Golf's Old Man River

At 48, Julius Boros just keeps rolling along, winning tournaments and picking up big money with a relaxed, unflappable style that provides a happy contrast to most of the touring pros. On page 46 Boros discusses his attitude toward the game and offers some suggestions that should help you
March 25, 1968

Julius Boros walked along the edge of the water hazard, whistling and swinging a club, keeping an eye out for possibilities in the water. (His ball would not be in there, of course; his ball would be out in the middle of the fairway. His ball is almost always in the middle of the fairway.) If he were to catch a glimpse of activity in the water, he might come back in the evening, when the diminishing light had chased the golfers, and try a few casts. He scouts these spots wherever he plays. When the inhabitants of the water hazards in Palm Springs and Augusta begin to disappear, five will get you 10 old Julie's back in town. He has a favorite spot on the Palm Aire course near Fort Lauderdale, 10 minutes' drive from his home, and of an evening when he is not on tour he can be found there, his Riviera rammed up in the weeds hard by the 13th hole, his eyes alert for moccasins and rattlesnakes as he moves around the water, his big sausage fingers flicking out delicate casts, tempting the bass.

Satisfied that there was nothing in this particular water, which was at the Indian Creek Country Club in Miami Beach, he walked up to his ball. The amateurs in the foursome had branched out off the tee and had already hit their second shots. Vince Lombardi, the football man from Green Bay, was able to duplicate one powerful slice with another into the rough, and he followed after it muttering aloud about not having played since July and giving himself a pep talk—"C'mon, Vincent, get behind the ball, behind it"—as if it were necessary in Boros' presence that he play golf as well as he coaches football.

Boros barely settled over his ball, glancing to check the line, before swinging. In an era of tortuously slow professional golfers whose amateur imitators clog up play on courses throughout the country, Boros has an original technique. Commandolike, he calculates how he will hit the ball even as he comes on it, and, once there, he does not primp over it in the style of Jack Nicklaus or go through the contortions and the preening of Arnold Palmer. His is a kind of golf-polo: up to the ball, into position, wham. As his one concession to color, he might occasionally spit into his glove before gripping the club. He says he developed his style at a tender age while living on a farm alongside a golf course in Fairfield, Conn. He would scale the fence, clutching a few rusty clubs and a ball to his chest, and try to get in as many shots as he could before the greenkeeper ran him off. The Boros swing, however, is neither hurried nor exaggerated, but rhythmically undisturbed, like the implacable progress of the plastic horses on a carousel. Words used to describe Julius Boros playing golf for a living have been "placid," "relaxed," "plodding" and "unemotional"; "laconic," "phlegmatic," "pokerfaced," "serene" and "Sunday afternoon at the club." "Comfortable" would be another. He does not throw clubs or mutter.

The ball went on a low line to the 15th green at Indian Creek, cheating the high wind coming off the ocean, and rolled three feet to the right of the pin. There were sighs of appreciation from Lombardi and the others. "A little to the right," smiled Boros, "but I'll take it." Once, in 1963 at the Brookline club in Massachusetts, he played an entire tournament with windcheaters like that and won the National Open, and when he was done he went into the locker room, ordered a beer and began reading his mail. (Fred Corcoran says that Boros fell asleep while being interviewed by a nationally syndicated columnist, but Boros says he was just resting his eyes.) He was 43 then, the oldest professional ever to win the Open. He had also won it in 1952, when he had been on the tour only three seasons and had not yet qualified to carry a PGA card.

Now he is 48. When he is being interviewed by older-timers like Gene Sarazen for television, the interview usually begins, "How does a man of your age...?" Last season, going about his business in that placid, laconic manner, he won $126,785, his grandest accumulation in 18 years of profitable plodding. Only three golfers—Palmer, Casper and Nicklaus—won more money, and that is how they rank on the alltime money list, Boros fourth with nearly $600,000. In 25 tournaments in 1967, Boros averaged 70.79 shots a round (computed for the Vardon Trophy), and only Nicklaus and Palmer averaged fewer. His tournament performance standing, based on finishes in tournaments entered, was third to Nicklaus and Palmer. He won three major tournaments. Only Nicklaus and Palmer won more—one more.

Boros (also called the Moose, Big Jules, Big Julie, Jay and the Bear) used to say his arthritic bones needed springtime to warm up his putting, because he had never won a tournament before May of any season, but last year he won the Phoenix Open in February, and he putted well all year. In May he played a special TV match head-to-anointed-head with Palmer at the Cotton Bay Club on Eleuthera in the Bahamas. Palmer's shots were a little longer, and often a little straighter, but Boros had eight one-putt greens and won the match and another $7,000. "Moose," said Cary Middlecoff afterward, "you can't say your putting wasn't good today. How does a man of your age...?" "Everybody makes mistakes," smiled Boros.

Doug Ford used to ride with Boros years ago when they were golf-circuit vagabonds crossing the country by car to shave expenses. Ford believes that Julius "has the greatest tempo in golf," and the best temperament for it. "He's getting better, and hitting the ball farther, can you believe that?" says Ted Kroll, who rode in the same car. "Rhythm, that's Boros' secret," says Claude Harmon. Blonde Judy Kimball, a bright young lady pro in search of the secrets, always follows Boros when she is taking in a men's tournament, on the theory that the only thing she can get watching the glamour boys is her feet stepped on. "Watching Julius, I can learn."

Now, a week before starting his new season (he passed up the Crosby, Kaiser and Los Angeles Open to begin at the Palm Springs Desert Classic), Boros was working the bends out of his game playing with friends on a rich man's course at Indian Creek. One man was an investment banker, another manufactured major appliances. Lombardi had just coached the Packers to the world championship. Men of affluence and influence, but who continually deferred to Boros, as men who play at golf are apt to do when they are with a man who can take par apart. "Golf is a great equalizer," says Boros, who grasps this phenomenon without being spoiled by it.

Boros is not an active charmer. He is, in fact, a somewhat mechanical conversationalist. When he talks he keeps his teeth together. Only his lips move. Younger brother Ernie remembers him growing up as being "quiet, just very quiet." But what Boros conserves in words he makes up in surprising perception. He does not make the star's social error of patronizing the people who hover around his game. He is never unfriendly, is gracious and adaptable, whether they play like Jack Nickiaus or have a 20 handicap. The difference might be that he will spend more time scouting the water hazards when he is with the latter. He is also an attentive listener, especially if his companion can tell him not only that Nuclear Corporation is up two points but why it is up two. "Economics," he explained to Middlecoff when asked why he still plays 25 tournaments a year. "A matter of economics. I have seven children."

The others moved up toward the green and Boros got back into the cart with a friend from Miami. "I'll ride for a while, keep you company," he said. "But [patting his stomach] I should be walking." He said he was overweight, the consequence of an unprecedented three months at home indulging his children and indulging in wife Armen's cooking. He is stockily built, anyway—210 pounds, scarcely 6 feet—and he had to leave undone the bottom three buttons of his sweater to accommodate an expanding way of life. "You wouldn't think it, but when I started into high school I was 4 feet 11 and weighed 103 pounds."

He said no, he had not been practicing much, but that was not unusual because he never practiced much. "I never liked to practice. I played, that was my practice. Oh, occasionally I go hit a bucket of balls, but I don't go at it by the hour. After 40 years you ought to be able to tell pretty quick what you're doing wrong."

His companion said, "Your caddie says he's been watching you and he thinks you may look cool but that you're probably knots inside. He thinks you have to feel the pressure somewhere."

Boros laughed and got out of the cart, reaching for the putter in his large red-and-white Wilson bag. Wilson provides his equipment (he is on the Wilson "staff"), and Buick provides him the Rivieras to carry it (and his fishing gear) around in.

"What is pressure?" he said after a thoughtful pause. "Pressure is many things to many people. For example. The young player just starting out. Maybe he's got a wife to support, and kids, and maybe he's got some loans to pay off, or the people who are backing him, he owes them something, too. He's got to win some money or he's in trouble. I remember my mother used to be after me all the time. She thought it was impossible to make a living playing golf. 'You'll starve,' she said. 'Stick with your accounting.' "

"Yes, so how did you do your first year with that kind of pressure?"

"I won money the first five tournaments I entered."

"Oh. Then what about the other pressures? What about the crowds, the galleries ...?"

"Oh, the galleries are fine. They make you play better, make you concentrate. They love a winner, that's all. If you're winning they come to watch you. You get used to them soon enough. Unless you're Nickiaus with Palmer's gallery. Beautiful shot, Fred, very nice," he said as an older man with a Ty Cobb grip punched the ball up to the hole. Boros stood off the side of the green.

"Then, of course, there's the pressure of having to play your very best under certain circumstances. For instance, last year at Phoenix, with six holes to play I needed five pars and a birdie to win. I felt I could par 13 through 17, and I felt I could get the birdie on 18. But doing it, that was pressure."

"And?"

"I parred 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17, and birdied 18."

He putted in for his third birdie on the back side at Indian Creek and finished with a 32 for nine holes and a 67 for the round, five under par. The foursome sat around after that and ate hamburgers under a canopy by the snack bar. Lombardi said it had been a pleasure to play with Boros. One of the members said it was amazing, here was Boros looking like he could win forever, and yet so many young golfers come up every year with great potential to move right in but just disappear. What happens? "A lot of players have potential," said Boros.

A few days later, after an overnight bass-fishing and quail-hunting trip to Punta Gorda with Sam Snead and Lew Worsham, Boros got in a final round before heading for Palm Springs. This one he played at the Sky Lake course north of Miami with two club members, one an old friend, and his brother Ernie. Ernie was vacationing from his pro's job at the Mid Pines resort course in Southern Pines, N.C. Julius calls Mid Pines his home course. Mid Pines is owned by the parents of his first wife. Julius has the pro shop. He is seldom there.

Ernie Boros is a strong player, but he was duck-hooking off the tee and appealed to Julius for help. Julius gave it—quietly, off to the side. The results were not gratifying, but Ernie said he had the picture and would work it out. At lunch one of the wives wanted to know why Julius hadn't gone into teaching long ago. Julius said he did not have the patience, especially with women, because "after a while they're teaching you." The wife said she had been taking instruction from a pro who did not let her hit a ball for the first six lessons. Boros smiled. She said this pro kept telling her she had to develop "muscle antagonism" in her swing. Boros laughed and shook his head. "Muscle antagonism, eh? That's beautiful."

The member said it appeared to him that Julius was fit and ready for the terrible pressures of the tour. "Can't you see how excited I'm getting?" Julius said. "Just thinking about all those big-name golfers out there makes me nervous. Say, Ernie, isn't that Hungarian goulash I smell?"

Julius Boros did not turn pro until he was 29 years old and hard into a career of accounting, but, if he did not play with a five-iron in his crib, when he began to walk he almost always had one in his hand. He trailed older brothers Francis and Lance over the fence onto the Greenfield Hills course, and later he became known as the smallest caddie at the country club in Fairfield. He sneaked off in the evenings to play and was upbraided as a chores delinquent by his brothers and sisters. There were four boys and two girls in the Boros family. His Hungarian-born father had to work hard for his $20 a week. "In the old country, with four boys he would have been a rich man. In Hungary sons were money. Not here."

Julius played on the high school golf team, and boxed and was a basketball star. He went on to Bridgeport University and got a degree in accounting and went to work for Roger Sherman's construction company in Hartford. Mr. Sherman also owned the Rockledge Country Club. He liked Julius' easy manner. He also liked Julius' easy manner of hitting a golf ball. In the morning Julius accounted like mad, and then in the afternoon he'd go play golf with (or without) Mr. Sherman. Sherman wanted to back him on the tour. Julius went into the Army for World War II and his Roger Sherman there was the general at Biloxi, Miss. The general enjoyed playing golf, too. Julius was stationed at Biloxi four years.

Boros never had formal golf lessons, but he says he got a few tips from Tommy Armour when he was in Hartford. He began playing in the bigger amateur tournaments and the big pro-ams. He knew he was getting good when he shot a 64 in a pro-am at Mid Pines, beating Hogan and Snead. "But they didn't have a prize for me because I was an amateur playing with three ladies. They had pawned me off on the ladies as a pro. They finally rooted around and got me a golf bag as a prize."

In those days Julius was like a ghost in the Boros household. In and out, in and out. About all he ever said of his progress was "I won" or "I lost." Ernie remembers him coming in at night and everybody leaping up from the table to ask him his score. "He might have had a 64 or something, but all he'd say was, 'It'll be in the paper tomorrow.' I don't think he even knew I was playing golf myself until one day I told him I shot a 67."

In the spring of 1948 Boros went down to the Pinehurst Country Club in North Carolina and tied Snead for second in the North and South Open. There he met the club owner's daughter, Buttons Cosgrove. Buttons was the prettiest girl around. In December of 1949 Julius turned pro, and in May of 1950 he married Buttons. He became an assistant pro to Johnny Bulla at the Mid Pines resort. At the time, he says, his in-laws, the Cosgroves, could have bought the course for $68,000 but thought about it too long, and when they finally got around to making the purchase in 1956 they had to pay $460,000, an indication of golf's fiscal spiral since World War II.

Boros, Kroll, Ford and Bob Toski began following the sun in Boros' old Cadillac. It was a formative time for them all. Kroll believes that as you look at Boros now you can see the way he was then, and why he has endured.

"Jay never takes long to make up his mind about anything, in golf or outside of golf. When he does make it up, there's little chance anybody will change him. When we traveled together it was pretty cut-and-dried about where we'd stay, what time we'd have dinner, where we'd eat it. Somebody would make a suggestion, and Jay would either agree or you'd change your mind. That's all. Not that he was overbearing. He's a very likable guy. But he makes decisions quickly, and I think the reason his game has lasted so long, and even got better, is that he's not cluttered up with a lot of extraneous ideas and suggestions.

"Let's put it this way: when there's a decision to be reached in a group, Jay isn't going to do the bending too often. On the golf course he's the same. Where Middlecoff and Hogan would get on the green and size up pin placement, grain, best path to the hole and so forth, Jay already had these things figured by the time he got there. He chooses a club or a stroke and sticks with it. That might be a little gamble, but when you have your mind made up like Jay it helps your game."

Unknown and uncluttered, he had led the field for 45 holes in the 1950 National Open at Ardmore, Pa. and finished a respectable ninth behind Hogan. (He has always been respectable in the Open, finishing in the top 10 nine times.) When he swung west by Cadillac with Ford and the boys early in 1951, he won $320 in the L.A. Open. That got him up to the Crosby at Pebble Beach for another $733.34, and then to Long Beach, where he shot a 65 on the first day of the Lakewood Park Open. Everybody said, who's that dark-haired guy with the wide mouth and the sleepy swing? He followed the 65 with a 68, a 70 and a 73, and another $422.50. After that he tied for seventh and $343.34 at Phoenix. Easygoing Boros was wide awake.

"The thing we'd usually do after a tournament then was just sit around the motel and talk," says Ford. "That's what Julie liked best. Save money."

A son, Jay, was born to the Julius Boroses in 1951. Two days later Buttons Boros was dead of cerebral hemorrhage. Julius was in Albany, N.Y., playing in a tournament. For a time after that Boros did not play at all, and when he did start again people who know him well say that he was more quiet than ever. In the Open that year, at the Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, Mich., he finished fourth, again to Hogan. So far he had not won a tournament, but he was having fun kidding Mama Boros about how impossible it was to make a living playing golf.

Then he won the 1952 U.S. Open. He won it with a strong 139 over the final 36 holes as Hogan wilted in the Texas sun at the Northwood Club in Dallas. Later that year, tied at the 16th hole with Middlecoff in George May's World Championship at Tam O'Shanter, he landed deep in a sand trap. Almost too nonchalant to be real, he blasted out seven feet from the pin, birdied the hole and won the tournament. He was named Player of the Year and was the leading money winner ($37,000). His victory in the Open was worth $4,000. Eleven years later, when he won at Brookline, first prize was $17,500.

In the Western Open in 1955, his caddie mistakenly picked up his ball when Julius motioned him to raise the pin. The error cost Boros two strokes and $200. The boy cried and would not be consoled. The caddie master offered to change caddies for the next day's play. Boros refused. When the tournament was over he called the caddie's parents, told them they had a fine lad and if this was the only mistake he made in life they need not worry.

Boros, at an age when body rust collects and a man has to keep an ear open for pings in the mechanism, does not occupy himself with his infirmities. He has suffered variously from arthritis, bursitis, gout, bad back and faulty plumbing, and lately he has developed housemaid's left arm carrying his 40-pound 2-year-old around. He bent over to pick up a ball at the U.S. Open one year and could not straighten up and finally had to get a chiropractor to do the repairs. He struck a root with a two-iron in a PGA Championship and aggravated the arthritis in his hands. But he does not complain. He gently chides those who do. There was the time he overtook Arnold Palmer in the last round to win a tournament, and in the press tent Palmer complained about this ache and that pain. Somebody asked Julius about it, and Julius smiled and said, "I would have a few pains myself if I played the first five holes the way Arnie did today."

Boros married the blonde Armen Boyle in 1955. She was the daughter of a former pro at Bayside, N.Y. She was also an airline stewardess, and she had been getting him dates with other stewardesses until she saw the light. They have lived the last 11 years in the three-bedroom house near the ocean in Fort Lauderdale. The family has steadily compressed the house. The last to feel the pinch was the garage, which was converted into a giant den and bunkhouse. The big sliding door was left on just in case they reconsider. Armen is crazy about painting, and she goes through the house painting anything in sight—beds, walls, outside shutters. The kids then carry the paint around like pollen on the elbows of their sweaters, onto the arms of chairs and onto the faces of the smaller ones.

The Boros children are Jay, 16; Joy, 12; Julius, 10; Gary, 7; Gay, 5; Guy, 3; and Jodi, 1½. Gary shows signs of being a golfer. He won a pee-wee championship with a 58 for 10 holes. He will show you his muscles. Gay says she is not going to kindergarten because she has decided to "start school in the second grade," and she probably could. They are an active, inventive family, and the environment is relishable. Julius never raises his voice. When he speaks, they respond. He says he does not spank. "I use my foot. I hit Jay in the back of the head with my hand once, and the next day I could barely grip a club. So now I use my foot. It doesn't hurt, but it embarrasses them. It embarrassed me, too, when the teacher asked Jay how his father corrected him. 'He kicks me,' Jay told her."

This last time home was the longest Julius has been away from the tour since he started 18 years ago. He fished every day and played golf whenever the urge struck him. He grilled steaks on the patio and entertained neighbors and friends. His waistline grew, and some of his golf bags had to be aired out because mildew collected.

Finally, he packed up and headed for Palm Springs, there to rub elbows with movie stars and corporation presidents and talk big-money talk with the Wilson people. He listened to a man who had a deal "that will make you $100,000." He got some flashy new clothes for color-television appearances, and people of rank and station sought him out. He told a funny story about this pro he had heard about who advocates "muscle antagonism." He got in three practice rounds before the tournament and said it was more than he'd had in years but he felt good. By the end of the week he was hitting the ball well enough to indicate a good season ahead, and, though he did not finish high, it was high enough to win money. And in the evenings he took out his rod and stuffed some lures in his pocket and renewed acquaintances with the lakes of the Palm Springs golf courses. Julius Boros was enjoying life.

PHOTOCome evening, when most of the golfers have left the course, Boros often seeks out the very ponds he avoids by day. PHOTOAt home in Fort Lauderdale with his wife Armen and his seven children, Boros never has to raise his voice, but he has been known to raise his foot.

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)