Bogeys, Birdies & Bert

Bert Yancey
Professional Golfer
1938 -1994

article reprinted from the
West Point ASSEMBLY, July 1991,

I recently met with a former classmate to catch up on old times; his name is Albert Yancey. In old L-2 Company, we called him "Al;" today he is much better known as Bert Yancey, the PGA professional golfer. A lot has happened to him over the years, some is great .... some of it is not so great.

In 1960, he was captain of the Army golf team and ranked right up there with Jack Nicklaus as one of the best golfers in the college ranks. It was our last year at West Point when we returned from our summer activities to embark on Reorganization Week. Initially, everything seemed to be going smoothly, but by Tuesday it was evident Al was "not quite right." ... he didn't sleep and would rant on about things that made no sense to anyone but him. Finally, we got him to see the golf coach and the head psychiatrist; he was immediately taken to the West Point hospital and then to the US Army hospital at Valley Forge. He was honorably discharged and that was the last most of us or heard of Al until he turned up as "Bert" on the professional golf circuit a few years later.

The Class of 1961 has taken great pride in his many golfing endeavors, not the least of which was winning the Bing Crosby classic, almost winning the Master's, and holding the best putting record on the PGA circuit for eleven years. But, we also read and heard about some problems he faced as he had to deal with an illness most of us knew little about. While in the hospital, Bert was given shock therapy and various other measures were taken to treat him. All most of us knew was that he had suffered a "mental breakdown," but had recuperated and was able to play golf again. By the mid-1970's, Bert's name started hitting the papers and news reports again, not for his golf prowess, but for a series of bizarre incidents for which he was at various times arrested, incarcerated, hospitalized, and put back into mental health institutions. That's the problem being a celebrity -- Bert couldn't just hide -- the world world knew of his problems.

Somewhere along the line, Bert was finally diagnosed as being manic depressive (a disease only "labeled" in 1973), and was given the drug lithium to combat it. There was even a TV special highlighting the plight of Rosemary Clooney, Bert and others in their battles to overcome mental illness. But, it so happened that Bert did not respond well to lithium and in reality it did not adequately control his mania, so he continued on for years to battle the demons which taunted him. Since 1960, he has had 17 definable manic episodes which resulted in his being hospitalized on many different occasions. He could no longer compete on the PGA tour, so he became a teaching pro at Hilton Head.

Finally, by the 1980's, Bert's problems with lithium were discovered and he was put on a different which truly helps him control his illness. He joined the Senior PGA golf tour and can now be found traveling around the country 40+ weeks a year competing with the likes of Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, and Jack Nicklaus! Bert could earn a very comfortable living just teaching golf, but his competitive fires still burn so he eagerly awaits each weekly challenge on the senior PGA tour.

The fact that Bert is playing competitive golf with the best in the world is not new. What I learned while he was in Southern California recently, is that while traveling all over the country golfing, he is also pursuing another even more important goal. He has formed Bogeys, Birdies & Bert, a group "for the education and support of depressive illnesses," and gives lectures and seminars on mental illness, and manic depression in particular, to various groups around the country. It is amazing to watch people who are suffering with a mental illness relate to Bert -- they can see and talk to someone famous who shows them that they too can beat their illness and can take charge of their lives. He is an inspiration to many who really do not have a "national spokesperson" or massive fund-raising telethons and projects. It is one thing to realize that many prominent people like Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill may have suffered from manic depression. It is quite another to see someone who currently has this disease and is actively participating in a most vigorous and demanding position of professional athlete, but who is also willing to stand up and do whatever he can to help others who may be similarly afflicted.

I learned a lot from Bert -- this is not just an illness, it is a disease and is thought to be genetically inherited. I had heard the word "manic" many times before, but I never really knew what it meant. Bert's manic depression is medically called bipolar, but he says he primarily became manic, which is sort of the opposite side of the coin from depression. He got very happy -- "high" might be a better term -- to the point of going out of control and becoming delusional. He's now able to perceive when these periods may onset, and he can control them with drugs and therapy, something he unfortunately could not do several years ago.

In an effort to spread the message about manic depression and mental illness, Bert puts on seminars, golfing clinics, tournaments and other charitable events to raise money to treat this illness, educate the public, and to help allay the fears in many people's minds about mental illness and what can be dome to combat it. Most of us tend to think it is somebody else's problem and go out of our way to avoid having to deal with it. However, someone once said, "We are all crazy, it's just a matter of varying degrees." There is a lot that can be done to help fight mental illness.

Our hats are off to Bert. He was the first athlete representing the mentally ill selected for the President's Committee on Hiring the Handicapped. He has med many enemies and overcome them. We are proud of him as our classmate and as a shining example of someone who is holding a light to a picture many of us did not want to see.

West Point ASSEMBLY, July 1991, Volume XLVIX, No. 6


A Link about his Father - Malcolm N. Yancey.


Headline: Bert Yancey learned to control mental illness
Publication Date: August 31, 1994
Source: Nashville Banner

Obituary: THE golf world is a little less complete today. Bert Yancey is dead. Yancey died of a massive heart attack Friday at the age of 56, just minutes before he was to play the first round of the Franklin Quest Championship in Park City, Utah. He complained of chest pains while on the driving range and later suffered cardiac arrest at a first aid tent at Park Meadows Golf Club. Doctors at Park City Family Health and Emergency Center were unable to revive him.

No one enjoyed the game and appreciated being on tour more than Yancey. And with good reason.

Once one of the game's premier players seven victories in the mid-1960s to early '70s Yancey suddenly began to behave strangely.

Shortly after the 1974 season, his best ever, he was arrested while in Japan for a golf clinic. He had been in his hotel room when the urge to save the Orient from Communism came over him. He went for a walk at 3 a.m. He met a singing group and interpreted their stage name, The Temptations, to be something evil. So he picked a fight with them. One of them felled him with a Karate chop.

When Yancey got back to the hotel, he pulled down a Christmas tree in the lobby because it reminded him of the loss to evil he had just suffered. SHORTLY thereafter, he was committed to a mental hospital in Philadelphia for 21/2 months. It was the second time he had been in such an institution. The first time had been in 1960 during his junior year at the United State Military Academy, when he would go for days without sleep and do bizarre things like stand plebes against the wall and demand to know the meaning of truth.

In mid-1975, while returning from a tournament in Westchester, N.Y., he climbed a ladder inside LaGuardia Airport and began to order all the white people to one side of the room and all the black people to the other side. He was going to show them the foolishness of racial prejudice.

He was arrested and taken to a quiet room, where, he once explained, "I was spitting on a light bulb, thinking if I watched the saliva burn, the different colors and shapes, I could find the key to the cure for cancer."

From there it was off to another hospital, but this time it would be the turning point of his life. For it was there that Dr. Jane Parker diagnosed his illness as manic-depressive behavior. She immediately put him on lithium to control his mood swings.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of lithium is slight tremors of the hands. Bert Yancey would never again be as good a golfer as he once was. But he also never would again be a wildman as long as he took his medication. He dropped off the PGA Tour for several years and began a golf school and clinics. HE joined the Senior Tour in 1988. He never won there. In fact, he had only one Top-10 finish in his Senior Tour career. He finished tied for 64th in the BellSouth Classic at Opryland's Springhouse Golf Club in June.

But winning was not his full intent, and he did not consider his playing on tour again a comeback.

"Comebacks are what I have done off the golf course," he once said. "This is nothing but pure fun. This is a vacation."

His greater message was to others with mental illness. ". . . a lot of people need to know you can have mental illness and still be a normal person doing your job," he said. "I have a responsibility now. Do you know how many kids in this country have manic-depressive illness? By being visible . . . I'm saying to those kids and everyone with manic-depressive illness `I've got it, too, but I'm shaking it as long as I stay on my medicine.' "

Tom Weiskopf was one of Yancey's best friends. When he heard of Yancey's death Friday, Weiskopf briefly considered withdrawing from the Franklin Quest Championship. But he knew Yancey would want him to play.

Sunday, like a man possessed, Weiskopf birdied 16, 17 and 18 to tie leader Dave Stockton, then won the tournament with a birdie on the first playoff hole.

"There's a reason why he played as good as he did coming in. He hadn't made one putt, let alone four in a row," Stockton said.

"I didn't win this thing," a teary-eyed Weiskopf said. "Bert made me win this. I loved him. I won this tournament because of him."

Headline: Heart attack fells Yancey before senior golf event
OBITUARY: The player, 56, dies after collapsing minutes before he is to begin play in a tournament in Utah.
Publication Date: August 27, 1994
Source: The Orange County Register

Obituary: Yancey, 56, collapsed minutes before he was to play in the opening round of the Senior PGA Franklin Quest Championship at the Park Meadows Golf Course and was pronounced dead a short time later at a hospital. He twice left the practice range with chest pains.

"It's a real tragedy," golfer Tommy Aaron said. "He'd had a tough time all his life dealing with his mental illness. He had a great career on the regular tour, but he never played out here to that level."

A seven-time winner on the PGA Tour with $690,337 in earnings, Yancey joined the Senior PGA Tour in 1988 and earned another $404,625 through 1993. The Chipley, Fla., native resided in Roswell, Ga.

Yancey is survived by his wife, Cheryl, three sons, a daughter, and two grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were incomplete, a PGA spokeswoman said.

In 1988, Yancey recorded his best Senior PGA Tour finish, tying for second behind Bob Charles at the Pepsi Senior Challenge in Atlanta.

Yancey was diagnosed as manic depressive in 1975. In a 1992 interview, he said he had accepted medication and psychotherapy as lifelong treatments for the mental illness. He recommended that other sufferers do the same.

"Control is not a cure," he said. "I don't expect to ever exist without medication, without psychotherapy, without friends who will tell me, `You're getting off the wall.' "

Yancey had some bizarre episodes of delusion. He said his diagnosis came after he climbed a ladder at New York's LaGuardia Airport and started yelling that financier Howard Hughes had given him money to find a cure for cancer.