Bio of PGA Tour Golfer Bert Yancey

Trading card showing golfer Bert Yancey
Bert Yancey was a 7-time winner on the PGA Tour during the 1960s and 1970s, and had several good opportunities to win major championships. But his career was first impacted by, then derailed by, mental health issues that were, for a long time, undiagnosed. When finally properly treated, the medicine caused hand tremors that ended his PGA Tour career.

Full name: Albert Winsborough Yancey

Date of birth: August 6, 1938

Place of birth: Chipley, Florida

Date and place of death: August 26, 1994

Yancey's Biggest Wins

Bert Yancey won seven times on the PGA Tour:
  • 1966 Azalea Open Invitational
  • 1966 Memphis Open Invitational
  • 1966 Portland Open Invitational
  • 1967 Dallas Open Invitational
  • 1969 Atlanta Classic
  • 1970 Bing Crosby National Pro-Am
  • 1972 American Golf Classic
Two of those wins were via playoff: over Bruce Devlin in the Atlanta Classic in 1969, and over Tom Ulozas in the 1972 American Golf Classic.

Among Yancey's other (non-PGA Tour) wins of note were:

  • 1962 South Carolina Open
  • 1963 Pennsylvania Open
  • 1965 Vacationland Open
  • 1969 Argentine Masters

In the Majors

Yancey first entered a major at the 1964 U.S. Open (but withdrew), first completed one at the 1966 PGA Championship, and last played in one at the 1975 U.S. Open.

He was obsessed with winning The Masters, to the point that he created clay models of all the Augusta National greens. He kept those models under the bed in the guest room of his Augusta, Ga., housing, taking them out each year when he returned.

And Yancey came close to winning The Masters a couple times, finishing third, third and fourth in 1967, 1968 and 1970. At the 1967 Masters, Yancey was the solo leader after the first and second rounds, and the co-leader after the third round. But in the final round Yancey shot 73, while Gay Brewer stormed from the pack with a 67 to win. In the 1968 Masters, Yancey finished two strokes behind winner Bob Goalby after closing with a 65. That year he also became the first (and so far only) golfer to birdie Augusta National's 16th hole all four rounds of a Masters Tournament.

Yancey's best chance at winning a major was in the 1968 U.S. Open. He was the solo leader after each of the first three rounds, and his 205 total after the third round was a tournament record at the time. With 27 holes to play, Yancey was five strokes in front. But Yancey faltered to a final-round 76, while Lee Trevino shot 69 to win. Yancey finished in third place. "I guess I must have choked," he said afterward.

His seven total Top 10 finishes in majors also included a tie for third in the 1974 U.S. Open, and fifth place in the 1973 British Open.

Yancey's Mental Health Diagnosis

Bert Yancey was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and got on a treatment that kept his condition in check. But earlier in his life, he was involved in multiple incidents that were called, at the time, "nervous breakdowns." The term "bipolar disorder," much less effective diagnosis and treatment, didn't exist when Yancey's health issues first appeared.

And they first appeared when he was a cadet at West Point. During his senior year at the Academy, Yancey spent nine months in an Army psychiatric hospital in 1960. His military career was over; he received an honorable discharge.

But his bipolar rarely manifested for the next 14 years, during which time he had (as we'll see below) a very successful PGA Tour career. In the mid-1970s, however, the bipolar flared up, causing multiple different manic episodes and incidents that were, again, called "nervous breakdowns" or "mental breakdowns" in the media.

One such incident took place at New York's LaGuardia Airport, where Yancey climbed a ladder, began "preaching" racial harmony, then claimed that Howard Hughes had given Yancey all his money and instructed him to find a cure for cancer. In another, in Tokyo, Yancey accosted the singing group The Temptations (affiliate link), yelling that they were the devil, and got into a fistfight with one of the group's members.

Yancey had another hospital stay of three months in 1975, but this time he finally got a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (called manic depression at the time). Doctors put him on lithium, and his bipolar symptoms were finally under control. Unfortunately, the lithium made his hands shake, which essentially ended his PGA Tour golf career.

More About Bert Yancey

Bert Yancey, Peter Alliss once wrote, "for some years was thought to have one of the best swings in the game and was capable of inspired scoring spells." During one tournament in 1973, he scored a 28 over nine holes, which was best on tour that year. In 1974, Yancey had a 61 in another tournament, which wasn't bettered by anyone during a four-year period.

He was known, as was Ben Hogan, for his particular distaste for a hook. Perhaps Yancey's best-remembered quote is about the hook:

"I don't even want to drive a car that turns left."
Yancey was always known for his generosity in helping other golfers who asked for it, and during the years from the late 1970s and 1980s when he played tour golf only rarely, Yancey was often sought out by other tour players. There's a video on YouTube in which Mark McCumber talks about how a fellow tour player suggested he go to see Yancey in 1982 for help with his swing, and how Yancey gave him the key to a pre-shot routine that improved his game.

Yancey first played golf at age four. His father was city manager in Tallahassee, Florida, and that's where Bert grew up. He learned to golf at Tallahassee Golf Club.

By age 10, he was winning age-group tournaments in Florida and, soon, around the South. He attended Florida State University for one year, but transferred when his commission to the United States Military Academy at West Point came through. While at West Point, he played on the academy's golf team and was team captain his junior year in 1959. He would have captained the following year, too, but that's when Yancey's bipolar disorder symptoms first appeared and he had the long hospital stay.

After his discharge, Yancey went to work for his brother Jim Yancey, then pro at a club in Miami. (Jim Yancey was a longtime club professional in Florida, who, over the years, was an instructor to many touring pros, including his brother. Among those Jim worked with were Frank Beard, Tom Wieskopf, Bruce Devlin and Tony Jacklin.)

Bert first tried the PGA Tour in 1962, but didn't get anywhere. He gave it another go in 1964, and that's when his pro tour career took off. Yancey had won several regional tournaments (1962 South Carolina Open, 1963 Pennsylvania Open, 1965 Vacationland Open) by the time of his first PGA Tour win at the 1966 Azalea Open Invitational.

He won twice more that year, by five strokes over runner-up Gene Littler at the Memphis Open Invitational (later known as the St. Jude Classic), and by three strokes over runner-up Billy Casper at the Portland Open Invitational. (The 102 putts over 72 holes Yancey needed to win that Portland Open title was, at the time, the PGA Tour record for fewest putts in a four-round tournament.)

All of Yancey's PGA Tour wins happened within the seven years from 1966-72. He was well-known and well-regarded enough during that time that he was chosen for a Shell's Wonderful World of Golf (affiliate link) match vs. Roberto DeVicenzo and Tony Jacklin, taped in Kenya in 1969.

Yancey's biggest win, though, was his 1970 victory at the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am, where he outdueled Jack Nicklaus to win by one stroke. Yancey also lost two PGA Tour tournaments in playoffs, one each in 1970 and 1971, and lost in a playoff on the Japan Tour in 1973 to Jumbo Ozaki.

Yancey was in the Top 50 of the PGA Tour money list every year from 1965-74. He finished a career-best 13th on the money list in 1967 and was 17th in 1968. In 1969, when he had one win, one second, one third, and a career-best nine Top 10 finishes, Yancey was 16th on the money list.

His last Top 30 finish on the money list (29th) was in 1974; he fell to 73rd the following year. That was the year Yancey's bipolar symptoms returned and he had multiple well-publicized "breakdowns."

By 1976, Yancey was properly diagnosed and using lithium to control his symptoms, but that caused hand tremors. He tried to keep playing the tour, but missed 10 out of 10 cuts in 1976. He didn't try to play any PGA Tour events again until 1981, and played sporadically through the 1980s, missing almost all cuts. During that period, Yancey was a highly sought after golf instructor on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.

His final appearance in a PGA Tour event was in 1993. For his career Yancey made 365 PGA Tour starts, 278 cuts, had those seven wins, plus 10 seconds, 11 thirds and 58 Top 10 finishes.

By the late 1980s, in his late 40s, Yancey's doctor recommended a new medication to control his bipolar symptoms. The new medicine had another great benefit for Yancey: his hands stopped shaking and his low scores began reappearing.

He joined the Champions Tour when he turned 50 in 1988. Yancey did not win on the Champions Tour; he had a best finish of second place, and recorded seven Top 10 finishes in 180 starts.

Off the golf course, Yancey began speaking out about mental health. He formed an advocacy organization called Bogeys, Birdies & Bert, which supported education about and people with depressive illnesses, and Yancey often staged benefit golfing events to raise money for the cause.

Today, the Bert Yancey Mental Health Golf Tournament is still played annually in Augusta, Georgia, to raise money for non-profit organizations researching mental health conditions and focusing on education about depression, bipolar disorder, and other conditions.

Yancey's Death During Champions Tour Event

Yancey died doing what he loved, playing golf. He was only 56 years old at the time of his death.

Yancey was entered in the 1994 Franklin Quest Championship, a Champions Tour event in Park City, Utah. The first round was under way, and Yancey was warming up on the driving range.

He'd been complaining for several days of a general feeling of tiredness and of chest and arm discomfort. He had chest pains on the driving range that day, and visited the first aid station a couple times. A little after 10 a.m. local time, Yancey collapsed on the driving range. Medical personnel on site administered oxygen and CPR. But little less than an hour later, at a local hospital, Yancey was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest.

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