FARGO — Russ Newman never missed a chance to help a kid with a shot at the Fargo Country Club and when it came to golf, not many players in the area had the expertise that he did, especially in the short game.
A contagious personality, he could light up the course for 18 holes. Those memories turned to sadness and shock on Monday when news of Newman’s death circulated among those who knew him best.
A friend found Newman, 65, in his backyard Sunday morning. Cause of death is unknown pending the results of an autopsy, according to a Newman family spokesperson.
“From what I saw in golf,” said former Fargo Country Club head professional Mark Johnson, “if a young person needed something in golf, Russ Newman would make that happen. He just did. If a young person was engaged in the game and working on their game, he would love to show them a bunker shot. Boy. Girl. Didn’t matter, he would show these kids the techniques.”
Newman’s father Harold Newman founded Newman Signs Inc. in the 1950s based in Jamestown, N.D. The company is the namesake to Newman Outdoor Field on the North Dakota State campus.
Russ Newman was an all-around athlete at Jamestown High School in the 1970s, but found his championship forte in golf. He’s a former North Dakota Match Play state champion.
He won a pair of Pine to Palm tournament titles in Detroit Lakes, Minn., in 1992 and 1994, years that sandwiched Mike Podolak’s Pine victory over Newman in 1993, preventing him from being the first three-peat winner since Bill Von Wald from 1973-75.
Newman also is part of one of the most unique stories in Pine to Palm history. Playing former Stanford player Notah Begay III, and trailing by one heading to hole 14, Newman hooked his tee shot out of bounds.
Meanwhile, Brent Olson, his brother in law, and Olson’s father decided to catch the last few holes of the match. Olson parked his Suburban by a big tree adjacent to the fairway.
Newman’s tee shot hit the vehicle and bounced back just inside the out of bounds stakes.
“I wasn’t there a minute,” Olson said. “He was able to advance the ball into the sand trap and he holes that shot to go even. Then he beat him.”
The fact Newman holed out a shot from the bunker would surprise nobody. He was good at it.
“He was a louder than life guy,” said Nick Lakoduk, a frequent playing partner in recent years. “Great friend, great guy, I played with him on Saturday (at the FCC) and he shot 35 on the back. Still the best bunker player ever seen. Best short game ever seen to this day.”
Johnson’s last conversation with Newman was a couple of weeks ago when the two saw each other at a storage facility that Johnson’s father owned and where Newman would store vehicles. Newman and Don Johnson, a legendary Fargo Shanley golf coach, were good friends before Johnson passed away in 2019.
Newman asked Mark Johnson if they wanted to play golf later. Johnson had some business to do with a golf scholarship in his father’s name.
Newman asked about it.
“Then I’m thinking he’s writing a check for the rental,” Johnson said. “He wrote a check to cover the scholarship next year. He talked about how he was going to support that. Those are the behind-the-scenes things of his generosity. I’m sure he would never want me telling that story.”
There were many stories to tell. Like the time at Pebble Beach Golf Links in California when he was playing a game with friends and one of the rules was no touching of the ball.
“He says we get to the third hole and he hits his drive on the cart path,” Johnson said. “He was going to reach over and take the ball off the cart path but they said, no, you can’t touch your ball. The rule is to play it as it lies. Russ grabbed a 6-iron and whacked it on the green pretty close to the flag. The guy says, ‘Great shot, what did you hit?’ Russ says, ‘Your 6-iron.’”
Obituary information wasn’t available as of Monday.