John “Johnny Mo” Molenda, a Detroit native remembered for an ever-present suit jacket and smile, was a PGA professional who served Knollwood Country Club for over 35 years.
He won the 1968 Michigan Open, the 1971 Michigan PGA and the 1974 Detroit Chevy Dealers Championship.
He also played in the national PGA Professional Championship 10 times, played in two U.S. Opens, played in two PGA Championships, played in the 1990 Senior PGA Championship and in 24 PGA Tour events, including the Buick Open.
He also won the 1990 Michigan Senior Open and was part of 13 Michigan Section two-player team titles.
Before becoming a professional he won the GAM Caddie Championship in 1956, was the runner-up in the U.S. Public Links in 1961 to Dick Sikes, played college golf at Arizona State University and beat long-time PGA Tour player Orville Moody to win the 1963 All-Services Championship while serving his country.
In 1974, he was on the winning USA team in the Diamond Cup against club professionals from Great Britain. In 1985, he was named Michigan’s Golf Professional of the Year.
He passed away in 2004 at the age of 65.
Molenda married his wife Shirley, a widow, in 1970, and she had two sons, Mark Steinberg, who was 10 at the time, and Robert, who was eight.
“At that age, to us, he was Dad,” Mark said. “He had a great sense of humor but he wasn’t the guy who would tell a joke. He just had a great smile and he would give you a hard time just having fun.”
Mark remembers the Knollwood members telling him and his family that “Big Mo” always had a suit jacket on, and sometimes would wear it even when hitting balls on the practice tee.
“They knew it was hot outside when Johnny Mo would take his jacket off,” he said. “He would even give lessons, a lot of lessons, with that jacket on.”
Molenda is remembered at Knollwood by a plaque on a rock at the first tee. The club’s invitational became “The Big Mo” in his honor.
Robert said his lasting memory is being with his step-father at the 1972 PGA Championship, which was hosted by Oakland Hills and was Molenda’s second PGA national championship appearance along with two U.S. Open starts.
“I was nine-years-old and I remember being in the grill with him and Arnold Palmer was in there, and it was so cool,” he said. “I tell people all the time, he was my step-father so I didn’t get his short game passed on to me, but I saw the way he treated people and was respected and I learned a lot from that.”
Year inducted: 2022