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Butch Seewagen

tennis player
Full name: George L. Seewagen
Nickname: Butch
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Bio In 1949 His mother, Clella, pitched tennis balls to him at age 3 and drove him to every practice session and tournament between the ages of 8 and 18. “Mom gave up a big chunk of her life for me,” he said.

In 1954, his father, the legendary coach George Seewagen, began dragging him to clinics at age 8 to demonstrate the forehand. “Tennis gave me everything in my life and dad gave me that gift,” he said. “Dad was too nervous to watch me play, thought he’d jinx me, so when he did come he hid out in the woods.”

1957 to 1965 – Butch ranked first in every Eastern junior age division and among the country’s top five. He won countless titles – including the Orange Bowl and Canadian National Championships – and was runner-up to Cliff Richey while winning the sportsmanship award at the boys’ 16 nationals at Kalamazoo. He was named to the U.S. Junior Davis Cup team at 16 with Bob Lutz and Stan Smith and played in the U.S. National Championships at 17.

1966 to 1968 – Advanced to the mixed doubles semi-finals at the U.S. Championships with Kathy Blake (mother of the Bryan twins); member of ‘Final 8’ Club. Beat future Wimbledon and U.S. Open champ Stan Smith at the Nassau Bowl. He was twice an All-American at Rice, the singles and doubles champion in the Southwest Conference, and was inducted into the university’s Hall of Fame.

In 1969, he defeated Zan Guerry 6-4 in the fifth to win the U.S. National Amateur singles title. Trailed two sets to one in the televised final (Channel 13) but dad was there and reminded him at the break that friends back at the Bayside Club – where he had won six New York State Championships -- were watching. “I was ready to lose but dad motivated me.”

In 1970, he turned pro and took the Columbia job. At 22, was the youngest coach at a major university. Opened center court at Wimbledon against defending champ Rod Laver, winner of the 1969 Grand Slam. “Arthur Ashe told me not to look up and not to drink the orange juice or I’d get a bad stomach. After the match I took in the atmosphere and [as a bonus] drank all the juice.” Rated a feature in The Long Island Press for his induction as a student-athlete into the New York City PSAL Hall of Fame, along with Whitey Ford and Red Auerbach.

In 1971, he returned to Wimbledon’s Center Court to play mixed doubles with Kristy Pigeon against Evonne Goolagong and Kim Warwick. Butch tripped, curtsied instead of bowing and Kristy smashed him in the head with her big lefty serve. “20,000 people were laughing and she was crying.”

In 1972, he raised the bar for the Ivy League to match his innovative recruiting tactics. He beat Jimmy Connors, which attracted top-notch players Vitas Gerulaitis, Eric Fromm, Jon Molin, Lloyd Emanuel, Kirk Moritz, Rick Fagel, Henry Bunis, Bob Binns and Larry Parsont. He glamorized New York for recruits, inviting celebrities Arthur and Jeanne Ashe, Dave DeBusschere, Gordon Parks, Phyllis George, Oleg Cassini, George Plimpton and Dustin Hoffman to play tennis with the team. Arranged dates for recruits with top 10 finalists in the Ford Agency’s “Model of the Year” contest; squired them to hot spots Maxwell’s Plum and Hippopotamus.

1973 was a good year! Notched wins over Wimbledon champ Jan Kodes and Brian Gottfried and founded the Seemar sporting goods company with Columbia professor John Markisz. They had a patent on a new ball hopper, the ball busser, and also represented Australia’s titan gut, Kaepa tennis shoes and were the exclusive distributor of Yonex racquets in the northeast.

in 1974, Detroit drafted him for World Team Tennis. He took a leave from Columbia to play the tour full time. Got right into Wimbledon, “the place to be, the Super Bowl.“ Dad had never been to Europe and went with him.

1975 - The year of the infamous injury! Players howled: “Osteoarthritis! What’s that? Just go play!” During the Open at Forest Hills, he visited a gypsy, who said: “You’re a pro athlete; I see you’ve suffered a severe injury. You’ll resume your career in January, and for another $5 I’ll put in an extra prayer for you.”

In 1976, he won 5 Eastern tournaments, the American Express Challenger, and came back from 0 to 200 on the ATP computer. Ranked No. 1 in the East and 37th in the country and returned to Columbia.

1977 to 1979 – he was proud of his Columbia teams, which won three ECAC and two Ivy League Championships. He’s still proud of his Columbia connection, as his son Chad is currently studying in the environmental science masters program there.

The 1980’s – Butch opened the Center Court Restaurant opposite Lincoln Center. Attracted celebrities and tennis players from around the world. Gave his dad a surprise 75th birthday party there; Don Budge and Fred Perry were guests. Enlisted by Neil Amdur, then editor-in-chief of World Tennis magazine, to be the equipment advisor and write the “Coaches Corner.” Won six USTA national men’s 35 doubles titles and was a singles runner-up three times. Won the USTA national 40s and ranked first in the country. Played No. 1 for the 1985 U.S. team that beat Italy for the Italia Cup. Returned to the U.S. and was invited to play a pro-am at the Glen Oaks Country Club. His future wife, Chris, was running the tournament. “She was bossing everyone around, told me I was late getting onto court 3, but we’ve been together now for 20 years,” he said.

After racing through a cliff notes version of some memorable moments in his life, Butch chuckled and said, “I’m resting now, but watch out, I’m gonna come back again when I have the left hip redone.” Until then, it’s back to the future with CATS and his position as director of tennis at the prestigious Pine Hollow Country Club in East Norwich!

Amdur sums up the inventory: “To know Butch Seewagen is to like him…not just for his skills or his tennis rankings, but for his genuine sense of self.” (Source: Nancy Gill McShea on
Tournament AO RG W US Win-Loss
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