'I'm going to keep the money and give away Gary'

Dave Marr was always witty and charming, but he was also unknown. Now, since his PGA win, little Dave is going over big
September 05, 1965

It might even be that Dave Marr, the recently ordained champion of The Professional Golfers' Association of America, could develop into a new kind of American folk hero. A fine thing it would be, too. Marr is a man who enjoys a good glass of whiskey when nighttime comes, is not averse to a second one, and will wrestle any man in the house to get the check when it arrives. At 5 feet 9 and 155 pounds, he spends practically no time at all worrying about his muscles, and he eats only the food that tastes good. Although he never got past the second year of college, Marr reads more books in a week than lots of athletes do in a year—or a lifetime. Finally, he is a fast man with a quip and he relishes pinking the stuffed shirts of golf's officialdom.

All of these admirable qualities went relatively unnoticed during Marr's first 10 years or so as a pro golfer. He made a decent living and won a few tournaments—the Sam Snead Festival and the Seattle and Azalea Opens—but you had to be one of the cognoscenti to appreciate the full flavor of Dave Marr. The public didn't get a chance until the 1964 Masters, the first big tournament in which Dave was ever close to the top.

Standing on the tee of the final hole, Marr needed a birdie to tie Jack Nicklaus for second and was six strokes behind Arnold Palmer, who was about to win. Like everyone else, Palmer was delighted to see Dave doing so well. "What can I do to help you?" Palmer asked as they were about to hit their drives.

"Make a 12," replied Marr.

As it turned out, Marr sank a 25-foot, curling putt for the birdie, and for practically the first time all those millions of people watching television noticed Marr's boyish face and wide Irish grin. The fellows who make golf things noticed, too. Pretty soon, Marr was earning as much from endorsements as he was on the golf course. Eventually, he won $37,142.38 last year, but he never finished first. Frank Gifford, the former New York Giant football star and one of Marr's closest friends, started calling him "Ronnie Runner-up."

By this time Marr's colleagues on the tour had saluted his blend of intelligence and charm by electing him to a two-year term on their tournament committee. Through his second year, Marr served as committee chairman. As such, he had to spend most of his spare time doing paper work, cosigning checks, talking on the telephone and otherwise supervising the day-to-day problems of tournament golf. Under Marr's chairmanship the tournament committee put the finishing touches on several innovations that the players had wanted for some time—things like a 13-week TV package that brought in an extra $600,000 in prize money, a school for rookie pros and a four-ball, team-match tournament during the slack season in December.

Every now and then Marr would become exasperated with the plodding ways of the PGA's entrenched hierarchy, and his sharp tongue would inflict a few slash wounds. On one occasion he referred to a PGA official as "either an overpaid clerk or an underpaid executive." When his term as chairman came to an end last month, Marr spoke out publicly about some of the exasperations he had encountered (SI, August 9), and the PGA went into a foot-stamping fury that even included talk about suspending him. Marr's reply was to win the association's championship a week later. The smiles on the faces of the PGA executives as they presented him the huge Rodman Wanamaker Trophy were a bit strained, but Marr looked as if he had just put away a canary casserole.

At this same ceremony Arnold Palmer, who tied for a lowly 33rd in the tournament, was given one of the pink jackets worn by the members of the host Laurel Valley Golf Club and was baptized as an honorary member. When it came time for Marr to speak he turned to Palmer and said with a grin, "Now that you've got a member's coat, you're beginning to play like one."

Professional sport has gotten to be such a solemn business in recent years that athletes are not supposed to talk that way in public. Marr can't help it. He admires Palmer deeply, but likes to needle him, too, for Arnold takes life very literally. Last year, after Palmer announced he was going into the laundry business in New York, Marr said to him, "If any golf pro is going to do my laundry, it is going to be Chen Ching-Po."

Golf was a logical sport for David Francis Marr Jr. to take up as a boy. His father was a club pro in Houston, and Dave was too small to be very good at other games. His football career, for example, ended at the age of 12, when a kick in the face left him with a scar on his left eyebrow. "I broke up a bridge party at home when I walked in with that," he recalls.

The senior Marr introduced Dave to golf gradually, and gave him the foundation for one of the few classic swings still to be found among the tournament players. "I have a picture at home," Dave says, "showing me hitting a golf ball when I was 12 or 13, and the swing looks about the same as it does now. I'm still making the same mistakes."

When Dave was 14 and the Marr family had just moved back to Houston from Beaumont, Dave Marr Sr. died suddenly. That left Mrs. Marr with four children to support, of whom Dave was the eldest. He continued at St. Thomas parochial high school, but he also went to work for Robie Williams, an old friend of the Marrs, who was the pro at Memorial Park municipal golf course. Dave did all the odd jobs there are around a pro shop, including sweeping out at night. Williams kept Dave in clubs and balls, and saw to it that he had sufficient opportunity to play.

Marr was a good enough student at high school and a good enough golfer at Memorial Park to get a scholarship to Rice Institute at the age of 16. He kept it for only a year, and then the University of Houston, which was just beginning to get into big-time collegiate athletics, lured him away for its golf team. "I didn't really go to college seriously there," Marr says. "I just horsed around and played golf for a year and a half. But things were getting tough for my mother, who was working as a waitress at a Howard Johnson's, so I quit school and got a regular job."

By the time he was 19, Marr had decided to turn pro. One night at dinner during a Florida tournament he met Claude Harmon, the pro at the Seminole Golf Club in Palm Beach and at Winged Foot Golf Club near New York. A few days later Harmon offered him a job as an assistant to replace Mike Souchak, who was going out on the tour.

Harmon and his wife, Alice, took the rough edges off the boy from Memorial Park, just as they had done for so many other assistants who went on to score big on the tour or to take lucrative club jobs. Marr learned his lessons well. Right after he won the PGA one of the first things he wanted to do was appear at the Harmons' house in a blue suit and Argyle socks, an ensemble that Alice Harmon had persuaded him to abandon shortly after she began polishing him up. Today, Dave's clothes are sometimes described by reporters as Madison Avenue. Actually, they are more like modified Princeton—tastefully reserved, but with just a hint of dash.

It was as a Harmon assistant that Marr really learned his craft. Even today, it is to Harmon that he turns for advice and assistance, and it was the Harmons who took charge of the wedding at Palm Springs, Calif, in 1960 when Marr married pretty Susan Davidson, then a minor backstage functionary working on a Victor Borge spectacular.

Susan was soon pregnant. At Portland, Ore. in 1960, she bore their first child, Elizabeth. David III followed a year later. When Dave left home to play in the PGA last month, Susan was nearly two weeks overdue with a third child. On Saturday, the third day of the tournament, Marr blew a two-foot putt and the lead on the 18th green in front of a few million TV viewers, including Susan. "If she didn't have the baby then," he said in the press tent afterward, "I guess she'll never have it." The next afternoon on the 18th green and again in front of TV, Dave sank the putt that won the championship. That was all Susan had been waiting for. A son, Anthony, was born 3½ hours later.

After a promising start early this year, Marr began missing far too many short putts. When he failed to make the cut at the Masters his game went into a slump. The money was still coming in from all those ancillary benefits of pro golf, such as the Jantzen International Sports Club, one of the most rewarding endorsements an athlete can make. The only golfer in a group that included Gifford, Paul Hornung, Bobby Hull, Bob Cousy and Jerry West, Marr at least felt like a champion. He and Susan bought a new $40,000 house in the New York suburb of Larchmont, and Dave was enjoying his popularity in the TV-sports set that hangs out at Manuche's, Toots Shor's, and Eddie Condon's.

When Dave missed the cut at the U.S. Open in St. Louis, it was time to think seriously about golf. "I wish you could do something about David's attitude," Susan Marr said to Claude Harmon one evening while Dave was in Toronto playing in the Canadian Open. "He doesn't believe he can win anymore."

Trips with kings

Harmon said he doubted that the trouble was in Marr's attitude. He thought Dave was trying to do too many things besides play serious tournament golf—things like the trips to Acapulco and Hawaii for the Jantzen ads and England for Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, to say nothing of his work as tournament chairman. "You can't beat fellows like Nicklaus and Casper with only half your concentration," said Harmon. ("You can't play every week," Marr says now. "And besides, all those Jantzen fellows are kings in their fields. Maybe some of the class rubbed off on me.")

At the same time Marr was getting some help with his swing from his good friend Johnny Pott. He widened his stance, gripped the club more firmly and began to go at the ball with more authority. Soon he was playing much better, and the following week at the Insurance City Open in Hartford, Conn. he led the tournament well into the final round. But on the 14th hole on Sunday his attention wandered, and he drove his tee shot out of bounds. He finished in a tie for third place, collecting a perfectly respectable check for $4,000. A couple of hours later he was home in Larchmont, thoroughly dejected. "Susan," he said, "I'm never going to win another tournament. There's too much dog in me."

The mood was only momentary. Marr was now playing the best golf of his career. Never a long hitter, his fairway woods and irons were as straight and true as any in golf. His sand shots, which he had learned from the alltime master of the bunkers, Harmon himself, were dependable, and his putting touch had returned.

Marr finished 11th at the Thunderbird, and then 12th at Philadelphia, but was still 25th on the money list as the PGA Championship began. Suddenly, everything he had been working on came together in four of the best rounds of golf he had ever played. Everyone said the Laurel Valley course was only for the big hitters, but Marr kept the ball out of the thick rough that was troubling the more muscular types. On the morning of the final day Dave awoke to find a note that had been slipped under his door by his cousin, Jack Burke Jr. All it said was, "Fairways and greens, Cuz." That was the way Dave played it.

When it was all over Dave Marr was suddenly swept by strong emotions. "The money, the $25,000," he said in front of the reporters in the press tent, many of whom were almost as pleased at his success as he was, "that's for me. The victory, the championship—that's for all the people who helped me along the way: Claude Harmon and Robie Williams and Mr. Lynch and Mr. McCormac and Mr. Shattuck at Winged Foot and Mr. Dunphy at Seminole...." His voice broke, and he wiped some tears from his eyes, and then came that Marr smile. "I'm crying," he said, "but otherwise I'm very happy."

A few hours later, he was sitting on the terrace at the rear of Arnold and Winnie Palmer's house. By now the news had arrived that Susan had had her baby and was doing fine. A group of friends was seated around Dave, he had a glass of fine whiskey in his hand and he was happy. Slowly, the real Dave Marr began to surface out of the day's excitement. He recalled how Gary Player had given away his $25,000 U.S. Open purse. "Damn it," he said, "I had my speech all ready for the presentation ceremony, but I was so rattled I forgot it. I meant to say I was keeping the check and giving away Gary."

PHOTOMARR HAD A WISECRACK READY AS HE RECEIVED PGA TROPHY-BUT FORGOT IT

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)