the days before there were autographs
When did so many urchins, scamps and rascals start turning up in the galleries of golf tournaments? That’s one question. Another is, when did they start clawing and begging for an autograph from any person who bore the slightest resemblance to a touring pro?
I distinctly remember a time when I was the only urchin, scamp or rascal in the galleries. It began when I was 11 years old and was taken by golf-nut relatives to Colonial Country Club and let loose on the 1941 US Open, where I got mad that Craig Wood won instead of Ben Hogan or Byron Nelson, the hometowners.
But I didn’t consider myself an urchin, scamp or rascal. I’d been playing golf since I was 8 and had learned that the game was a civilised, dignified sport. If anybody had hollered “You da man!” or “Get in the hole!” he’d have been arrested for disturbing the peace. My education continued as follows: As a 14-year-old, I was taken to Lakewood Country Club in Dallas to watch Byron Nelson win the Texas Victory Open.
As a 15-year-old, I took myself to Dallas Country Club in 1945 to watch Sam Snead win the Dallas Open.
Again in ’45, I went the entire 72 holes in Fort Worth, watching Byron win the Glen Garden Open, his 18th victory in that fanciful year.
Then in 1946, as a grown-up 16-yearold with a car, I watched Hogan win twice. First at the inaugural Colonial National Invitation in May, and again in September at the Dallas Invitational at Brook Hollow Golf Club.
I roll those credits for a couple of reasons.
It’s to say that in all of my exposure to tournament golf I never once saw an urchin, scamp, rascal or teenager on the course, including me, plead for a golf ball from a pro. And second, I never once saw an adult ask a competitor for an autograph.
It just wasn’t done back then. At least not in my neck of the woods.
Applause from the crowds was reserved for a very good golf shot. Most of the fans were recreational golfers and obviously more knowledgeable about the game than many in today’s throngs.
Also, there were no standing ovations for players you’ve never heard of simply because they walked up on a green. “Come on Brendan, you can do it!” Who? What changed this peaceful world? The usual suspects, is my guess. Hogan, to begin with. The game had needed a larger-than-life figure since Bobby Jones retired. Then TV. Followed by Arnold Palmer. The combination of TV and Arnold Palmer. Jack Nicklaus. The dynasty of Jack Nicklaus. More media attention to the majors. Especially the Masters. Growth of new courses – a country club for every income level. Advances in equipment. Corporate sponsors and the incredible explosion of prize money. And, yes, a guy named Tiger Woods.
Full disclosure: In my teens, after watching all that tournament golf, I did have fleeting thoughts of trying to become a touring pro, but I quickly realised it required more practice than it did funfilled gambling with friends and thieves, plus my game didn’t travel well.
So I changed my major.