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Stu Goldstein, 1978 WPSA Champion from New York

RELENTLESS PURSUER OF SHARIF KHAN IN THE '70s

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Oct 2003, By Rob Dinerman © 2002 SquashTalk
Photos: © 2001 SquashTalk

Powerful Performance Packed into Abbreviated Career

Stu Goldstein (r) in action against frequent protagonist Toronto's Clive Caldwell © SquashTalk LLC

One of the most determined of Sharif Khan's pursuers during the latter's extended period of domination and the best player in the New York metropolitan area for a half-decade encompassing the late 1970's and early 1980's, Stu Goldstein became the first non-Khan in 16 years to win the WPSA Championship when he defeated Gordy Anderson and Rainer Ratinac in the semi-final and final rounds of that event at the Commodore Club in Minnesota in February 1978. He combined immaculate stroke production with extraordinary agility and conditioning to fully earn a spot along with fellow top-five WPSA protagonists Victor Niederhoffer, Clive Caldwell, Mario Sanchez, Michael Desaulniers, Anderson and Ratinac as the top contenders to the crown that Khan wore so proudly for so long.

It is a bittersweet aspect of the legacy that he and contemporaries Anderson and Caldwell created that all three were fated to have their prime years intersect with the dominant period of the older but ageless Khan, who always loomed up to deny them the major titles that they otherwise would have been winning. This phenomenon is similar to what occurred in the NBA throughout the
1990's, when some of the best basketball players on some of the best teams in the history of the game---from Karl Malone and John Stockton of the Utah Jazz, to Phoenix star forward Charles Barkley to New York center Patrick Ewing to Indiana sharpshooter Reggie Miller to Seattle's outstanding point guard Gary Payton---all found their career-long quests for an NBA championship ring dishearteningly and repeatedly obstructed by the greatness of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

By the time Sharif finally began to fade in the early 1980's, thereby opening the door for the Sanchez-Desaulniers-Mark Talbott generation to etch their names below his on the permanent trophies of the game's most prestigious events, it was too late for Goldstein and his generation, whose time by then had already passed.

Stu Goldstein (r) takes aim against Charlie Khan © SquashTalk LLC

Certainly, however, it must be said that it was not for lack of trying that Goldstein was never able to quite knock off The Champ in the game's biggest arenas, or that what the stylish Stony Brook graduate (and two-time all-American) WAS able to accomplish was anything short of superlative.
In addition to that '78 WPSA Championships milestone, Goldstein also defeated Sharif en route to winning the '77 Boodles Round-Robin and WPSA tour stops in New York and Montreal in '78 and in Rochester in '80, when his sequential wins over Desaulniers, Khan (both in five) and Sanchez may have represented the finest overall performance of his entire career. He also was runner-up to
Khan on numerous occasions, the most noteworthy of these being the '77 and '79 WPSA Championship, the '77 Slazenger Philadelphia event, the '77 and '78 Boodles British Gin Open, the '78 Cleaves MSRA Open and the '79 and '80 Boodles Squash World Cup. During that turbulent and exciting era when the WPSA tour was enjoying its greatest period of growth and expansion, only Anderson was able to post more victories over the indomitable and charismatic Pakistani champion
than did Goldstein.

If anything, he may have been guilty of expending TOO much effort in his dedicated push for the No. 1 ranking, relentlessly forcing his smallish and slender frame through punishing daily work-outs both in the squash court and on the track that may have brought on the sequence of injuries, particularly to his back, that required him to withdraw from a number of tournaments and cost
him an opportunity to move more quickly up the rankings.

Those mishaps and the overall burn-out effects of his full-bore pursuit of Khan's seemingly endless position of pre-eminence may also have contributed to the brevity of Goldstein's career, which ended when he was only 31 years old and seemingly with several productive seasons still ahead of him. One such injury, when he fell heavily on his knee during one of the last few points of his first-ever victory over Niederhoffer in overtime in the fourth in the semi-finals of the '77 Metropolitan Open, caused the joint to swell up overnight to a degree that prevented him from playing in either the next-day final or the North American Open one week later..

Though terribly disappointed by this setback and the several weeks of enforced inactivity that resulted during the heart of what was at that time a very compressed WPSA season, Goldstein recovered in time for the WPSA Championships in Detroit the following month, where he defeated Caldwell and Niederhoffer on the same day to reach the first of his three consecutive WPSA finals.

Exhausted by those successive exploits just hours apart against that season's Nos. 3 and 2 ranked players, Goldstein lost the ensuing final to Khan, who thereby captured this title for a record eighth straight time.

But when Khan lost to Anderson one year later in the quarter-finals, Goldstein seized on the opportunity generated by the premature elimination of his nemesis, overwhelming a pardonably spent Anderson in the semis, a pattern he would repeat three years later at the Atlantic City event in '81, where Goldstein again defeated Anderson, this time in the final, after Anderson semi-final
upset of Khan. In St. Paul, Goldstein then rose superior to Ratinac, winning a pivotal second game 15-13 before finishing off the match with a 15-8 third-game win that made him the first New Yorker to win the WPSA title in the 32 years since Lester Cummings accomplished the feat back in 1946.

Goldstein would go on to defeat Khan head-to-head in the final of both the '78 Metropolitan Open
that spring and the Montreal Open the following fall before Khan would swing the rivalry permanently back in his favor with final-round wins over Goldstein at the Boodles Gin Open in New York two weeks after Montreal and in the '79 WPSA Championship that spring in Toronto.

As a Long Islander who was a product of neither a famous squash family (like the Khan clan, which included during that period not only Sharif but his brothers Aziz and Charlie and cousins Mohibullah and Gul in the WPSA top 10), nor a privileged prep-school or Ivy League background nor a vaunted junior program (like "Bentley juniors" Caldwell and Anderson), and the outsider standing he internalized from fairly early on was furthered by his Jewish status in a sport where acceptance was decidedly slow in coming.

This situation, along with the swiftness of his ascent up the ranks, caused Goldstein some resentment among his peers which was exacerbated by some intemperate comments he made on
several occasions to the newspapers in which he predicted that he would soon displace Khan from the game's No. 1 ranking.

Ultimately it would be Desaulniers who would succeed Sharif both as North American Open champion (in the spring of '82, ending a Khan run of six straight Open titles and 12 in 13 years!) and in
the season-end No. 1 ranking that year, a position Khan had held for 15 seasons in a row.

In fact, the North American Open, recognized as the game's most coveted championship, would prove a bit of a bugaboo for Goldstein during his snake-bit seven-year pursuit of this crown. As noted, an injured knee kept him out of the '77 event and he lost in five games to Gul Khan in '76, Anderson in '78 and '79, Sharif Khan in '80 and Aziz Khan in '81! He led Sharif two games to love
and 9-5 in the fifth in '80, led Aziz two games to one in the semis in '81 and, after trailing Anderson 2-0 in '79 in New York, Goldstein actually led 13-8 in the fifth of that semi, just two points from what would have been his only final-round appearance in this event, before a go-for-broke succession of risky but perfectly struck Anderson double-boasts brought the latter to an 18-16
fifth-game tiebreaker victory.

Goldstein's '82 Open match with Khan, a close four-game battle, was the last of Stu's career, as he had already announced before the tournament that he would retire afterwards, whatever the outcome, to embark upon what has developed into a remarkably successful career in real estate as the CEO of SDG Management for the past 18 years.

It seems somehow symbolic of his accomplishment-filled but unexpectedly brief and strangely enigmatic career that Goldstein reached that semi-final via successive wins over Ned Edwards and Talbott, who the following season would end up occupying the top two spots on the WPSA rankings, in spite of which Goldstein's tournament is more remembered for his falling short yet again against his career-long tormentor in their final clash than for the two excellent wins over much-younger and highly talented opponents that preceded it.

Let the record show that Goldstein's actual last match, in the third-place play-off the following day, was in fact a victory over Tom Page, that Goldstein's ledger of career tournament wins includes not only the host of WPSA sanctioned-tournament titles we have already chronicled but also the Met Pro
championship in '75, '79 and '81 and the Hyder Cup in '80, that he was undefeated in his seven career matches against the redoubtable Edwards, that he placed third twice each in both the North American and Boston Opens while also playing a prominent role on the U. S. team that placed an all-time high 7th in the World Team Championships in Sweden in '81, and that during the two-year period of '77 and '78 he was Sharif's co-finalist more often than any other of his peers.

Goldstein crammed a remarkable list of achievements into a relatively compressed time frame while becoming one of the most prominent of the legendary protagonists who put the WPSA tour on the map during its meteoric rise in the world of racquet sports.

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