Pro ‘Bucky’ O’Brien dead at 77

GREENFIELD — The legend has passed on.

Longtime Country Club of Greenfield head professional and Director of Golf James “Bucky” O’Brien, who worked at the club since 1969, died Monday afternoon after a 15-month battle with prostate cancer. He was 77.

“He was a huge part of the club and community,” said CCG head professional Kevin Piecuch, who worked with O’Brien for the last 22 years. “He’s a huge part of my life and my family. He was very passionate about the game of golf but more passionate about those who played the game. He was also a tremendous historian. We were constantly talking about the golf swing and he helped me a lot with my game. He was a good player and teacher. He was the consummate golf professional.”

O’Brien’s tireless work ethic and love for the game was an influence on many who were fortunate enough to work with or receive instruction on the game and their swing from him.

“He had a passion to grow the game,” said Piecuch. “We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of kids who came through our junior program who went on to play college golf or go into the golf industry and become upstanding citizens in the community. That was his passion: to grow the program and make the kids better.”

Another quality Piecuch was always impressed with was how O’Brien greeted everybody who walked through the door of the pro shop each day.

“He had the ability to adapt to anybody, whether it was an 8-year-old kid or a 78-year-old guy,” recalled Piecuch. “He had the ability to make them feel relaxed and at ease.”

Piecuch also mentioned several prestigious honors O’Brien received during his tenure, including being named 2004 Golf Professional of the Year for the Connecticut Section PGA, which encompasses western Massachusetts and most of Connecticut. In 2011 he was inducted into the Western Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame. He was also honored at the Western Mass. Tee Party in 1987.

“The crowds were large (at all those events) and there was a reason for it,” said Piecuch. “There’s not much else you can really do in the local game, and he accomplished all of it. He was the definition of a PGA golf professional.”

Nate Burdick, who knew O’Brien for nearly 30 years, teamed up with Dave Kennedy to win the prestigious Invitational Four-Ball last month, as it turned out, O’Brien’s final.

“As sad it is, and it is sad, we’re so lucky to be able to celebrate all he did for us,” said Burdick. “Bucky inspired me and so many other young men and women to not only enjoy but embrace and appreciate the game of golf. We all learned so many life lessons from him that will stick with us.

“My dad (Ken) and Bucky were the two most influential people in my life, and Bucky was the most respected PGA professional in western Massachusetts and the Connecticut Section of the PGA. There’s no doubt about it,” continued Burdick. “He is the most unselfish person I have ever met. He lived his life giving to others, and his true passion was, and continued to be, junior golf. He inspired young people to get involved in the game. He’s been a pillar in this community for years. His legacy will live forever.”

Burdick said he first played golf at age 12, when he snuck onto the course at CCG and played holes 2 through 13 and snuck out. Three weeks later, Burdick approached O’Brien and asked him for a job and the opportunity to play the course. O’Brien agreed, then asked Burdick to make him one promise.

“He said, ‘Make sure you start on the first hole and not on the second hole.’” recalled Burdick. “Little did I know he saw me sneak on the course. (But) he wasn’t mad or upset. He loved the fact that a 12-year-old just wanted to play golf.”

Burdick knows how much of an impact O’Brien had on golf and on people in general.

“Bucky’s legacy is so vast and so great — just look at the young men and women who came through the junior golf program and went on to make golf their careers, (like) Steve Vaughn and Josh Hillman,” said Burdick. “He mentored Tim Bishop, who is now at Ellinwood (in Athol), Bill Conant just graduated from a golf-school program and is in the business, and I worked for the (Mid-Atlantic) PGA for seven years. If you ask any of them who had the biggest influential in their life, I guarantee they’ll say it was Bucky O’Brien.”

“It’s obviously a very sad day,” said Kennedy, a four-time Invitational champion, who first met O’Brien when he was 8. “He was a very dear friend. He put up a great fight. This is certainly a big loss, not only for the Country Club but for Greenfield as a community. He touched so many lives in a very positive way.

“He had the special talent to make everyone feel welcome,” continued Kennedy. “He could get along with everybody in the room. It didn’t matter who you were. He treated everybody well.”

Piecuch spent a lot of time with O’Brien during his final months, both at the course and away from it, and saw his mentor’s true spirit throughout his final battle.

“He had a passion about working and a tremendous will to live at the end,” said Piecuch. “He fought as hard as any person could ever fight, and hopefully he’ll be an inspiration to other people who are going through it.”

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