Maine golf legend Jim Veno of Old Orchard Beach died Wednesday of a heart attack at Maine Medical Center in Portland at age 64.
His most notable year was 1962, the year he graduated from Orono High School, when he won the Maine schoolboy golf championship, the Maine Amateur Golf Championship, and the Maine Open Golf Championship.
He didn’t just play golf, though. He was an All-Maine basketball player and star football player at Orono, and he was the state high school record holder in the javelin for a number of years.
After attending the University of Houston for a short time, he was in and out of golf for a number of years. He was most recently director of golfing operations at Dunegrass in Old Orchard Beach.
Veno won the Maine schoolboy championship five times, the Maine junior championship once, the Maine Amateur twice, and the Maine Open, all as an amateur and all by the age of 19.
He added a second Maine Open title as a pro in 1965.
“I saw him play back in the ’60s,” said Romeo Laberge, tournament director of the Maine State Golf Association, which conducts the Maine Amateur and Maine Open and conducted the schoolboy championship for a number of years. “He was really good back then.”
Veno, renowned for his 300-yard-plus drives, was one of only four players to have won both the Maine Amateur and Maine Open as an amateur.
“And two of those [Shawn Warren of Windham of Ricky Jones of Gorham] were last year,” pointed out Laberge.
Veno was born in Portland but raised in Orono, where his golf prowess first gained notice.
As an eighth-grader in 1958, he was allowed to enter the Maine schoolboy championship and promptly became the youngest-ever winner at age 15.
Veno repeated the title the next four years and added a junior title in 1961.
He won his first Maine Amateur in 1960 after his sophomore year at Orono High.
Thirteen-time Maine Amateur champ Mark Plummer of Manchester was the 1969 schoolboy champ and Veno’s performance was still fresh in people’s minds.
“He was the legend [in his early years],” said Plummer. “He was the one everyone was compared to.”
The only time Plummer and Veno played in the same group, however, didn’t occur until the first two rounds of the Maine Amateur last July at Portland Country Club.
“It was fun, a nice enjoyable two days of golf,” said Plummer. “He shot 71 the first day [tied for the lead], and it could have been 67 or 68 if he’d made some putts.”
Plummer was surprised how well Veno’s game had held up.
“He still loved to compete,” he said.
That was apparent throughout his golf career. In 1991, he started preparing for a run at qualifying for the Senior PGA (now Champions) Tour, which is for players ages 50 and above. His qualifying bid came up short in 1994.
Veno, who was inducted into the Maine Golf Hall of Fame in ’94, had regained his amateur status in recent years and started playing more.
“It means a lot to have the older legends come back and play,” said Laberge. “It meant a lot to us.”
At last year’s Maine Amateur, he said there was no particular reason why he started playing again.
“I just felt like it,” he said.
Laberge also said that Veno took notice of other players.
“I thought he was very knowledgeable about other players,” said Laberge. “I thought he would be a good teacher.”
For Plummer, Veno’s death was a shock.
“I was just getting to know him. … It was kinda neat having him around again,” said Plummer.
He is survived by his longtime companion, two daughters, one granddaughter, two brothers, several nieces and nephews, and many friends.
A celebration of life ceremony will be held at a later date. Arrangements are being made by Jones, Rich & Hutchins Funeral Home in Portland.