Sweet talk from Old Wool

That's what there is always a lot of at the Colonial, where Bruce Devlin won the money and Tournament Chairman Frank Rogers ran the show
May 29, 1966

There are certain people at a professional golf tournament whom everybody knows. There are the players who perform for you, the writers who report for you, the marshals who stand up in front of you and the officials in the carts who rush out and rule that the unplayable lie your favorite player has hit his ball into was not made by a burrowing animal. But there is one other crucial figure almost nobody knows or recognizes, the tournament chairman. When he is good, a tournament can be very, very good, but when he is bad, well....

If you want to spot a tournament chairman, you can usually look for a tall, distinguished, gray-haired gentleman with a tan so deep it appears as if he got locked outside his Palm Springs bungalow for a week, and with a coat of arms on his blazer no smaller than the insignia on a B-52. He will smile a lot for you and give you an insurance salesman's handshake and turn most of his chores over to his entourage, which consists of six guys who have smaller coats of arms and shallower tans and are fresh out of badges and parking stickers.

But there is one notable exception on the PGA tour, a Texan known affectionately as "Old Wool" to all of the players and press at the Colonial National Invitation. Frank Rogers is his proper name, and last week was Frank Rogers week from start to finish. While Australian Bruce Devlin played super-golf to win $22,000 on a super golf course at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, the scurrying, perspiring, laughing antics of Old Wool made him the busiest, most tormented and happiest man in the game.

Essentially, a tournament chairman's duties are to be the leading spokesman for his country club in helping sell the event to his city, to round up a field, to deal with the PGA and to preside over dozens of committee meetings. He has to assure the club's board of directors that everything is O.K.—that there will be marshals, parking, concessions, television, ropes, flags in the cups and, of course, people paying to get in. Old Wool not only handled all of these chores last week, he thought up lots of new ones and had several thought up for him. Nonetheless, he frolicked through his Colonial like a vaudeville performer who had just been signed up for the Palace.

"What can I do for you?" Frank Rogers said to about everyone he met. "Can I get you a car, a badge, a room or a wife?" And then he would march off singing, "Seventy-two top pros in the starting gate/With a hundred and ten big bills on their mind...."

Old Wool is a salesman in his private life, which is hardly ever private. After doing 11 years in the Navy, he now owns his own company, Tossco, and sells airplane parts all over the country. "Nut-and-bolt man, that's me," he says. "Sure do hope somebody's sellin' 'em for me, 'cause this thing has got some kinda hold on me." Translated, that means the job of tournament chairman is for certain a six-months-of-the-year thing, and really a year-round problem.

The 1966 Colonial began for Rogers in early February when he went to Palm Springs to extend engraved invitations to the bulk of the field. Old Wool, 40, pudgy, unpretentious and oozingly polite, approached each player softly, extended his hand and said, "I just can't tell you how excited and pleased I am to give you this invitation to our tournament. I love my pros."

He went to the golf writers' tournament at Myrtle Beach, S.C. to recruit reporters for the Colonial. "Love my national press," he said. He went to the Masters to get more players and writers. Nor did Rogers' recruiting end there. A pro-member-guest event preceded the Colonial proper on Wednesday, and for that the chairman was determined to find some celebrities. "Love my celebs," he said, announcing that he had cajoled Phil Harris into coming along with four country-music stars. He also had his favorite musical group returning, The Headliners.

Old Wool loved his tournament, too, but at times you wondered why. The first of his major problems was parking space. There wasn't any. "I'm gonna close me a street," Wool said, reaching for a telephone. He called a friend on the City Council and said, "I just don't know anybody that I trust and rely on more than you, podna. How's your health? Well, that's just wonderful. Sure hope we can get together soon. By the way...."

Golfers always expect courtesy cars, and Old Wool sure had those. "Why, son," he would say to a Tom Weiskopf or a Terry Dill, "I'd get you a helicopter if you need it. Build it right here with my own hands." When George Bayer's car almost exploded in the 98° heat Wednesday, Frank said, "Leave it where it is. I'll send somebody and have it destroyed."

He was constantly being paged to the phone or cornered by committeemen or players or club members. "My Shirley Casper just called," he reported at one point. "She said my Billy's special food was on the way, shipped personally to me and for me to look for it. She said last year it came to the club, and the club ate it. Huh. Can you believe anybody around here likes squirrel or buffalo or whatever that stuff is?" When Casper's three crates of food arrived, Old Wool dispatched a guard to the club basement to keep poachers away until Billy got to town. Already, he had arranged for an apartment for the Caspers that was all-electric, a necessity for Casper's allergies.

"Wool, do you like doing things for your pro golfers?" Colonial Publicist Jerre Todd asked.

"I just wish they'd let me go to Egypt to get 'em something," Frank said.

When George Knudson got to town needing medical treatment for a rash, Old Wool said, "You got it. Do we need an ambulance to get you there?" When Bruce Devlin arrived with a stiff neck after a 53-hour trip from home, Frank hand-carried him, almost, to a doctor, then sweet-talked him into appearing at a promotion luncheon.

Rogers' ability to sweet-talk people earned him the nickname of Old Wool from Todd. "He's soft as wool," said Todd. "He can sell you poison ivy."

Trying to get Rogers to let someone else handle a job would have been like trying to get Richard Rodgers to let someone else write his music.

On Thursday the lady scorers, who were decked out in blue-and-white uniforms that clashed spectacularly with the plaid tournament coats worn by Old Wool and his committeemen, complained that there was no water for them to drink at the ninth green. Wool got it, humming "Sure don't want my sweet ladies thirsty."

At Friday morning's committee meeting it was reported that there had been complaints about the hamburgers in the concession stands. Old Wool left the room, raced downstairs, out the door, over to a stand and ate one. "Nothing to it," he reported later. "One of the finest hamburgers I ever had."

There were times when Rogers and Todd needed what they called their drones. These were college students working in the pressroom and running errands.

"A tournament can't go on without drones," said Todd.

When the drones wandered out to see some of the tournament, Todd and Rogers naturally had some jobs for them. "I need a drone," Rogers shouted. "Somebody find me a drone." So Todd went to the public-address lady on the clubhouse switchboard and asked her to page his drones.

"Will the drones please report to the pressroom," a loud, female voice called throughout the corridors of the huge, red-brick building. Eventually, the drones showed up, but Old Wool had done a lot more things in the meantime.

He had told a lady on the phone it was O.K. for her to keep and use the badge the club had accidentally sent her for her husband, who had passed away three years ago. He had sent a limousine with four badges to a restaurant owner who had done the committee some favors. He had sent more badges to some of the automobile dealers who had furnished courtesy cars. He had gotten a private plane to take Phil Harris to Houston. He had smoothed over an argument between Ray Floyd, the pro, and a radio man whose voice had inadvertently heckled him on a putt. He had exchanged courtesy cars for three players who did not like theirs. He had begged, pleaded, laughed, sung, joked and sweet-talked the whole Colonial.

In the midst of it, a lady politely interrupted him as he sailed through the lobby and said, "Mr. Rogers, you're doing a wonderful job, and I wouldn't bother you at a time like this. I know you're so busy. But I just thought you ought to know that the Texas flag on the front veranda is upside down."

Old Wool fled to the window and looked. "It's the beautiful truth," he said. "A drone has done blown my Texas flag."

When it was all over last Sunday afternoon Old Wool could relax for the first time and take pleasure in the fact that Colonial had staged its most successful tournament ever. There had been record ticket sales, record attendance (77,500), better and wider coverage, more celebs and better entertainment than ever before. The only thing that Rogers had not solved was how to get out and see any of the splendid golf that winner Bruce Devlin had played. But he had the satisfaction of knowing that, along with everything else, he had seen to the cure of the winner's stiff neck. When last observed Old Wool was heading for a party with Devlin. "Love my Bruce," he was saying.