Written By: Ro Logrippo Spinelli
When Mike Spinelli started photographing the world around him at Trinity High School for The Echo and The Shamrock under the tutelage of Rev. John Hughes, little did he realize one day several of his images would hang in the world’s most recognized museum as well as two hallowed national sports venues.
After graduation in the 1960s, Mike’s life path led him not only to Bellarmine University, but also to United Press International which assigned him to cover the Kentucky Derby and the NCAA Finals.
A United States Air Force veteran, he served at Texas, Florida, California and Vietnam bases. While overseas, he earned Best of Show and First Place in the Third Biennial Inter-Service Worldwide Photographic Competition which drew 15,000 entries nationwide, bringing him to the attention of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The world’s largest museum and research complex picked his “Swingers” image for its photography archives. It features children on swings at sunset in Hermosa Beach, CA.
After his discharge, Spinelli moved to the San Francisco Peninsula, becoming a metropolitan daily newspaper’s assistant photo editor. Assignments included every major U.S. sporting event from the World Series to the Super Bowl to the US Open. While on staff, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, chose two of his works for the Oakland Raiders’ permanent exhibit, spotlighting his photograph of wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff in Super Bowl XI in Pasadena.
His most recent renown came from the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, FL, which selected his outstanding photos of Payne Stewart and Tom Watson for permanent “locker” displays. Travis Puterbaugh, museum curator, notes:
“Stewart had a way of connecting with fans that made him one of the most popular PGA tour golfers. He had his struggles” (however) “I think as much as golf fans yearn for superstars to dominate the game, they relate more to guys like Stewart, who had their ups and downs.”
Puterbaugh adds: “It’s a pleasure to incorporate photography from someone of the caliber of Mike Spinelli into our exhibits. Photos displayed in Stewart’s and Watson’s lockers greatly add to stories we’re trying to tell about both members. With Payne, the 1998 U.S. Open photograph truly captures his elegance as a golfer and adds a certain poignancy as well because of his tragic death.
“The photo of Tom Watson hugging his caddy Bruce Edwards is from his signature win at Pebble Beach. We have a few items in his locker which relate to that event, so we feel the photo ties the locker together perfectly.”
Reflecting on the Watson photo, Spinelli says:
“Interestingly, I followed Watson the entire round but started to walk to the 18th green with Jack Nicklaus when Watson put his tee shot on the par 3 17th hole in the high rough. I could hear the crowd erupt in excitement as I headed up the 18th fairway and saw Watson dancing around after sinking his famous chip shot. ‘Oh no!’, I thought. ‘I missed the shot of the tournament!’ Little did I realize fate had a better photo moment in store for me–the famous ‘hug’ that I’ve read Watson considers one of his best golf memories. I truly consider it one of the best photos in my career.”
Mike discloses he never met Stewart, but always considered him a great golfer and was pleased he had the opportunity to photograph him before his life was taken tragically.
Early on in his career, Spinelli studied with Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock and Cole and Brett Weston. His images also earned Associated Press honors for outstanding news photography and were syndicated internationally by Universal Press Syndicate.
In 2005, Mike moved to Arizona, remaining active in photography and helping plan the future of Anthem where he lives. A commercial photographer, he works in digital format for corporate clients. For more information, including books featuring his photos, visit www.mikespinelliphoto.com
Required Photo Credits
A – Photo of Mike in his Office with Sports Photos he’s taken beside him:
Copyright Photo by Sharon Gaboury