Who says forty is too old?
Anybody who thinks it’s time to slow down at two score years should consider this Vancouver golf pro. Since his 40th year he’s won more money at one of the world’s tensest sports than any Canadian in history
In the first eight months of 1958, at the age of forty-three, I won slightly more than forty thousand dollars playing golf, the largest amount ever won by a Canadian professional in any year on the North American tournament circuit. So, early in September, I went salmon fishing near my home in Vancouver and contemplated my improbable success in this exacting pressure-cooker of a game at a time of life when a man's reflexes are supposed to be slowed, his nerves twanging like tuning forks, and his athletic pursuits strongly dependent on the advice of his physician.
I won’t minimize the feeling of security a man finds in a five-figure balance in his bankbook, but I think there's more personal gratification in the fact it got that way for me after I'd passed forty. I'd had relative security in thirteen years as the club pro at Vancouver’s Marine Drive course, and when I left to become a playing pro in June of 1955 some of the men who cover golf for the newspapers were doubtful of my prospects. They said that at forty I was too old to string together the four good rounds of golf a player must have if he hopes to win money in the big tournaments in the U. S.
Well, when I beat some of the world’s best golfers in winning the Tournament of Champions at Las Vegas last April. I put together four pretty fair rounds. They w'ere 69. 69. 69. and 68 for a 275 total that was 13 strokes under par and a new record for the tournament. I won ten thousand dollars on the golf course that sunny Sunday afternoon, and then got another ten thousand as a gift from Carl E. Anderson, a Los Angeles businessman who won $97,760 by buying me in the "Calcutta” pool in that gambling oasis in Nevada’s desert.
Professional goiters are divided into two categories—playing pros, who compete week after week in tournaments, and club pros, who are hired by a club's board of directors to run the pro shop, sell equipment to members, give them lessons, repair their woods and their irons, and so forth. In my thirteen years at Marine Drive I got occasional weeks away from the pro shop to play in tournaments, but they served only to fill me with frustration.
The trouble was that I'd have a couple of good rounds and then I'd start missing shots that I knew' I should make. Giving lessons and selling golt balls and listening to members' wives tell the story of their lives is no way to sharpen your golf game for a tournament. I was unprepared for the relentless pressure of seventy-two holes of competition where tw'o strokes can mean a difference ot nine thousand dollars in some tournaments (it actually happened to me in the Masters’ tournament in Georgia last spring). I’d play reasonably well in those occasional tourneys. I'd play par golt for seventy-two holes, but par golt is maybe fifteen strokes too many when you’re trying to beat Hogan and Snead and Demaret and Mangrum on the prize list.
I remember once in the Canadian Open at the Scarboro club in Toronto I played in a threesome that included an American pro. Bob Toski.
I d done pretty well tor tw'o rounds but on this particular day I just wasn’t hitting the ball cleanly. Along about the fifteenth hole I missed the green with what should have been a routine second shot. When I finally got on the green I missed a four-foot putt.
"The trouble wfith you, Stan, is that you just don’t play enough tournaments,” Toski remarked, shaking his head. "Your stroke's got the yips.”
Incidents like this kept cropping up and I knew that one day I'd have to make the big decision; I knew I either had to stop eating my heart out in tournaments or I had to give up the steady security ot a club professional's job. My wife Chris and I talked it over a good deal, and our daughter Linda, who is now fifteen, used to sit there listening to us in the living room of our South Granville home in Vancouver. Chris was well aware of the precarious aspect of a touring golfer's income. But she always said it was my decision. If I had to prove to myself that 1 was as good at my business as I thought I could be. then I'd better go ahead and try to prove it. I retused even to consider the possibility that I might draw a blank. I resigned from Marine Drive on May 31 and went out to compete with the best men in my business. 1 was forty, my hair w'as growing thin, and I was unemployed.
It’s been an unusual story of fulfillment for a man grown old by athletic standards. In sixty tournaments in those three years I've been out of the money only twice. In one streak. I won money in thirty-two consecutive tournaments, ending last June at Flint. Michigan. In April of 1957 I won the Greensboro Open in North Carolina to become the second Canadian in history to win a major U. S. tournament (Toronto's AI Balding won the Mayfair Open at Sanford, Florida, the previous winter).
In 1958 I could scarcely believe the things that happened. I won two thousand dollars for being fourth in the great Masters' event in Augusta, Georgia; $1.062 at Tucson. Arizona; $550 at Tia Juana, Mexico; $600 at Palm Springs, California; $950 at Fort Worth. Texas; $1.500 in the Canadian Open at Edmonton; $1.675 in the Pepsi Open on Long Island; $756 at Houston. Texas; $2,500 in Vancouver’s Centennial Open; that remarkable payoff of $20,000 at Las Vegas; and so on for fifteen out of sixteen tournaments this year.
I won't say I had to be past forty to do it but I will say that a golfer has to have the experience that I piled up playing this game for twentyfive years if he’s going to be a consistent money-winner. A man might accelerate his emotional maturity by going out on his own earlier than 1 did, as younger pros like Arnold Palmer, the current Masters’ champion. Tommy Bolt, the present U.,S. Open champion, and Dow Finsterwald, the 1958 Professional Golfers’ Association champion, have done. My point is that a man in his forties isn't too old to do it, either. And the reason for this is that tournament golf is a psychological and emotional exercise more than a physical one, and it requires a patient skillful directing of effort rather than a flashy one. An older man is at no disadvantage here.
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Continued from page 27
Who says forty is too old?
“I think enthusiasm is just great — but I’ll take experience . . . Youth can be a deterrent.”
I make one concession to the years: I play in less than half the tournaments on the year-round circuit. I play in three or four in a row, and then I start feeling mentally and physically fatigued. So 1 fly home, putter around the garden for a week or so. do a little fishing, and lay off golf completely. Then, after ten days or so of loafing, I go out to the golf course where 1 play and practice every day, working on three or four clubs each day and hitting just enough balls to keep loose. After three weeks or a month of this I'm ready again. I think the thing that helps me most during a tournament is that I have no trouble sleeping. The instant my head hits the pillow I'm gone for eight or nine hours. This may not be so with a young fellow, who’s bound to be excited when he starts mixing with the best men in his game.
Indeed, youth can be a deterrent because youth is aggressive and impulsive. 1 used to hit the ball much farther off the tee than I do now, and then I’d stand admiring it .as it climbed. Years ago in a tournament at Shaughnessy Heights in Vancouver I was in a threesome with Floyd Mangrum and that famous longhitter of a decade or more ago, John (Mysterious) Montague. I frequently outdrove Montague, winding up and walloping every tee shot a mile. I remember that on Shaughnessy’s eleventh hole, a par five of 515 yards. I used a drive and an eight-iron to hit the green. Then I sank a twelve-foot putt for an eagle three. I had four birdies, too, meaning one stroke under par on four other holes, but I wound up shooting a par 72. The trouble was that 1 had six bogeys, too— one over par on six holes. Mangrum, who had a mere four birdies all afternoon to go wdth fourteen pars, shot an unspectacular 68 to whip me by four strokes. Montague and I drew the admiring sighs of the gallery with our prodigious drives, but we spent half the afternoon in the rough looking for the ball.
Ten years ago 1 had the Canadian Open all but in my pocket. The tournament was at Beaconsfield, near Montreal, and I came up to the sixteenth tee leading the field on the last round—which would make it the 70th hole of the tournament. The sixteenth, a routine par four at Beaconsfield. had a big old barn just off the fairway on the left. I stepped up to my tee shot and belted a low climbing line-drive, figuring this was a good birdie hole. Then the ball began to hook, and on its second long bounce it whacked into the end of the barn and dropped into some long grass. When I came up to the ball. I couldn’t see the green for the barn. I had to chip out onto the fairway, and then play my third to the green. I missed a long putt, and took a bogey five. I lost that tournament by one stroke. Dick Metz and George Fazio tied for first place, and I was a stroke behind. With practically all of Quebec on the right-hand side of that barn. I had to knock a ball out of sight! And, incidentally, I was thirty-three then; I was no boy at this game.
Time has taught me to play a conservative game and an accident I had in 1956 underlined the iesson. Fifteen months after I’d started the U. S. tour I took a short holiday at' home to rest and do some work around the house. While 1 was fixing some shingles 1 fell fifteen feet off the roof and broke three bones in my right foot. I was in a cast for six weeks and when I got back to swinging 1 had to lean more on my left foot. I discovered my drives were much more consistent with a shorter backswing; instead of a hard-to-control hook, they had a tendency to fade slightly and drop like a feather on the fairway.
The $9,000 accident
1 rarely thrill the galleries with long tee shots as I once did. 1 use a shorter swing and try to put the ball in a good position for the second shot, just as a billiards player always thinks of the next shot while he’s executing this one. A golfer learns that it pays off on the scoreboard to sacrifice distance for accuracy. In my forties I think enthusiasm is just great—-but I'll take experience.
If I were to come up to that barn-hole at Beaconsfield again today I’d lay the ball well to the right and in position for a routine approach shot. That is, I’d do it if the circumstances were the same as they were in 1948 when I had a strong chance to win by playing safe. Obviously, if I were a couple of strokes behind the leader I'd shake the ants out of my stance and fire away. The experienced golfer learns when to gamble. He says to himself after assessing the situation: “What will this gamble do for me if it comes off? What’ll it cost if it doesn’t?”
But no matter how carefully you play, sometimes the breaks will go against you and cost you money. One break cost me nine thousand dollars in the Masters' tournament at Augusta last spring, as I mentioned earlier. Next to the U. S. Open, the Masters is the top prestige tournament in the country, an annual gathering of the world's best golfers which this year came in the wake of Georgia floods.
The first day of the tournament was played under USGA rules, meaning that the ball cannot be touched by the hands, and that even imbedded balls must be played as they lie. On the twelfth hole, a short par three across a river which had flooded and then subsided, I hit a seveniron shot. The ball plugged into the soft apion of the green. When I came up to it, about a quarter of it was visible. 1 hit it with a wedge onto the green where it plopped, covered with mud and about the size of a tennis ball. From there 1 took three putts to get down, for a double-bogey five.
After that round, the tournament committee ruled that USGA wet-weather rules would prevail, allowing plugged balls to be cleaned and dropped and the ball to be cleaned on the green. On the third round of the tournament Arnold Palmer came to that same twelfth hole on the rain-sodden course and his tee shot struck a bank and became imbedded in the soft earth. He claimed he was entitled to lift the ball. People with him were a little hazy on the ruling and told him he couldn’t. So he played out, and got a five. Then he went back to the spot, dropped a provisional ball, and got a paT three. The rules committee made an on-the-spot ruling. The par three counted.
You can guess what happened. Palmer won the tournament’s first-prize money of eleven thousand dollars with a fourround total of 284. Fred Hawkins and Doug Ford were tied for second with 285, and I was tied with Ken Venturi in fourth place with 286. worth two thousand dollars. If my ball had become imbedded on that twelfth hole on any other day except the first day of the tournament. Fd have had a 284. Or if Palmer’s had become imbedded on the first day, he'd have had a 286.
But I'm really in no position to complain; I've had my share of good breaks. When I won my first tournament, the Greensboro Open in 1957, I was tied in the fourth round with the local favorite, big Mike Souchak, who had been a great football player at Duke University in North Carolina. We were playing with Doug Ford in a threesome on that final day and on the thirteenth hole I hit my drive badly and the ball headed for a dense grove of trees on the left. It hit one of the trees with a solid sickening clonk. I expected it to disappear into the forest and take my hopes of victory with it. But instead, it bounded out onto the middle of the fairway. I got my par and went on to win the tournament.
I think everybody who wins needs a few lucky breaks in addition to good play. Ken Venturi won the Phoenix Open this year with the aid of the most remarkable break I ever heard of. The fifteenth at Phoenix is a par three over a lake——it's about a five-iron shot. There are a lot of ornamental orange trees at Phoenix, some of them bordering the lake. In the lake itself are a lot of floating oranges, put there to provide decoration.
Venturi hit a five-iron shot off the tee and he caught it fat, lifting it high and short. But instead of splashing into the lake the ball hit an orange with a dull thud, hopped ofT onto the bank and skittered up to the fringe of the green. He got his par three.
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And then on the 72nd hole Venturi's second shot was heading for some bunkers on the left. But the ball hit a rake lying in front of the bunkers, rolled along the handle and stopped at the edge of the green. He was down in two from there for a birdie four. The most ironic part of the whole incident was that the lake had been left there by Jay Hebert's a !dy. Hebert had gone into the trap. blasted out, and got a par five. After his caddy cleaned up the bunker he tossed the rake down in front of it. Hebert lost the tournament by one stroke — to Venturi.
As I say, you’ve got to be lucky every now and then to win, but you also have to have a very sound game and, I think most important of all, a positive psychological approach. Suppose you get three lucky breaks in a tournament—there are still approximately two hundred and seventy other shots that have to be made, and you’ve got to figure that you can make every one of them. Confidence in your own game is vital.
When I’ve got a tough shot to make I say to myself, over and over, "I can do it. I can do it. I can make this shot.” I go up to my ball, take half a minute of complete concentration while I figure out what club I want, how I’m going to make the shot, where I want it to land. Then I address the ball, and I draw a mental picture of its flight. The swing is automatic. I never think, “Now I’ve got to keep my left arm straight. I must keep my backswing slow. I mustn’t lift my head.” You can’t play good golf if you’re worrying about the technical aspects of your swing. This is why the weekend golfer rarely breaks ninety; while he’s concentrating on doing one thing right, he’s probably doing two other things wrong. And the chances are he’s concentrating on the wrong thing, anyway.
It’s on the practice field that a golfer’s swing becomes as reflexive as a pianist’s ability to pick out Middle C without winding up his thought processes, and I guess I had mine by the time I was nineteen.
By then my golf was pretty strong. I won the B. C. Amateur twice, was named on the B. C. Willingdon Cup team five times, and got to the finals of the Canadian Amateur in 1935 where I lost to Sandy Somerville at the thirty-seventh hole. I won my share of tournaments— the Canadian Professional Golfers Association championship six times, the B. C. Open four times, the Daily Province match-play tournament five times, the Alberta Open eight times, the North West Open once, and I was the low Canadian six times in the Canadian Open.
But, as I said earlier, every time I tangled with the top American pros I was never satisfied that I had given this game a true effort. I don’t think I really became convinced that I belonged in their company until that Tournament of Champions victory at Las Vegas last April.
By the time a seasoned pro named Bill Casper and I reached the seventeenth tee on the final round of that tournament, no one else had a chance to beat us. For the last two holes, it was strictly man to man, and we were tied. He drove first on a lake-dotted hole which required the tee shot to travel far enough in the air to clear one lake on the right, but not roll so far as to catch another lake farther up on the left. Casper tried to play safe with a two-iron off the tee, but he hit the ball a trifle fat and hit the first lake. That cost him a penalty shot so that when he hit again he was three off the tee. And that shot caught the lake on the left!
If I’d shot first I’d have used a twoiron, too, but when I saw what happened to Bill I lofted a three-wood safely between the lakes. He dropped a ball by the second lake, taking another penalty, and then he played a beautiful shot to the green where he was lying five. I was lying one in the middle of the fairway, and the thought suddenly struck me, “My God, I can win it all!”
I played that second shot to the green because on any shot that’s a long shot there’s not much tension and it’s easier to relax on a fuller swing. The ball stopped a good twenty feet inside his, but he holed a tremendous thirty-foot putt for a six. I got down in two putts for a four and wasn’t the least bit nervous going to the eighteenth — and last — tee with a two-stroke lead.
The eighteenth is a very narrow fairway with a lake on the right and it was lined on the left by thousands of people. This was where I showed I’d learned my lesson that time at Beaconsfield when I hit the barn: I carefully thought out my tactics. Knowing that all of those people couldn’t possibly get out of the way, I deliberately aimed toward the edge of them because the green was easier to approach from the left and that lake was dangerous. As I’d figured, the ball bounced off two or three spectators and fell in fine position at the edge of the fairway. I hit a very easy seven-iron shot to the green, but it just went over and I had to chip back with my third shot, and lay about twelve feet from the pin.
Who ÍS it? on page 46
Mme. Thérèse Casgrain, the leader of the CCF' party in Quebec, who is credited by the Canadian Who’s Who with having won, almost single-handed, the right for Quebec women to vote.
Meanwhile, Bill hit his drive right
down the middle, played his second to the green and had a twenty-five-foot putt. It crept into my mind that he might sink this long one, as he'd done on the seventeenth green, and if he did I’d have to sink my twelve-footer to win. He had to go over a hump in the green and play the roll down from there, and I must say he made a magnificent try. He stopped inches short and was down in four. Now all I needed were two putts from twelve feet for the five that would beat him by one shot, since I had a two - stroke cushion.
The green was completely surrounded with people piled ten deep, and over by the scoreboard nearby were piled ten thousand silver dollars waiting for the champion to collect them.
Suddenly, and at long last, I was overcome with nerves and tension. I knew I just had to put my twelve-footer close, and then sink the short one to win, but as I addressed the ball I simply couldn't pull my putter back to stroke the ball. I straightened up from stance and walked away from the putt.
“I can do this,” I said to myself. “I know I can do it. But what if I ... no, no, no! I can do it.”
I did, too., I went back to that ball and rolled it to within a foot of the cup. Then I tapped it in. Then I took another look at that pile of ten thousand silver dollars. They were all mine, ic