A preview of the Canadian Open with asides on the antics of golfing showmanship
BEFORE WE review the origin and early history' of the Canadian Open, the biggest annual item on our golf calendar, let’s examine an incident that happened only two years ago while the event was being staged at the Summerlea course in Montreal; it may give us a new angle on this classic of the links.
It’s early afternoon and a big crowd is waiting, has been waiting for almost two hours, at the first tee. Up in the clubhouse an emergency meeting of the Royal Canadian Golf Association Executive is going on. Reporters are hanging around outside the door, smoking and fretting, waiting for something official to break. One of them detaches himself from the group and saunters down to the crowd at the tee.
“Are they going to disqualify him?” somebody in the crowd asks him anxiously.
The reporter gives him a pitying look. “What do you think?” he says.
“They might,” another puts in. “They did it in England when he missed his starting time.”
“Hey—there he is now!” somebody shouts.
The next moment there is a wild stampede in the direction of the practice green, where Walter Ilagen, the cockiness of the conqueror in his bearing, is nonchalantly lining up a few practice putts. The crowd kids Hagen and he Indulges in a little good-natured repartee.
Suddenly there is a commotion and the crowd parts to make way for B. L. Anderson, secretary of the R. C. G. A. Executive, who has burst excitedly from the committee room on hearing of Hagen’s arrival. Everybody stops talking and for a moment the air is heavy with drama. Maybe there’s really going to be a showdown. Hagen doesn’t even look up as Anderson approaches and leans over his shoulder as he prepares to stroke the ball. The crowd holds its breath.
“Two to one you don't sink it, Walter,” Anderson says.
Somebody snickers and in a second the whole crowd is roaring. The reporter smiles cynically. He could haw told you an hour ago they wouldn’t bounce Hagen; it just didn’t add up. When you’re putting on a show, you don’t drop the star at the last moment.
This incident is not meant to be a reflection on the Royal Canadian Golf Association. What happened at Summerlea has happened many times before and on more than one continent. For the Canadian Open, like all ranking golf tournaments, is now a show, a gaudy three-day spectacle, and it is on men like Hagen that the sponsors must rely to provide entertainment for the thousands of paying customers.
When the Open was inaugurated in 1904 it was a 36-hole, one-day affair. The game of golf was then only a vague thing in the minds of the masses, exclusively a rich man’s pastime, and this blue-ribbon event was watched by almost no one outside the country club set. It was won that first year by J. H. Oke, of the Royal Ottawa Club, Canada’s first golf professional. The runner-up was Percy Barrett, who had toured the United States several years before as Harry Vardon’s star pupil and had only recently been engaged as professional at Toronto Lambton, then a new club. George Cumming, famous Toronto Golf Club professional, won it in 1905, and from then until 1914 it was usually grabbed off by one of a small group consisting of Cumming, Barrett, and three Canadians who had been taught the game by Cumming and had secured berths with leading Canadian clubs on his recommendation— Karl Keffer, of Ottawa, and Charlie and Albert Murray, of Montreal.
It was not until after the War, when golf really started to shoot ahead on this continent, that the tournament began to attract strong outside competition. Walter Hagen had competed at Toronto Rosedale as early as 1912, to be sure, but he was then only an unknown assistant professional seeking tournament experience. But by the end of the War the game’s appeal had widened out considerably, particularly in the United States, where some exceptional native-born players had been developed. It was in 1919 that Bobby Jones, making his first bid for a national title came up from Atlanta with the late J. Douglas Edgar to compete at Hamilton. Edgar won the tournament, and Jones finished in a three-way tie for runner-up with Jim Barnes and Karl Keffer.
The biggest stimulus the tournament ever received was furnished by Leo Diegel after he finished first at Montreal Mount Bruno in 1924. Diegel, a top-flight golfer who had never been able to win the British or United States Open titles, was so delighted with his wán in the Canadian that he became a great plugger for the event. It was Diegel who sold it to most of the ranking stars below the line, brought them up in droves, gave it a truly international flavor and lifted it into the big-show class. Its sponsors now claim that it ranks second only to the United States Open on this continent in financial value and in the strength of the field; but it might be argued that the P. G. A. Championship and the Master’s also take precedence over it.
The Art of Self-Promotion
SOUTH OF the line the professionals early became expert at the art of self-promotion. As the game increased in popularity the sport pages devoted more and more space to its leading exponents, and much of the copy that filled it was strained through the typewriters of legitimate sport writers turned press agents, in the employ of the golfers themselves. So by the time these tournament troupers added the Canadian to their regular itinerary, our attention had already been caught by the ballyhoo, and huge galleries assembled to watch them perform. Let it be said right here that rarely, if ever, have these master showmen let an audience down.
There was, for instance, a day at Summerlea two years ago on which Flagen and Kirkwood, both well down in the scoring, were making a semi-leisurely tour of the course, when a great crowd of spectators who had been following another pair came hiking across the fairway to join the Hagen-Kirkwood gallery. Hagen watched them for a moment and then turned to his partner.
“These folks must think we’ve still got a chan e, Joe,” he said in a low voice. “Let’s do it the hard way.”
From then on they studied every lie with elaborate care. They snatched up blades of grass and fluttered them in the air to test the strength and direction of the breeze. Seemingly undecided about which club to use, they would change their minds two or three times in as nanv seconds, and by the time they were ready to hit .heir shots the gallery was experiencing chills and fever. The big moment came when both pulled their drives to the edge of the fairway, and found themselves stymied by a large elm tree. After examining the shot from all angles, Kirkwood elected to use the fourth wood in his bag, a spoon with more loft than is usual. The ball rose precipitately, arched over the tree and bore on toward the green.
Hagen seemed to think there was an element of luck involved in the shot and didn’t hesitate to say so. After Continued on page 38
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much deliberation he finally settled on a two-iron. The ball left the club with the speed of a rifle bullet, curved sharply around the obstruction as if thrown by a baseball pitcher, and disappeared from sight. When the gallery reached the green it found both balls lying within ten feet of the pin, so close together you could have covered them with a handkerchief. The applause was loud and spontaneous.
What the game of golf, which is primarily a test; of concentration, may lack as a dramatic spectacle, these tournament stars contrive to supply by the force and color of t heir own personalities, which practically guarantees galleries their money’s worth in entertainment value.
For years onlookers have laughed at Leo Diegel’s queer, spider-spread putting stance. They are amused at the odd ritual he goes through, once he reaches the green, of straightening and smoothing the glove lie wears on his left hand before attempting to putt. They gasp at the way he punishes himself when he dubs a shot by whacking his right leg so hard with the club that he raises welts on it. During one of his parshattering rounds at Montreal Kanawaki in 1929, a fascinated spectator plucked up the courage to ask him about these antics.
“Why do you do those things?” the curious one wanted to know. “What does it get you?”
Diegel grinned cheerfully. “Publicity,” he answered briefly, with disarming candor.
For many years now an exhibition of trick shots by Joe Kirkwood has been a sideshow at the tournament. Once a popeyed youngster who had been watching Kirkwood do everything with a golf ball but make it talk, asked him why he never duplicated any of these fancy shots when he got into trouble in the course of a round —a question which must have occurred to many adult spectators.
“Because winter rules don’t govern in these tournaments, sonny,” Kirkwood explained. “I can’t do anything more with that ball than the next fellow unless they let me tee it up.”
Hagen and Kirkwood together have staged some great shows, but the burlesque they put on at Toronto St. Andrew’s on the final day of last year’s tournament was one of their very best.
Heading into the back nine, Kirkwood delighted the big gallery by banging his tee shots off the markers at the front of the tees, all of them screamers straight down the middle. He had his bag of trick clubs along, and on the last green, Hagen, pretending to be looking for a putter, began pulling clubs from this bag. The first one he seized had only a small brass knob at the end, and he tossed it away. The second was hinged, and when he drew it back to putt the head swung around and pointed away from the ball. He discarded this club too, to hole out finally with a club that featured a blade like a hockey stick.
Then it was Kirkwood’s turn to go through the pantomime of searching for a putter. Hagen had temporarily discarded everything that looked like one, so in his extremity Kirkwood stepped up with his driver and canned a twelve-footer with the greatest of ease. Not the least impressive feature of this burlesque round was that both men posted scores only a stroke or two above par figures.
Sarcasm and Shirts
CHUNKY Gene Sarazen, who has developed a positive genius for making provocative remarks which never fail to irk somebody or to earn him newspaper headlines, has made two such snappy speeches while a guest of Canada.
The first of these remarks he let drop one day at Dixie, home of the proud Royal
Montreal Golf Club, the oldest golf club on the North American continent; and while it didn’t make him very popular with Royal Montreal golfers, it tickled the members of other Montreal clubs no end. The Montreal-Ottawa railway tracks bisect the course at Dixie, and it so happened that while Sarazen was getting set to drive off from a tee close to the tracks, the afternoon train roared by only a few feet away from him. Sarazen relaxed and stepped back from the tee with a look of disgust on his swarthy face.
“Say,” he barked to the world in general, “what is this, anyway? A freight yard?”
It was at Toronto Lakeview in 1934 that lie opened a second can of worms. The wives of many of the golf stars made the trip north that year with their celebrated husbands and were much in evidence at the course. In front of reporters, Sarazen observed acidly that the greatest obstacle some golfers had to overcome in competitive play was the presence of their better halves. The newsmen pounced joyfully on the remark and blew it up into a story that became a nine-day sensation. They canvassed all the leading stars in turn, asking them flatly if there was any truth in the Sarazen criticism; but these gentlemen all came through manfully by stoutly maintaining that their wives were helpmates rather than handicaps.
There is, however, a suspicion that Sarazen has elected to act this irascible role in much the same professional spirit that an actor consents to play villainous parts, and listeners-in thought they detected a phoney ring to his famous feuds with Hagen and Tommy Armour. But where all is sweetness and light there can be no drama, and Sarazen as a “heavy” has been both pungent and refreshing, while adding considerably to his box-office value.
The showmanship angle developed by Johnny Farrell, handsome Mamaroneck pro, was first uncovered by accident. It seems that the year he won the United States Open he was so far from prosperous that at the last moment he pooled his resources to buy himself a respectable outfit in which to appear at the tournament. The Farrell taste runs to bright colors, and besides leading the field in actual play he was selected by a haberdashery union as the best-dressed of all the entrants and presented with a prize of several hundred dollars.
It was a brand-new angle, and Farrell plugged it so hard that by the time he appeared at Mount Bruno for the Canadian Open he had acquired more luggage than a freight agent. The eyes of the Montreal sport writers bulged as they measured his belongings. In a corner of his hotel room were four large suitcases which piqued their curiosity.
“What you got in there. Johnny?” they asked him, upending the bags and fingering the catches.
“In there?” said Farrell, simulating indifference. “Oh, just a few shirts.”
They didn’t seem to believe him because they went right on opening the bags, which was precisely what he wanted them to do. But shirts they were—dozens of them! Shirts of all kinds, colors and materials. Shirts for any and all occasions. A sea of shirts. They spilled them out on the bed and examined them in wonder and admiration. Farrell’s gay apparel was one of the features of all the big tournaments that year.......a publicity gag that
paid off generously in newspaper space, embedded the name of Farrell deep in the subconscious of the sporting public, and did him nothing but good with the promoters of invitation tournaments and exhibition tours, as well as with the manufacturers of golfing equipment, who pay the stars liberally fc>’ endorsing their products.
Undoubtedly the biggest tournament draw of them all these many years has been Hagen. His sense of theatre, so conspicuous in his carefully built-up entrances and his flair for making so-called “picture shots,” lias not only established him as the prime favorite of the galleries but has left even his fellow professionals a bit breathless at times. After his brush at Summerlea with the R. C. G. A. Executive already referred to, a lastminute shuffle was necessary as his original partner had long since gone on. A threesome was hastily formed which contained young Bill Kerr, then assistant pro at the Toronto Hunt Club.
A huge gallery followed this match, but none was as thrilled at Hagen’s performance as Kerr. He confessed afterward that he was so jittery at being thrown in unexpectedly with the great Hagen that for the first five or six holes he didn’t even see the ball he was hitting. But his admiration for Hagen, both as a man and a golfer, grew by leaps and bounds as they made their way around the course, and his tribute to Hagen at the end of the round was as sincere as it was spontaneous.
“Thanks a lot, Mr. Hagen; I enjoyed your every shot,” he exclaimed enthusiastically.
DUT APART from all these didoes, the Canadian Open has on occasion produced plenty of golfing fireworks and furnished more than one hair-raising finish.
In 1930Tommy Armour and Leo Diegel, both extremely popular with Canadian galleries, finished in a tie for first place after three days play at Ancaster. In the 36-hole playoff, both shot sub-par 69’s in the morning and were all even on the afternoon’s play up to the 11 th hole, where Diegel found himself stymied by a tree. His bold attempt at a recovery went wild, landed him into still deeper trouble, and he wound up by taking a seven on a parfour hole. Though he settled down immediately and flashed a string of pars and birdies from there in, Armour matched him shot for shot, and the difference in their totals was the three strokes Diegel conceded to par at the 11th.
The next year at Toronto Mississauga, it was Hagen and Percy Alliss, the brilliant English shotmaker, who were tied for the honors and forced to play off. Over the full 36-hole route they waged a spectacular battle, with the lead seesawing back and forth and the issue always in doubt, until Hagen canned his final putt on the 36th green to win by the margin of a single stroke.
In 1932 a gallery of 4,000 persons was in behind AÍ Watrous as he started but on his final round at the Ottawa Hunt Club, four strokes up on Harry Cooper, his nearest rival. Cooper, a notoriously hard-luck golfer, was so sure Watrous had the title in the bag that he hopped the afternoon train for Chicago while Watrous was still on the course. But with the title almost within his grasp Watrous blew up and exploded with a loud bang, taking a 78 for the round. A telegram delivered to Cooper at a stop station informed him of
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his victory, but he dismissed the message as a gag. The next morning he was flabbergasted to see the news corroborated in the Chicago papers.
Another pleasing feature of this tournament is the fact that it is usually won by a man who badly needs a victory. It is, for example, the only open title that MacDonald Smith, one of the most competent golfers alive, has ever been able to win. Leo Diegel has won it four times while his prestige was taking a bad beating elsewhere. It’s the only big title Joe Kirkwood has ever annexed. TommyArmour was being counted out when he came through with a win at Toronto Lakeview in 1934. And Lawson Little was practically in disgrace when he scored his amazing victory at Toronto St. Andrew’s last year.
As an amateur Little had won both the British and United States titles in 1935, a feat which only the great Bobby Jones had been able to duplicate. Most experts were comparing him favorably with Jones and much was expected of him when he turned professional; but he was a disappointment right from the start, failing even to qualify for the United States Open, an event his admirers were touting him to win. When he arrived at St. Andrew’s last September he was “in the dog-house,” but it was there that he found himself.
On the first day of the event Little shot a 67 and broke the course record. The very next day he smashed his own record by scoring a 66. On his last two rounds he picked up a pair of 69’s, which gave him the amazingly low total of 271 and clipped three strokes from the record established by Leo Diegel at Kanawaki in 1929. He faltered only once during the entire 72 holes and that was in the final round, when Jimmy Thomson turned on the pressure and came close to catching him. But Little fought off this challenge by negotiating the last six holes in five strokes under par, a pace which left Thomson far in the rear.
Canadian Pros Must Work
'"THIS YEAR the Open is again being held at Toronto St. Andrew’s during the second week in September. Who will win?
Any one of twenty,-five or thirty golfers is good enough to take the title, and there is always the wild outside chance that a home-grown pro may score a victory. This hasn’t happened since Karl Keffer last led the field in 1914, though Lex Robson electrified the country five years ago byfinishing second to Joe Kirkwood at the Toronto Royal York course, the best showing made by a Canadian since Charlie Murrav grabbed off runner-up honors back in 192Ó.
The answer to the failure of our own pros is that they are not tournament tough. Their jobs are no sinecures; they are not attached to clubs merely to give prestige to those clubs, as is the case with most of the ranking stars in the United States. They can’t afford either the time or the money to follow the tournament trail up and down the continent the whole year round. Yet seven or eight of them— men like Jules Huot, Bobby Gray, Willie Lamb, Reg Sanson, Lex Robson, Bobby Alston, Arthur Hulbert and Jimmy Johnstone—are capable of lifting their games to a championship peak for short stretches.
The great win of Jules Huot, the little French-Canadian pro from Quebec Kent, in the General Brock tournament at Fonthill in July has heartened Canadian golfers immensely and makes a Canadian win in the Open this year not too remote a possibility. The United States Ryder Cup team was competing abroad at the time, it is true, but Huot’s 280 was an impressive score for the Lookout Point course and was good enough to beat such prominent tournament stars as Jimmy Thomson, Harry Cooper, Bill Melhorn and Ray Mangrum. This summer the R. C. G. A. generously offered to pay the expenses of
all Canadian pros who could qualify for the United States Open, and three of them -—Bob Gray of Windsor Essex, Jimmy Johnstone of Toronto Rosedale, and Sam Kerr of Toronto York Downs—made the grade. Help of this kind should sharpen them up to the point where they may become factors in international competition.
There is no doubt now that the oldtimers like Hagen, Diegel, Sarazen, Armour, Kirkwood, MacDonald Smith, Al Watrous, Johnny Farrell and Bobby Cruikshanks have passed their peak ; but a new tribe of youngsters every bit as competent and colorful is coming up fast to replace them. They will all, or nearly all, be on hand at St. Andrew’s this month, and every one of them is a title threat.
In this group are broad-shouldered Jimmy Thomson, whose slashing drives have made him the most spectacular linksman in the United States these past two years; Ralph Guldahl, current U. S. Open champion and low-average man south of the line at the moment; Sam Snead, the newest “great one” and already a gallery hero; Densmore Shute, this year’s winner of the P. G. A. Championship; Ray Mangrum, a great money player; Gene Ivunes and Lawson Little, former winners of the event; Ky Laffoon, the Chicago Indian; those young-old veterans, Ed Dudley, Horton Smith, Harry Cooper, Bill Melhorn, Craig Wood, Paul Runyon and Olin Dutra; Henry Picard, Jug McSpaden, Byron Nelson and Jimmy Hines; and the Italian platoon led by dapper Tony Mañero, with Johnny Révolta, Vic Ghezzi and the Tumesa brothers in the ranks.
Anyone who attempted to pick a winner from this array of golfing talent would be leading with his chin. Only one thing is certain—it will be another great show. Competition will be keener than ever, and if a Canadian should come through, what a boost that would give the game of golf in this country.