th hole. Without that penalty, Eaton would have gone to a playoff with Schabacker.
“As it happens in golf, those mistakes often end up being important,” Eaton told the Daily Camera newspaper at the time. “It made the difference between losing and being in a playoff. … Today I just let it get away.”
It was the second straight year that Eaton was runner-up in the CGA Amateur — no small feat for a player in his mid-50s.
As it turned out, those near-misses and eight of Eaton’s CGA senior victories came after the plane crash and suffering his broken back.
About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates ColoradoGolfJournal.com