Herbert Warren Wind discovers the irrepressible (and only slightly fictional) Harry Sprague again on the winter tour. As he continues the correspondence he began last year, Sprague—in the first of two installments—tells his new sponsor how things are going
Jan. 19, 1959
Mr. Amos A. Tabor
Red Snapper Isles, Florida
Dear Mr. Tabor:
I am dictating this letter to you as per our understanding we agreed last fall on before we closed up the old Otter Lake course for the season. That is, as we pros on the circuit make the winter tour, I will make sure to latch on to a stenographer from time to time and dictate you some reports on how the assistant pro at your club is making out. This is the least I can do for a guy like you, Mr. Tabor, who has done so much for me already. When I think it was only a year ago I came out here to the West Coast practically a complete unknown with a jerkwater sponsor, Walt Parmenter from my home town, I say to myself, "Harry Sprague, you are a lucky stiff to have as a sponsor a wheel who runs the largest golf resort in Michigan and is still as regular and affected as if he had no dough at all." I am not laying it on thick, Mr. Tabor. I am laying it on thin.
Just to fill you in on the schedule, I am dictating this letter the morning after the finish of the Crosby to a lady with the name of Miss Loretta Welch who should have a picture of Harry Vardon hanging on her wall, if you follow my drift. Miss Welch has her office on Ocean Avenue which is the main drag in Carmel which is a nice little town right next door to Pebble. There are a lot of artists in this here town of Carmel so earlier in the week I brought in the big new golf bag I just picked up and had some guy print on it in big red and gold letters: Harry Sprague, Otter Lake, Michigan, winner of 1957 Micawba Open and 1958 Charlevoix Pro-Am. A lot of the artists in this town don't sell many pictures, Miss Welch tells me, and that is why some of them run haberdashery stores. I moseyed into a couple of them earlier this morning looking for some sportshirts since my supply is running low and I still got a little cabbage from my fine showing in the Tijuana Open last week or so ago. The trouble with these stores is all they stock is Italian clothes from Italy like mohair sweaters. Anyhow, as you know from watching me play and teach at Otter Lake last summer, I am strictly a conservative type dresser. As I was telling Mrs. Bud McKay yesterday, "Just give me a pair of light blue slacks and an alpaca sweater to match and just a plain old yellow or red sportshirt. I am out here to play golf, g-o-l-f, and not to win any dressing contest."
May 17, 1959
Mrs. Bud McKay is the wife of Bud McKay who is a big public relations man in San Francisco who has a house near Cypress where me and Albie Vickary stayed as his guests during the Crosby. His real name is S. Curtis McKay but everyone out here calls him Bud which is a very popular name with businessmen on the West Coast. Bud was my partner in the Pro-Amateur part of the Crosby, and he is a real amateur who no one is ever going to accuse of hustling for dough, since he claims to be a 7-handicap golfer with a straight face but cuts across every ball like Demaret but not so good. He helped me only a total of eleven shots during our four rounds with his handicap strokes and he hurt me about twenty strokes because he thinks he is a whiz at golf technique and kept on coaching me how to play nearly every shot. To get away from him and his kibitzing, I began to pull my drives down the left side on purpose so that after slicing his tee-shot and playing his second he couldn't cross the fairway quick enough to louse me up with his advice before I played my second. The only trouble was that sometimes I got too much draw on my drives trying to keep away from him and had to play my approaches out of the rough which is pretty matty, so I didn't have much stuff on the ball when it landed next to the pins, which is why I finished out of the money. Bud McKay asked me to come back as his partner for the Crosby next year. I guess this is like signing your own debt warrant but I said I would.
I am taking your advice and going easy on the night life and the feminine sex. This isn't easy for there are lots of women in this world who all they got to do is see a golf pro apparently and they would give the brush to Gregory Peck, or almost. As you saw from the papers, I finished tied for fourth at Tijuana, and you would have thought I was running some television show the way all those terrific-looking babes suddenly learn your name and start sticking around and talking like they got no place else to go. Like I was telling Mrs. Bud McKay, who is a terrific looker but more on the Joan Fontaine type and who also has got some brains to match being a veteran society girl from some place called Burlingame, I am steering clear of women this year because I am out here to win tournaments, g-o-l-f tournaments. I am not interested in getting into complicated relations with someone like Marian Haydock. I told you about Marian and how we went up to the Augusta Masters together from St. Pete last year where she ran into that smooth-talking advertising guy from Madison Avenue and later married him before she realized he was driving a rented Jaguar auto.
Bud McKay spent every night during the tournament hitting out practice balls at a driving range so I got to see a lot of Mrs. Bud McKay. To get my mind off the pressure, we would take out her Mercedes at night and go for a spin on the Seventeen Mile Drive. "That is even farther than I hit my drives—seventeen miles," I said to her in a joke one night. "I was afraid you would say that," she said, which is typical of Mrs. Bud McKay. She always has a real comeback. The difference between society women and other women, as I see it, is that they've got the old confidence like good putters.
She tells me I look corny in alpaca and should wear Shetland sweaters which come from Shetland, Ireland, and is going to send me some.
Hope you enjoy yourself in Florida at your house there, Mr. Tabor
Ass't Pro, Otter Lake C.C.
Jan. 31, 1959
Mr. Amos A. Tabor
Red Snapper Isles
Dear Mr. Tabor,
What you said in your letter is true. I barely made the half-way cut at Thunderbird and finished way out of the money—and this week I missed the cut at San Diego by two shots—so maybe you were right when you said I should exchange types of driving with Mr. Bud McKay and let him take his wife out in the car at nite and go out myself to the driving range. I also appreciate that I didn't write enough about golf in my first letter and too much about the social life—and I will take your construction suggestion and get all of the social side out of the way right now and leave nothing but the golf for later.
You know how some of life's darkest moments come just before you get your touch back again, Mr. Tabor? Well, yesterday night I was really way down in the dumps when I pulled into Phoenix after driving straight through from San Diego after not qualifying for the last 36 holes there. This morning I was feeling even dumpier when I drove into the downtown area from the Bleached Bones Motel to look for a steno I could dictate a letter to you to. I've got to smile when I tell you this for Helene is going to be hearing this for the first time herself when she hears it now. Anyhow, after I locate the floor the public steno has her office on in a building in a new town, I always make it a point to open a couple of wrong doors to other offices on that floor—like I was making a mistake. You see, you never know if you'll bump into some really smooth number in one of those offices. Well, to make a long story short, in the first office I stumbled into on purpose this morning, a travel agency, there sits behind a desk sign which says Helene Dahlborg this beautiful blonde with a tan and a light blue dress who is a friendly blonde. No guy needs two stenos so here am I after some arrangements six hours later sitting in Helene Dahlborg's patio which goes with her apartment. I am dictating this letter to her and sitting back in my wicked chair and enjoying life—which never hurt anyone's golf since you have got to be relaxed.
I took a quick look today at the Arizona Country Club where we will be playing the Phoenix Open and the greens looked awfully erratic—which I was glad to see. This means no guy is going to putt himself in while the fellows who are really hitting it are losing ground because they are missing four-footers while the hot putters are sinking everything, even from off the greens. I was paired with Bob Rosburg one round at San Diego and I'll swear he only hit three greens and still broke 70. "Bob," I said to him, "you are last year's winner of the Vardon trophy for low average. You are the best wedge player I have ever seen and you can certainly putt. You deserve some trophy for scrambling but anything but a trophy named after Harry Vardon who I hear was as smooth as Snead and never missed a green hardly ever."
"Harry," Bob says, moving his head up and down, you know how he does, "you are not the only fellow who's told me that. I can imagine Vardon would turn over in his grave if he saw my swing. Nevertheless, it's the best I can do and you fellows know yourselves that putting has always been part of golf and always will be, or else I would be in bad shape."
Of course Bob is not all wrong. I was thinking the whole business of scoring over on the drive between San Diego and Phoenix—and what it comes down to is this. If a pro who is winning some big prize money is a good putter, all the other pros who are in a scoring slump insinuate he can do nothing but putt. They also insinuate they hit the ball much solider than he does and if they putted even fair they would be around in nothing flat. So what happens? When they go off on a scoring streak themselves, do they ever get burned up when everyone else insinuates all they can do is putt—which everybody does. This is pretty evolved what with all these insinuations, Mr. Tabor, but it all boils down to this kettle of fish: You can't score without putting but you also have got to hit a lot of real golf shots out there. Am I right?
Now you take Art Wall who is playing like Gangbusters this year. Course he can putt but what they never tell you is Art is as strong an iron-player as there is on the tour. Lots of finesse too. And he can concentrate. He is an unusual pro, Art Wall—for a quiet guy he talks quite a bit but you somehow think of him as a quiet guy because when he isn't talking he looks like he has no intention to. He and Doug Ford came over to me on the practice green at Thunderbird and asked me if I would mind if they made a construction suggestion about my right hand position—the thumb should be more on top of the shaft. Well, that was very nice of them because before I had practically been chilly-dipping my putts. I have been putting better since then but my stroke is still a little pushy so I am going to switch over to a heavier Bullseye here in Phoenix and stick some of that lead tape on back to give it extra weight—which a few of my pro colleagues are doing.
Helene just said to me that I am more of a philosopher than she suspected me to be about golf. I just told her that if a guy is sitting with a friendly-type blonde on her patio at sunset time and she has just fixed him a couple of Diaquerees and he still doesn't feel like a philosopher, then, man, he's never going to feel like a philosopher. Am I right?
Your boy is ready to make his move. Watch me go now.
Ass't Pro, Otter Lake C.C.
March 4, 1949
Mr. Amos A Tabor
Red Snapper Isles
Dear Mr. Tabor
You will see right off the real that I am writing this letter myself and not dictateng it to a steno. I will explain. It is 5 weeks now since your boy has won any prize money to speak of for the little dribbel I picked up at Tuscon is nothing a vetran pro ought to mention. So I am acorno-mizing and cutting down on my expenses because like I told Helene Dahlborg a man has got to live within his income specially when you havent any.
That is why as you can see from the printing at the top of this letter I am staying at the Sur-le-Bayou Motelle here in Baton Rouge. Its cheaper than the other motels because the props speak only French but everything is okay since the Hebert boys speak French too and they came over and set things up. French is very easy to speak. All you have to say is "sar var" the same way you would say okay and you are speaking French.
I aprecciate (spelling?) your letter to me at Tuscon in which you said my letter from Pheonix showed me with a new matturity. However your boy hasnt been feeling matture at all since I left Pheonix and I certainly havent been playing matture golf. Ive been playing like an old man. On the tour this year all my coleague pros are talking about releesing thru the ball. This is the big topic this year—releesing. And that is what I am not doing they tell me and why I am not hitting it and getting outdrivven by coleague pros like Arnold Palmer and Paul Harney and Mike Souchak who I can usully outhit 5 to 10 yards without taking my full turn when I am on my game. I have notised that a lot of the fellows are going back to there old drivers and I guess Snead is still using that old relick he found in the hills of W. Virginia and getting good results. So I sent back to Walt Parmenter and asked him to dig up the old tellerscope shaft driver I left at the driving range and mail it out. It would be just like that jerkwater operator to bill me for storitch but I am getting desprit and reaching (spelling?) for any straw that might break the camels back.
Jim Turnesa says that is not my trouble. 'You are releesing okay Harry" Jim told me at San Antone "but you do not have the right tempermint." I asked Jim who is even more of a vetran than me since he is the oldest of 7 brothers who are all pros except Willy what he ment excactly. "You have got to be mean to win out here Harry" is what Jim said. "Pro golfers are awfully good sportsmen and there are few amachures who are as honestly considret to each other as the pros are even if it has got to be dog eat dog in a pro golf turnament. Still Harry you got to be mean which means consentrating on your own game and forgetting about everyone else but yourself since this is what all top golfers have done since time in memoriam." So beginning tomorrow I am going to start getting mean and I am going to have to stop giving instruction tips to the fellows I am paired with or else charge them for a playing lesson.
You asked me to explain what the word chillydipper means which I used in my last letter. Its just one of those slang terms which my coleague pros are using on the tour this winter. When you have got a little wedge flick from off the edge and insted of hitting the ball up close you only nudge it a few feet or even just lay the sod over it—thats a chillydipper. Dont ask me how the slang started. I asked Jim Ferree and he said he dident know for sure but he thouhgt it might be like compairing the stroke to the way a fellow at a restrunt dips a spoon into a bowl of chilly. There are a batch of other new terms this year which the boys who like fancy lingo are going in for. For a sample if you hook or slice a drive deep into the woods and dont have any shot at all at the green you say "I put it in jail." Also if you have hit a big drive and as you walk down the fairway you see that your playing partners have outdrove you because there ball landed on a hard piece of ground and yours dident—you yell over "Hey what compreshun ball are you using." Another piece of lingo you hear is pros saying "This is a good driving course." All it really means is that they are driving good.
As soon as we begin to hit some real tracks with a lair of grass on them your boy will snap out of his slump like Gene Littler. Even tho you may think so these days when I am picking up so little change you are not backing a lemon in me Mr. Tabor. Like Julius Boros told me "Harry you got to be patient. Its just a matter of time before you will break thru. You are releesing it as good as anybody." Like I told Julius. "Julius if Hogan had to wait 15 years before winning the Open I guess even a natural athalete like me has to wait a couple of years huh?"
Ass't Pro, Otter Lake C.C.
P.S. Theres a lot of phycollegey (spelling?) in golf as you know Mr. Tabor. My old pal Albie Vickary was promoted to head pro at his club and since then he has been winning big chunks of prize money. Just a construction suggestion but has the idea of upping me to head pro at Otter Lake ever crost your mind?
Harry Sprague gets in the money at Pensacola, attends the Masters and has some more construction ideas.