Herbert Warren Wind continues with the correspondence of Harry Sprague, that barely fictional and extremely ebullient young golf pro. In this second series of letters to his sponsor, Harry tells how he almost won at Pensacola, and what he said to Bob Jones at Augusta
St. Petersburg, Florida
March 18, 1959
Mr. Amos A. Tabor
Old Denmark Hotel
St. Croix, Virgin Islands
Dear Mr. Tabor,
Well, here I am back at the old stand, giving out dictation again, which your boy can afford to do again after my big week in the Pensacola Open. The steno is going to send this letter to the foreign address you wrote you are staying at. I could make some cracks about that address, Mr. Tabor, but you are my sponsor so I guess you know what you are doing, if you don't mind my saying so.
That tie for second at Pensacola was worth over 1,000 bucks which is the most money old Harry Sprague has ever owned at one time in my life. Of course, you can say that I ought to be humiliated with myself for blowing a two (2) stroke lead on the last round, but tying for second place in any of these tournaments is no disgrace. Am I right? Thanks for your congratulations on that telegram. I received four (4) other telegrams, including one (1) from a golf ball manufacturing company offering me a contract to sign up with and another one (1) from my girl friend from Phoenix, Helene Dahlborg. Helene said she was thrilled which I was glad to hear, since when a friendly blonde who owns a private patio still remembers a guy two (2) months later, that ain't bad at all.
May 24, 1959
I have just got sort of a funny smile from the steno who is taking my dictation here after dictating her that last sentence. Miss Ada Braxton is her name and she is so young compared to local St. Pete standards you would expect to find her living in some live place like Clearwater. There are certainly a lot of veteran people here in this city. I am staying with Vickary and Grissom at a motel on the beach called The Fountain of Youth Motel, and all I can say is that no one there has apparently sat down at that fountain and ordered a drink for a very very long time. There is one woman there who is maybe sixty-one (61), sixty-two (62), and you never saw anyone queen it around like she does, and she gets away with it since she is like a Mann Act case compared with the other members of the feminine sex at the motel. They play cards or they shuffle around playing shuffle board most of the time, which I will try once the tournament is over seeing as how I don't want to risk losing my groove now that I have finally latched on to it.
I had expected you would be coming up to St. Pete and I could give you a blow by blow in person about how I blew the tournament at Pensacola, but as you're not coming up, I will tell you all about it now. As you know, I was sixty-seven (67), sixty-eight (68), sixty-seven (67) on my first three (3) rounds which gave me a three (3) stroke lead on the field. Now the funny thing is that I wasn't hitting the ball really good. I was not flying it a mile off the tee. I wasn't throwing it next to the pins on my approaches, and I wasn't sinking too many long ones. "Why are you suddenly scoring so well?" I asked myself one night. Well, all I could figure out was that I just wasn't hitting any real bad shots and when I hit a real good shot I cashed in on it. It's all very puzzling because I have hit the ball much sharper on many rounds when I was seventy-two (72), seventy-three (73).
"Jim, I guess perhaps the secret is I am getting meaner," I said to Jim Turnesa after the presentation ceremonies at Pensacola. "No, Harry," Jim says. "You are not getting meaner, you are just getting smarter. You act like you've been going to night school." You see, Mr. Tabor, no one knows why all of a sudden a guy starts scoring, except that this week all my old buddies keep ribbing me when they see me. "Hey, here comes a real putter," they say, like I couldn't hit any other shot in the bag. It's just like I told you.
But my old buddies were terrific last week when I needed them. Howie Johnson drove me out to the club to play the last round. Howie said there are cases on record where driving a car has hurt a hot golfer's game, because he is keyed up with extra adrenalin shots. Or something like that. Anyhow, he starts gripping the steering wheel too tight and then later on he grips his clubs too tight and loses it. Howie tried to relax me by talking about everything in the world but golf, which was very considerate of him and also of the other fellows who all wanted to see me hang in there. Al Besselink for example, asked me if I wanted to borrow his one (1) iron. "Where will I get a chance to use a one (1) iron on this track?" I said to Bessy. "You got to be prepared for any emergency, son," Bessy said. "If that is the case, Bessy," I said to him, "what I should borrow is your address book." That is a famous book which is almost as thick as the golf rule book but is much more interesting to read, if you follow me. When I said to Bessy I wanted to borrow it, it showed him how loose I was.
But I wasn't loose at all out there and I must have looked it. I was playing with Al Mengert and Bob Goalby, and when I started the last nine (9), Al's father, Pop Mengert, who is following the tour, asked me on the twelfth (12th) hole if I wanted him to run across the street to the drug store and get me some tranquilizer pills. This was very nice of Pop, but what I needed was a set of Hogan's nerves and since they don't sell them at a drug store there was no need for anyone to make a trip. Anyhow, on the last nine (9), as you read in the papers, I went par, boge, par, par, boge, par, boge, boge, boge. I got so tight off the tee I was blocking everything out and I was so weak on my approaches from the rough I was having to get down in two (2) from sixty (60) or seventy (70) feet and your boy just didn't have it, which is the frank side of it. I threw away a stroke here and a stroke there and I was lucky I didn't throw away any more. I am not trying to be modest, but I can see where I have got to learn seasoning before I can be a winner, because you have got to have first-class management and no one was keeping the store for me at Pensacola.
I mentioned this in my speech at the presentation ceremonies which got me a big hand. I wasn't Bob Hope out there at the mike but I kept my head and remembered to thank the greenskeeper. I also said I was ready to challenge Sam Snead on All-Star Golf, because I had detected a loop in his back swing and wanted to get at old Sam before he got well again. You got to be light like this when you talk into a mike, so if you ever have to address anybody at a convention, Mr. Tabor, take this tip from me and be sure to yak it up like a real pro.
Ass't Pro, Otter Lake, C.C.
April 5 1959
Mr. Amos A Tabor
Red Snapper Isles
Dear Mr Tabor
I see by your stationairy that you are back in your house in Florida. So you were looking over a piece of land in that Carribbene iland for building a new golf course eh? Yes sir the royal and ainshun game is pushing out all over and I would describe to you more about this exsept as you see I am writing this in my own writing down in Augusta and want to make this short and sweet because I am still tired from walking the course this afternoon on the finishing round which is much harder to do when you are not playing.
I asked around here all week if there were any stenos avaleble but nothing doing. You have got to exspect things like this in Georgia which is sort of an indivijil state. Everybody in Georgia knows we circiut pros are in the state for only one week of the year for the Masters but everyone acts like you were a native living in the next towns ship all year round. For a sample if you are driving up from Florida and you fill up on gas at a little chillydipping station 20 miles from nowhere in a swamp still the attendent says to you "Hurry on back you all." For another sample I just payed my motel bill a few minutes ago cause we push off for Greensboro early tomorrow. I reserved a room here for next year thinking I might get into the Masters and housing conditions here is a real problem. "Okay Mr. Sprague" the clerk says. "We have your reservation for next April. Now hurry on back you hear?" Well I suppose you shouldent knock people for going after business.
This reminds me Mr. Tabor I hope you are thinking about namely making me a head pro at Otter Lake along with Mercer Tolly. I don't want Mercers job you know that but what would be wrong if we were co-pros—just like two players who are tied for the top are co-leaders or two girls who go to the same college are co-eds. I know I took the gas at Pensacola but Jim Gaquin the press fellow with the PGA who keeps all the satisticks tells me I am the first asst pro from a Mich club to win more than $1,000 in a turnament played in a state with a port on the gulf of Mesico—so maybe he has a point there and I am ready to move up to co-pro at Otter Lake.
My tie for second at Pensacola sure boosted my stork. Two club manafactures and one ball manafacture approached me here at Augusta about going on there junior advise staffs. I told them thanks but it was my policy to talk with you before doing anything evolving finances and money matters. With golf pushing out all over I was wondring why you and I maybe couldent start being ball manafactures ourselfs. Parently all you need is a new kind of liqwid center to put the ball acrosst and there are lots of liqwids that might be tree-mendous and have never been tried out—like Lestoil. Give this some of your best thought Mr. Tabor.
My two old buddies Pete Grissom and Albie Vickary and me have been staying together at a new motel outside Augusta called Joel Chandler Harris Motor Court which the broshure says is named after a suthin (spelling?) fellow who wrote about anamils. Pete got in the Masters cause he was a quarter finallist in the PGA at Philly last summer so Albie and I walked around with him to keep him company since either of us wasnt playing. On the second day when Pete was paired with Billy Joe Patton Bob Jones came over to watch them a while and we had a little talk together. "Harry we are looking forward to seeing you play in this tourney very soon" Bob says to me. "Everyone tells me you are one of the most impruved golfers on the tour. How do you think the course is playing?" Bob Jones has one of those thick suthin acsense you couldent cut with a wedge and he speaks so slow in a drawl it gives you plenty of time to think of an answer. "Bob" I told him "Im out here studdying the course right now cause I intend to play here next year. Thats why Im writing notes in this here notebook now. I am not out here just counting the zailyers and the other pretty flowers tho I like agraculture as well as anyone." Bob got a great kick out of that and we would have talked more exsept that just then Patton hit a shot out of some woods and we all had to rush to take cover cause it came smoking out of those zailyer bushes hooking right for us. This Billy Joe can really play but you got to be on your toes all the time when you are watching him cause you think hes going to play a safety shot out of the jungle like a sane man and boom hes banging right for the stick. He isnt near as wild as they tell you but every so often he hits the longest hooks or slices you have ever seen and disperes into parts of the forest no man has probly ever been to before. I would not be surprised if one day after one of these trips of his into the jungle he is going to come back to the fairway leading Dorthy Lamour by the hand. Get it?
Well you saw the terrific finish Art Wall put on on TV this afternoon so theres no need me telling you about it. "What did he do right that I didnt do at Pensacola?" I asked myself. "Simple Harry" I answered. "He kept releesing it." So thats what Im going to continue to work on cause I am not out here for laughs but to make myself a golfer of top calabruh—t-o-p-s.
Ass't Pro, Otter Lake C.C.
P.S. And if Lestoil doesent make a good liqwid center how about one of those marteenees you mix. They sure send you and Mrs. Tabor flying so they ouhgt to be good for plenty of distance.
Fort Worth, Texas
April 28, 1959
Mr. Amos A. Tabor
Otter Lake Country Club
Otter Lake, Michigan
Dear Mr. Tabor,
Miss Connie Stallman who is taking this dictation here in Fort Worth, where your boy was invited to play in the Colonial, tells me she has been a resident of the city since the McKinley administration. I thought she was joking since she looks so young, but apparently we had a president by the name of McKinley. Well, I told her, McKinley is one Scotch fellow who came over to this country who wasn't a golf pro, so no wonder some of us have never heard of him. It figures.
This is a funny place, Fort Worth. Everybody here is supposed to be rich but downtown it doesn't look much different than Micawba, Mass., except that there is more of Fort Worth, which is natural, I guess, because it is a bigger city. I was thinking of buying one of those ten-gallon hats like a lot of the native people here wear, but Lucy Ann Umpey wouldn't let me because she said what is the point of going out with a golf pro if he doesn't look like one, which makes sense when you think about it. This Lucy Ann is a terrific-looking redhead whom I met at a party they threw at somebody's estate on the skirts of the city for us players. She is a sort of a mixed up young girl, cause she is attending a college in the East called Serralawns which her father wants her to do but she is taking courses in psychology which he is against since he says it is hard enough to just live with people when you don't understand them.
Lucy Ann was telling me all this last night when we drove over to her estate after the party for three or four nightcaps. Her old man has one of those layouts you see only in magazines about Texas. They even got electric carts to take you around Mr. Umpey's private putting green. This golf profession is certainly an education, I told Lucy Ann. No where else could a fellow get a chance to meet such a cross-section of rich people. I leveled with her and told her I was still corresponding with Helene and was thinking of getting engaged maybe next winter when the tour moves through Phoenix again, if we find we are still hitting it off. I also told her that you told me to lay off the dames and too much social life, but she said, "Our relationship is not social. I am writing my paper this semester on the decay of American family life and you are simply helping me." Anyhow Lucy Ann insisted on doing my laundry for me and getting my clothes pressed up for the tournament, and today she is going to pick me up in her Bentley auto as soon as I finish dictating this letter.
This Colonial Open starts tomorrow and already the officials like Mr. Umpey are running around in their Scotch blazers and talking about pin positions and repairing ball marks. My game is pretty sharp and I had better watch out for myself, since they are proud of their local golfers like Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson here and would like to see them win, and if not them, some other Texas boy. So I will not be shooting to win but just to get in the money. This may be hard, keeping from moving out in front, cause the track is tight and long and it favors precision players like Ben and me. I may have to three-putt a few greens, I guess.
I see by your stationery that you are back again at Otter Lake and getting things ready for the new season. I will be heading up to join you just as soon as this tournament is over and I pick up my prize money check. I really appreciate your upping me from assistant pro to playing pro, and seeing this in real letters on the new Otter Lake stationery is one of the greatest kicks I've ever had since I led the Micawba High basketball team to that victory over Whitman in the overtime and won that game with that hook shot from the corner the coach said afterwards that I shouldn't have taken but was glad I did. I will let the rest go until I see you next week because Lucy Ann is outside in her Bentley auto waiting for me with my laundry, and she is honking that horn so loud you would never think she is attending college in the East. It is lucky I have matured this year, like you say, or else I would probably be getting sore at her.
Yours very truly,
Harry L. Sprague
Playing Professional, Otter Lake C.C.