Golf—A Pleasure: Page Two

Years after my match with Otey my putting got a more refined compliment. I was a member of Metropolis Country Club in White Plains, N.Y. Paul Runyon, outstanding pro there, and I were playing at Century Country Club with a member and the Century pro. On the first tee Paul surprised me by telling the Century pro I was an excellent putter. In spite of that I putted well. We had finished the sixteenth hole when the Century pro said, “Jack, would you come back and stroke a few putts while I watch?” I said, “Sure.” After six or seven putts he said thanks, and we completed the round. The Century pro didn’t adopt my putting style, but he became a good golfer. He was Ben Hogan.

Before I leave Montgomery, let me tell you about my caddie, Perry Jones. Perry was my constant companion on the golf course in Montgomery. I didn’t fully appreciate then what a wonderful relationship we had. We never talked about it, and I never thought about it—but it was there. Perry was a tall, lanky black man, in his thirties. He wasn’t “black” in those days, he was “colored.” If you called a man “black,” it was an insult. “Colored” was the nice word, the polite word. Perry was always there when I arrived at the country club. He didn’t take other bags, he always waited for me. I wasn’t a good tipper because I didn’t have much money to tip with. So he must have liked me, and I liked him. Perry had good golf sense. The only arguments we ever had were about which club I should use. Sometimes I would drive to the Montgomery Country Club, and Perry would ride in the front seat. This was not considered proper. People called it to my attention, but that didn’t bother me.

When I was fourteen, Perry helped me win the second flight of the City Championship, played at the Montgomery Country Club. On the last hole of the finals I had a thirty-foot putt. Perry, who knew the course better than I, gave me the line. I stroked the ball too hard, but it hit the center of the cup, popped up about three inches, and fell in. On the way back to the clubhouse we overheard my opponent say to his caddie, “Luckiest little S.O.B. I ever saw.” Perry reminded me of this from time to time. When I think back, Perry Jones was one of the best friends I’ve ever had.

This is a tragic, unbelievable story. One spring I went to Century Country Club in White Plains, N.Y., and found that George Garvin, a young black man who had been assistant caddie master at the Montgomery Country Club, was now assistant caddie master at Century. George and I were happy to see each other. After we had exchanged remembrances, George said, “Did you hear what happened to Perry?” I said, “What happened?” His tone scared me. He said, “He was killed in a knife fight.” My heart sank. That night I called my Uncle Morris and said, “Perry was killed in a knife fight, wasn’t he?” Uncle Morris replied, “I don’t think so, he caddied for me today.” A tremendous relief. Three months later Perry was killed in a knife fight. I can’t explain this.

When I finished college, my father’s business required that the family move to New York. I went along because I liked to eat. The thought was expressed by my parents that I should get a job. This didn’t appeal to me, but I didn’t say so. I was lazy and loved to play bridge for money. But my ears perked up when Dad suggested selling insurance—he thought my golf might be an asset. I told Dad that with my grip, my golf game wouldn’t hold up without a lot of practice. I talked him into letting me go back to Montgomery for six months, to work on my swing with Bill Damon, the pro at the Montgomery Country Club. At the same time I could study the insurance business. It was partly a con job, but I don’t think I fooled my father. I think he was being nice.

I moved back to Montgomery and lived with my Aunt Helen and Uncle Morris. Bill Damon corrected my grip and worked patiently on my game, daily. It took what seemed forever to break my bad habits. Near the end, to test my new swing, I played in the Valparaiso Invitational. My new swing held up, and I got to the finals. So back to New York.

The first tournament I played in, in New York, was the Metropolitan Amateur, at Metropolis Country Club, in White Plains. In the qualifying, I had a seventy-eight on the first eighteen. In the afternoon I was one over par coming to the third hole, a dog-leg. I tried to shorten the hole by going over some trees. We weren’t sure I was successful so I played a provisional ball. When we got around the bend, my first ball was in a good position. A member of our threesome threw my provisional ball to me. I didn’t see it coming. It hit me on the left temple and lowered me to the grass for a few seconds. Then I continued. I had a sixty-eight, the best score of the day. There was a theory that I was unconscious. A headline in the Herald Tribune said, “Beaned by Ball, Shoots Sensational Round.”

Soon after that I became a member of Metropolis, later a member of Century Country Club also in White Plains, and then Mountain Ridge in Montclair, N.J., where my mother’s relatives played. Altogether, I won fourteen club championships at these three clubs. I also qualified for the National Amateur each of the three times I tried. Since only sixty-four in the country qualified, that was good.

I made a great golf shot once. A great shot is more than a perfect shot. If you make a perfect shot and twenty enemies at the same time, that’s a great shot. There was a yearly two-ball tournament at Winged Foot Country Club, the Anderson Memorial Invitational Tournament. One year Howard Bergman and I were partners. We almost qualified. We were in a play-off for two positions, with ten other teams. We started out on the eleventh hole, twenty-two of us. When you think about it, that’s five-and-a-half foursomes—quite a crowd. On the eleventh hole all the teams got pars. The twelfth hole was a par-three. Howard shot first and hit his ball over the green, near a tree. With the chips down, I hit into the right-hand trap. Many of the players were on the green.  Howard’s second shot didn’t get on the green. We were in big trouble. When I found my ball, we were in bigger trouble. The trap was so deep that my caddy had to hold the flag up high for me to see it. What was worse, my ball was so close to the back ledge of the trap there was almost no room for a backswing.

Paul Runyan, the outstanding pro at Metropolis, had a great short game. His method for playing trap shots was unique. Paul would lift his wedge almost straight up, bring it down so the flange landed in back of the ball, bring his arms forward and up, and the ball would rise, with plenty of backspin. Paul had shown this to me and I’d tried it a few times, but hadn’t adopted it. Now I had no choice. Howard was up on the green watching—with his fingers crossed. Seven or eight other players were with him—just waiting for me to get it over with. I took the club almost straight up and made the Runyan move. The ball bounced out towards the flag, with a nice feeling of backspin. I couldn’t see what happened. All of a sudden Howard was jumping up and down. I thought I must be close to the flag. Then I looked at the other players. I’ve never gotten so many dirty looks—I can’t blame them. My ball had landed a few feet past the hole and spun back in. Howard and I won three matches and were beaten in a close match in the semifinals by Dick Chapman, amateur champion, and his partner.

A last story. I was again playing in the Anderson Memorial, scheduled to tee off at 10 a.m. Winged Foot is a forty-five minute drive from my house. My driver, Lee Robinson, wasn’t exactly sure how to get there, so we left at 8:15. Even if it took an hour, I’d have time to change clothes and hit some practice shots. At 9:30 we were still looking for Winged Foot, and I was in the back of the car, changing. We arrived at Winged Foot eight minutes past tee-off time. I grabbed my clubs and rushed to the first tee. Two starters were on the tee. I apologized for being late, explained I’d gotten lost, and said, “I hope I’m not disqualified.” One of them said, “Probably not, the tournament doesn’t start till tomorrow.”

Golf was a special part of my life.

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