A look back at a tournament legend

032916 bob lutz

Photo courtesy of USC Athletics

Bob Lutz won “The Ojai” six times and is widely recognized as one of the most accomplished players in the event’s 116-year history.

Tim Tuttle, Ojai Valley News correspondent

As part of our coverage heading into the 116th  Ojai Tennis Tournament being held April 19 through April 24, we’re looking back at the career of Bob Lutz, who won six championships and was runner-up three times

at “The Ojai” from 1963 to 1969.

Bob Lutz is one of the greatest players in the century-long history of the Ojai Tennis Tournament.

Lutz was a six-time champion and runner-up three times at Ojai from 1963 to 1969. He won in high school, he won in college and he won in the Open Division. He won in singles and doubles in all three.

Lutz traveled to the tournament from his home in San Clemente last year to take part in the tournament's honoring of Stan Smith. They were teammates and rivals at USC, where they formed a doubles team that went on to win five grand slams — four U.S. Opens and one Australian Open — and remain close friends. They also became one of the greatest doubles teams in U.S. Davis Cup history.

“The tournament organizers wanted me to come up for the dinner for Stan,” Lutz said. “Going back to Ojai brought back a lot of memories. I spent a lot of time up there, in the junior tournament and in college. It was fun to be back up there.”

Although the Smith-Lutz doubles pairing achieved the most noteriety, both were outstanding singles players.

“It was kind of strange,” Lutz said. “Stan was my chief rival in college and we were shifting between No. 1 and No. 2 depending on the week in the collegiate rankings.”

Lutz’s first title at Ojai was in the Boys' 16-and-Under Division in 1963 playing for St. John Vianney in West Los Angeles. Lutz, and his brother, Don, teamed to win the CIF Interscholastic (18-and-under) Doubles in 1964.

Lutz and Smith took the Open Doubles title in 1965 and in 1966, Lutz defeated Allen Fox— an Ojai champion in the Interscholastic in 1956 and the open singles winner in 1964 — for the Open Singles championship in 1966. It was a tremendous achievement for the then 18-year-old Lutz over the more experienced Fox, one of Southern California’s best players.

“I remember the match with Fox quite a bit,” Lutz said. “It was hot that day and it was a struggle. Allen was playing pretty well.”

In 1967, Lutz — in his sophomore year at USC — moved into the Pac-8 (now Pac-12) Division. He lost in the Singles finals to Smith in 1967 and ’68 and defeated UCLA’s Modesto Vasquez for the championship in 1969. In doubles, Smith and Lutz won the Pac-8 in 1967 and were runners-up in 1968.

USC was the Pac-8 team champion from 1966 to 1969. Lutz has fond memories of the team being hosted by an Ojai family at their ranch each year.

“To stay there as a team was a lot of fun,” Lutz said.

Lutz was the CIF Southern Section Boys' 18 champion in 1964, defeating Pasadena’s Smith, and in 1965, he was the NCAA champion in 1967 and he and Smith were the NCAA doubles champions in 1967 and ’68.

Tennis was emerging as a professional sport when Lutz was graduating from USC in 1971. The so-called open tennis era — began allowing major, established tournaments to pay prize money. It became a turbulent time over the amount of money players could earn in the grand slam events — Wimbledon, U.S., French and Australian Opens.

Lutz signed with the privately run World Championship Tennis, owned by multimillionaire Texas oilman Lamar Hunt (who was one of the three founders of the American Football League in 1960 and whose family owns the Kansas City Chiefs) and the grand slam tournaments banned WCT players.

The issues were resolved in 1974 and Lutz and Smith won their second U.S. Open doubles title that year. They had won in 1968 and went on to win in 1978 and 1980.

Lutz won nine Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tournaments in singles and 44 in doubles, most of them with Smith and some with Arthur Ashe. His last singles win was in 1980 at Cologne, Germany. He reached the finals at Tampa in 1983 but lost to Johan Kriek.

In Davis Cup, Lutz and Smith were 13-1 and Lutz played for the United States in 16 matches.

An injury and subsequence harm to his ranking and ATP points, which determine eligibility for events, forced Lutz to leave the ATP tour in 1983.

“I didn’t really want to retire,” he said. “I had a neck injury and couldn’t play the entire summer. I lost my ranking and lost my points and that meant I would have go into qualifying rounds to get into tournaments. I didn’t want to go through that. I could have played ATP another six or seven years, until I was 40.”

Lutz, then 36, joined the 35-and-over Grand Champions tour in 1983 and won 19 singles events over the next decade. He continued to play in senior events at major tournaments until he was 60, the age limit at Wimbledon. His final Wimbledon was 2008.

“Smith and I did well as we got into the later years,” Lutz said. “We won it a couple of times.” He was born in Lancaster, Pa., and moved to Southern California at a young age.

“My dad got a job and wanted to get out of that (cold) weather and we moved to Pacific Palisades,” Lutz said. “I had a sister five years older who would hit balls with me. I started taking lessons when I was 9 and got hooked on it when I was 10.”

Lutz’ highest world ranking was No. 7 and he was ranked in the world’s top 10 in singles eight times. He earned more than $1 million in official prize money. Lutz helped establish the Rancho San Clemente Tennis and Fitness Club. He’s a member of the Hall of Fame, Southern California Tennis, USC Athletic and Intercollegiate Tennis Association.

The 68-year-old Lutz offers private lessons, but he can’t play matches any more.

“I can’t serve,” he explained. “I had shoulder surgeries and can’t raise my arm up over my head anymore.”

© Ojai Valley News, 2016

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