Eric Monti, the former longtime golf pro at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles who won three PGA tournaments in the 1950s and early ‘60s, died Feb. 1 of prostate cancer at his home in Laguna Woods, according to his son-in-law, Tony Benach. He was 91.
At Hillcrest, Monti instructed a who’s who of Hollywood celebrities including Henry Fonda, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Danny Thomas, Danny Kaye and Jack Benny. Monti even showed up on Benny’s television program in an episode centered on a golf game the comedian played with the pro at Hillcrest.
In an interview with The Times some years ago, Monti recalled teaching the game to Lancaster, who he said was a “fine athlete.”
“After a few years, he shot a 72 at Bel Air,” Monti said.
“In fact, he got a two on our par-four 11th hole that is listed at 424 yards but plays about 464 yards. Nobody else had ever done it.”
Monti also instructed Dinah Shore before a tournament that was named for her. And he followed Shore as her teaching pro for some time.
Monti was born Dec. 6, 1917, in Pekin, Ill. He was one of six brothers, all of whom eventually played golf, and started caddying at the age of 6 to help the family’s financial needs. His father died when Monti was 7.
He and his wife, Evelyn, came to Southern California in the mid-1940s. He initially worked at the Los Angeles Country Club before being hired as an assistant pro to Hillcrest’s George Fazio in 1945. In 1950, he became the co-head pro with Mortie Dutra and, in 1955, he had the position to himself. He retired in 1990 but still taught a few days a week.
Monti started playing on the PGA Tour in the late 1940s and won PGA tournaments in Miami in 1955, Hesperia in 1959 and Ontario, Canada, in 1961.
He came close to winning the L.A. Open on two occasions, only to slip in the final round. It happened in 1949, when he ended up in third place, and in 1960, when he let a four-stroke lead get away from him and wound up in a three-way tie for seventh.
As a teacher, Monti didn’t believe in making the game too complicated.
“You can get too involved in technicalities,” he told The Times’ Mal Florence in 1989. “If you get people thinking about too many things, you’ll destroy them. I tell my assistants to stay with simple, fundamental things.”
Monti’s wife, Evelyn, died in 2006.
In addition to his son-in-law, Monti is survived by his daughter, Lisa Benach; two grandchildren, Garrett and Ashley Benach; and his half-brothers Emil Scodler, the golf pro at Shorecliffs Golf Course in San Clemente, and Paul Scodler, a teaching pro at Laguna Woods Golf Course.