It is a story quite a few people know. Back in 1912 the caddie force at the Apawamis Club in Rye, N.Y. was swelled by the arrival of two new kids about 10 years old. Caddie badge 98 was given to Edward Sullivan, a pleasant, curly-haired boy who got to the club by walking the three miles down the Boston Post Road from his family's home in Port Chester. Badge 99 went to a stocky, abnormally quiet youngster named Eugene Saraceni, whose folks lived in Harrison and who cut cross-country to the club through open fields and typical Westchester estates. Though not bosom companions, caddies 98 and 99 were good friends. They still are, and in our go-go-go era in which misunderstandings between people crop up like poa annua, it is a source of deep-going pleasure to Ed Sullivan and Gene Sarazen that their affection for each other remains as strong and unforced as it was almost a half century ago when they squatted on the hillside at Apawamis hoping that the caddie master would call them down to lug the bag of one of the club's big spenders—someone who paid a full 50¢ for 18 holes, throwing in a 15¢ tip as if money grew on trees.
Curiously enough, Sullivan and Sarazen began to play their golf on the old nine-hole Beardsley Park course in Bridgeport during World War I. Both were too young for the service. Recuperating on the golf course from an almost fatal case of pneumonia which he had caught while working as a carpenter's helper in a munitions plant, Sarazen quickly demonstarted such an affinity for golf that he got a job in the shop at the Brooklawn Country Club, and from that foot-hold began the dazzling ascent that saw him crowned our National Open champion at 20. As for Sullivan, who worked for a Bridgeport construction company, his hours at Beardsley Park were out-and-out relaxation: he had always wanted to play the game, and now he could. Ed quickly became a very good shotmaker who scored in the 70s, and his golf, despite the ravages of daily journalism, has remained an abiding passion ever since. His rise in his chosen field, by the way, was almost as rapid as Sarazen's in his: he went from reporter for the Port Chester Daily Item to sportswriter at the New York Mail and the old World, and in 1927 became sports editor of the New York Evening Graphic. He became the Broadway columnist for the Graphic in 1929 and began his present Broadway column for the New York News in 1932. In 1948 he started the Sunday evening variety show on television which has now become a national institution.
Since coming of man's estate, the one job outside of journalism and TV which Ed Sullivan has held was in golf. In the mid-'20s, when he was in Florida one winter on a sports assignment, his paper suddenly folded. Through the intercession of Grantland Rice he was appointed sports secretary of the Hotel Ormond, whose golf course was renowned as the habitat of John D. Rockefeller, then in his 80s. A scant matter of inches separated Sullivan from incurring a rather dubious fame on his very first round. "I was playing with Bill Potts, the old Scottish pro," he recalls, "and on the second hole Mr. Rockefeller and his partner, General Adelbert Ames, waved us through. They were standing a couple of hundred yards down the fairway. I hit a vicious low hook that headed right at old Mr. Rockefeller. At the last second, with tomorrow's headlines flashing through my mind, I just couldn't stand to look any longer and covered my eyes with my hands. Then I heard Bill Potts say, 'It's all right, laddie.'
"Mr. Rockefeller had nothing much to say after this close call but a short while later he had occasion to write the new sports secretary a letter. George Fisher Baker, another one of America's wealthiest men, had come over from Sea Island, Ga. for a game with Mr. Rockefeller, and Sullivan sent out the story that Mr. Baker had won their match. "I forget the exact wording of Mr. Rockefeller's note, for I was foolish enough not to save it," Sullivan says. "I think it went something like this: 'It is true that according to match play Mr. Baker beat me but going by medal play I was one shot lower.' "
March 9, 1959
In recent years Ed Sullivan's average score has been around 80. This makes him (along with Perry Como, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope) one of the few celebrity golfers whom it is not torture to watch, but Ed, nevertheless, has been quite unhappy about his game because it used to be so much better. His peak seasons were 1942 and 1943, when he averaged between 70 and 72 strokes a round and hit the ball much better than he ever has since. A man who has an exceptionally thorough knowledge of golf technique, Sullivan, even as you and I, has annually set out each spring to make the changes in his swing which he trusted would enable him to recover his lost form. He has invested his search with such intensity and intellectuality and he has received such a plethora of advice that he has been called "the most overproed golfer in the country." In this connection, the hit of the evening at one get-together of Westchester golfers came when Sullivan was called forward and eight different pros marched up to instruct him simultaneously, one pro assigned to his left foot, a second pro focusing on his hip action, another on his shoulder turn, and so on. This year Ed is even a shade more determined than usual to do something about his golf. "I've got to," he explains. "I've got myself so tied in knots thinking of a hundred and one different things that I've become a bothersomely slow player. Bob Hope once told me when I was shuffling around before a shot, 'Hit it quick before your clothes go out of style.' "
Now, back in the early 1940s when Sullivan was playing in the low 70s, he was not only a fairly rapid player but, by general consent of his fellow members at the Westchester Country Club, one of the longest hitters in the area. On one round, for illustration, on the second hole of the West Course, he rapped out a drive that carried on the fly the brook which cuts the fairway 260 yards from the tee. Now nobody can hit a ball that long unless he is swinging very right. This past winter, on one of those evenings when he was reflectively composing his plans for the coming golf season, Ed began to wonder if it wouldn't be the better part of wisdom to figure out what he was doing differently in those good old days. It all boiled down, he eventually decided, to the fact that there had been little or no tenseness in his swing in 1942 and '43. "The last couple of years particularly," he expounded to a friend not long ago, "the moment I put my hands on the club my muscles begin to tighten up, right then. That ruins you." He paused a solemn moment. "You know what it reminds me of? Joe Louis' description of his fight with Lou Nova. One day when I was playing golf with Joe, I asked him about his fights—which one had been the toughest, which one had been the easiest. The fight with Nova, he said, was the easiest. Nova had talked continuously before the fight about the yoga tactics he was going to use and his other strange plans, and Joe had deduced that only a very nervous man would be talking so much. The night he fought Nova was the first time Joe ever felt sorry for a guy in the ring. Nova was so tense, Joe told me, that he could see his muscles bulging through his skin. He was so taut that when he punched he couldn't have knocked a baby down.... Well, that's the perfect analogy."
In pursuit of avoiding that fatal tension, by early February this year Sullivan had arrived at a few definite points to concentrate on during the coming season. First, he would stop trying to take the club back as slowly and as deliberately as he had the past few years. His friend Ben Toski, the pro at the Cedar Hill Country Club in Livingston, N.J., had expressed the opinion to Ed that it is natural and perfectly correct for some players to take the club back fairly fast. Ed had mulled it over and agreed completely: taking the club back at an artificially slow pace is an excellent way for a golfer to get all his muscles locked tight. Another point, closely allied, that Ed had selected to work on was a lighter grip. Seizing the club too zealously, he was sure, was an ignition switch for general muscular tension and accounted directly for the unhappy fact that last summer he had been losing control of the club at that most critical juncture, the top of the backswing.
Having advanced this far, one morning a week or so ago when there was a fleeting hint of spring in the air, Sullivan picked up his telephone and called his old friend and tutor, Lou Costello, the pro at the Westchester Country Club. The core of their conversation went like this:
Sullivan: "Now, Lulu, I'm glad you haven't forgotten how I was hitting the ball back in 1942. Can you remember what I was doing different then?"
Costello: "You were doing a lot of things different. Mainly, you were swinging with a freer wrist action. That's what gave you that terrific clubhead speed."
Sullivan: "Let's take it another step farther. Why was I getting this freer wrist action?"
Costello: "Ed, you were much more relaxed. You can't be as tense as you've been over the ball recently and expect your golf muscles to function. You've got a real good swing, but sometimes when I've watched you, by the time you've taken the club halfway back, your arms and your shoulders are as tight as a drum and even your back is rigid. Then you've got to go wrong."
Sullivan: "This is exactly what I want to know. Now what if I grip the club with less pressure this year?"
Costello: "You ought to."
Sullivan: "Will that help me to make a freer turn? That's where I've been suffering."
Costello: "Anything that cuts down your tension, Ed, is bound to help you make a freer turn."
Sullivan: "And it would follow, wouldn't it, that if I make a good turn going back I'll then be in a position to come into the ball right and really cut it loose?"
Costello: "Absolutely. That's what we should work on this year."
Sullivan: "Now just one more thing. Back in '42 and '43 I used to practice a lot more. Did that help me to keep muscularly relaxed when I went out and played?"
Costello: "Regular practice helps tremendously. Then when you go out to play you know you're going to hit the ball pretty good anyway, and that gives you confidence in your swing. You can go at it easy then. It's the same way with entertainers, isn't it? If a comic has been off the stage for some time, he'll be unsure of himself. He'll press. He won't wait for his laughs. Am I right?"
Sullivan: "Lulu, you were never righter. This talk is just what I needed. Well, maybe this will be the year."
Sullivan had made this phone call at the desk in the sitting room in his suite at the Delmonico Hotel, which he sometimes uses as an office. When an aide walked into the room a few minutes later, he found his boss delicately swinging a driver so that the clubhead just edged above a low-slung table on the backswing and slipped serenely through a narrow corridor between an armchair and the desk on the follow-through.
"Did you know," Sullivan told the nonplused aide, "that Sam Snead has a longer reach than Sugar Ray even though Robinson is the same height? Sam's arms are unusually long. That's why he's able to get that tremendous arc and still stay down over the ball."
The aide stepped back into the doorway as Sullivan began to pour a little more power into a new series of practice swings. As he took the club back on his fifth swing, the clubhead contacted the tops of some red roses in a vase on the low table behind him, and the petals floated down and littered the carpet like a Billy Rose snowstorm.
"Ed, you're not forgetting those phone calls you've got to make?" the aide ventured from the doorway.
"No," said Sullivan. "Now on that last swing I was freer and that's why I got that wider arc. That's what I'm going to work on this year."