On one of those dazzling Manhattan nights that a visitor from Minerva, Ohio might classify as being heavy on the celebs, Dave Marr, a well-groomed survivor from the robot life of the professional golf tour, stepped into one of his favorite 52nd Street restaurants and began moving through the glitter like, let us say, Sandy Primetime.
It was a tired room, filled with those ever-present clusters of familiar midtown drinkers: Giant fans, Jet fans, Met fans, high handicappers from Winged Foot, broadcast immortals, ex-athletes, magazine folk, network worriers—people who pass for celebrities when there isn't a real heavyweight around. Suddenly the room seemed refreshed.
Tanned and beaming, resplendent in his double-breasted blue blazer, trim and handsome, all Guccied and Dunhilled, Marr arrived, his hand shooting out in varying directions as he worked casually toward a table in the rear. All around there were happy blurps of worship: "Hi, Dave," "Hey, pro," "Put it in the vise, champ." And all around there were friendly, cheerful needles: "Missed the cut, right?" "Got arrested for impersonating a golfer, right?"
Marr grinned and pushed along, accepting a drink, lighting a cigarette, shaking hands. Laughter trailed him, for he, too, was dropping lines.
February 2, 1970
"Hey," he said to Mike Manuche, the proprietor. "Did you read where Arnold's been talking about running for governor of Pennsylvania? Man, I think hat hip injury must be movin' up to his head."
By the time he reached his table he had enough pals around to play a good game of half-court. The table expanded like a bar at 5:42 p.m. All sorts of people had been in lately and asked about him, Marr was told. Alex Webster, the Giant coach. Frank Gifford. Bing Crosby. Bob Newhart. Tucker Frederickson. Don Meridith. Paul Hornung.
"A great thing about my line of work," Marr said to a friend, "I'm 0 for 80. but nobody's singing Goodby, Davey."
And so Dave Marr was at home, holding another seance in sport, being his charming, likable, entertaining self, getting on the outside of his share of cocktails, being, for whatever it may be worth, the pro of 52nd Street. Later on, when he would move to other bistros in the big city, his city now—to Toots Shor's, no doubt, perhaps to "21," the Unicorn, Mister Laffs—a hearty band would follow and others would be collected. The end would finally come in the early morning. It would be signaled mercifully by the arrival in front of him of that salvation of Western man, the bacon cheeseburger, in the back room at P. J. Clarke's. All of the golf tour's problems would be thrashed out, the future success of the New York Giants assured, the city saved, the wars ended, the new books discussed, the world's oxygen preserved, the pollution problem solved.
The point is, Dave Marr would have done it again: just been alive and around, laughing a lot, knowing everybody, being known, reveling in the fact that although he is just little David Francis Marr Jr. from Larchmont out of Houston by way of Claude Harmon and golf shop flunky—just another of those steady, faceless guys on the PGA tour—he could move through the big town like the emcee of a talk show, as Arnold Palmer should.
On such nights as these, had Marr proved only that he can drink and go back to the Hartford Open and hit five-irons? That he can stay up later than Joe Namath? That he knows more people than Paul Hornung? That he is the check-grabbing champion of the fashionable East Side? Maybe. But, then, maybe he was only having a good time with friends, people who constitute much of his real wealth. He is not just another pro exempt from qualifying, and he knows it. After all, what other pro wears Guccis and leaves you laughing?
Dave Marr would go back to the grind of the tour to finish 23rd, of course, to miss the cut, perhaps, to not win another tournament, to become one of those hundred or so players out there who hit very good shots but who are not Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus. But he would go back and make the stylish living that provides nicely for his attractive and entertaining wife, Susan, and the three children, Elizabeth, David and Tony. He would play well enough—and often enough—to keep the house in Larchmont and the summer house on Long Island, to pay for first-class air travel, the best rooms in the best hotels, to be able to "whip out" for bar tabs.
And once in a while, like two weeks ago in Phoenix, Marr would put it together well enough to pick up a check with somebody else's name at the bottom. Although he hadn't touched a club since the Heritage Classic at Thanksgiving, he shot a 67 in the Phoenix Open's pro-am for third place and $300 ("Enough," he says, "to mark my ball"), then kept his momentum in the tournament with rounds of 72-69-65-67—273, to tie for fourth and earn $3,710, one fifth of his total earnings in 1969.
But he knows the way it is. Attention in pro golf is best gained by winning. Even then it can be difficult. Nobody wins more than Nicklaus, but the public says, ho-hum, he should lose even more weight. Palmer did it not just by winning but by fighting a course in his furiously dramatic way. Tony Lema bought champagne all around and did it. Chi Chi Rodriguez danced on the greens and did it. Doug Sanders wore wild clothes and did it. Billy Casper ate buffalo meat and did it. Outside of New York and Houston, Dave Marr hasn't done it, not that way, anyhow, and yet he stands apart from most of the so-called stars in their blue shirts, white caps, gray slacks; their wives, simple and shy in beauty-shop hairdos; their politics, uniformly conservative. Their tastes are drearily identical: steak, baked potato, salad with Roquefort. So are their complaints: Palmer's gallery is a pain, Nicklaus plays too slow, Trevino talks too much, the pins are brutal, the travel is expensive, the caddies are lazy.
With a couple of exceptions—the Masters, for instance—it's the blurry drab-ness of Holiday Inns and Imperial South Motels, it's not getting a table in the dining room, contending with flaky kids and grainy greens and rough like a zoo. The TV crew will cost you two shots at least. If Nicklaus is anywhere near his game, he'll win by six. If he isn't, then it must be Casper's turn again. It isn't Dave Marr's. It never is.
But it beats working, they say. Just make the cut every week and you'll break Byron Nelson's money record of 1945. What does the touring pro do that's so hard? He plays golf six days a week, and not exactly on public courses with a pull cart. He hangs around country clubs with rich guys and takes down $40,000 if he can't play at all. California in the winter, Florida in the spring, up North all summer. Couple of trips to Europe or the Far East. Some TV stuff. Snappy clothes at cost. A big bag, four dozen pairs of shoes, three dozen new balls every week from the companies, air travel, celebrities, room service. All for playing a game, for God's sake! Let 'em overhaul diesels for a living and see how they like it.
One of the engaging things about Dave Marr is that he understands the paradox of the tour better than his contemporaries. It is good when you reach a certain plateau, he will say. Everybody likes attention, being made to feel important. The money is there. Status is there. But it is also a terrible grind, almost an addiction, that bleeds the brain, puts a strain on the family and keeps the ego bouncing like a basketball.
"Your ego is everything," Marr has admitted. "And if you don't get that pumped up regularly, you can't last."
The pro is an athlete above all else. Play six straight rounds of golf walking and you will see that the pro's legs have to be in decent shape. Stand close to a pro hitting an iron shot and look at the deep, slashing divot he takes and you will see that good golf requires some strength. Whether the player has an easy swing, like Marr, or a gritty one, like Palmer, there is real strength and speed involved at contact.
"There's no doubt that the mental part of the game is the toughest," Marr said. "Trying to keep the dog from com-in' up in you when you're in shape to win. But, when guys tell me there's nothing physical about the tour, well, man."
The best restorative for the nonwinner is a new venue each week. You're starting all over with renewed faith. There is new hope, new anticipation. You have a whole new set of friends. Different admirers are fawning over you, oblivious that you missed the cut last week.
"You can play real good in a tournament and, even if you don't win it, it'll carry you a week or two," says Marr. "A win, of course, can carry you for weeks or months. And a major championship can carry you a whole year, or longer, depending on what you make out of it. There's a very depressing feeling when the year's over and you no longer hold the title. It's back to what have you done lately. But if you've put the title to work it'll stay with you for a long time."
Dave Marr is the perfect example of the young man who has, of necessity, put everything to work in order to carve out a nifty existence that he had no right ever to expect. He has nothing spectacular about his game other than a picturesque swing. He has no length, and his putting is absurdly bad. Inside the ropes he has no special charm. He is just another guy in a Jantzen shirt and Foot Joy shoes, slight of build, expressionless, blond, good-looking and usually one or two over on the scoreboard. Ronnie Runner-up, his good pal Frank Gifford calls him, to which Marr says, "Who'll ever forget old No. 15?"
How, then, could this man have become the tour's best-liked, most personable, articulate socializer—golf's major link with television, Hollywood, Broadway and ma√Ætre d's throughout the broad plain of America? Why is it always Dave Marr with Paul Hornung at the Palm Bay Club? At Tucker Frederickson's party after a Giant game? With Arnold Palmer and Don Meredith at John Murchison's cookout in Dallas? Why him?
"Because I live in New York," smiles Marr.
That, of course, is part of it. Back in Houston none of his accomplishments—the PGA Championship in 1965, mainly—would have mattered nearly so much. He would not really still be "Claude's boy," meaning Claude Harmon, the man who gave Marr most of everything: his opportunity to work at Winged Foot and Seminole, to learn the game, his sophistication, his introductions to the big town and his friendships with real millionaires, and not just the pretenders.
"Claude Harmon not only taught me most of what I know about the golf swing, he did something almost as important," says Marr. "Man, he took me out of Argyle socks."
Claude Harmon, noted for his teaching, has had a lot of protégés, but Marr is surely his favorite for at least three reasons. First, Dave did more with less, rising from sweeping out the shop to bon vivant along 52nd Street. Second, he was immensely popular, around both New York and Palm Beach. And, third, Dave stayed in New York, even after making it on the tour, instead of flying to Florida or California or back to Houston, where he gave up a scholarship at 19 and first turned pro.
"Houston, I love it," says Marr. "But that's where I couldn't beat anybody even as an amateur and where the wolf was at the door. All of my old friends on the tour, Mason Rudolph and Johnny Pott and Tommy Jacobs—we came out together, sort of—think I'm crazy living in the East. They think, hey, man, where do you go fishin'? What do you do for black-eyed peas and ribs?"
Marr talks with a twinkle and a grin, explodes with boyish laughter at a funny line, his or someone else's, and sets himself apart from most of the pros by not taking his game too seriously in conversation. "Always fade the ball," he says. "You can't talk to a hook." To someone who strikes a low shot or tops one: "I didn't think you had enough runway for a minute." Or "I'll take anything in the air that doesn't sting." To a spectator or a marshal or a scorer standing in his way: "Sir, would you mark yourself, please, while I try to get this one up?" After starting a round with a mini-hangover: "If I try to leave the hotel tonight, put out a contract on me." To Arnold Palmer about his wardrobe: "You think Latrobe Dry Goods would make up some of those slacks for me?"
Marr further authored two ad libs in the course of tournament play that have become classics of golfing riposte. Once, it seems, Dave was paired with Jerry Barber in a tournament in Florida, and Barber is never an easy partner. He can be very slow and meticulous, as well as contrary. On a particular hole Barber, after hooking atrociously, quickly looked over at Marr and said, "Your foot moved."
"When I walk," Marr shot back coldly, "I put the first foot here and then the next foot there, and pretty soon I'm moving."
And then there was the day in Augusta, Ga. during the last round of the 1964 Masters when Marr came to the final hole paired with Palmer, who was winning the championship by six strokes.
Marr himself was playing superbly and was, in fact, about to finish in-a tie with Nicklaus for second, all of it on the glory of national television. Arnold, a good friend and delighted to see Dave doing so well, glanced over and said, "Anything I can do to help you here?"
"Yeah," grinned Marr. "Make a 12."
A year later Marr helped himself to a small part of the glory that Palmer and a few others had been wallowing in by winning a major championship. With sheer tenacity overcoming his lack of distance and while enjoying a week of unbridled confidence, Marr fought off Nicklaus and Casper and won the PGA on the big course at Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania. It was sort of the American dream come true and, as befits a cynic, Marr could not fight back a tear.
"All I could think of was that the title was for everybody who had helped me—Claude, Robie Williams, Jackie, all the men at Winged Foot who first put me on the tour," says Marr. "The $25,000 was for me, and the prestige was what I would spread around New York and see what it could bring."
It brought a good deal more than it would have anyplace else. One little thing he originated then is still paying off. He decided that a corporation or two would like to have 20 of its important clients enjoy a round of golf, a clinic and lunch with a top pro—him. Dave arranges the game and the club. He plays three holes with each group, thereby putting himself into the company of everyone in the course of a full round, and he tells his jokes, and drinks are enjoyed, and all of the friends of Union Carbide or Allied Chemical go home happy.
In golf it is acceptable to put down the PGA Championship as sort of the low-rent member of the Big Four. The Masters and U.S. Open have more prestige and enjoy much broader coverage, and the British Open has the PGA up on the front tees where tradition is concerned. But there is hardly a better title to win for the journeyman pro, mainly because once you are a PGA champion you never have to qualify for another tour event. Never. It also put Marr on the Ryder Cup team that year, on which he helped the U.S. gain another golf victory over Britain.
The PGA is also, quite possibly, the hardest of the four to win because it annually has the toughest field. Everybody is in it, but not everybody has won it. Arnold Palmer hasn't; nor has Billy Casper, Gene Littler, Jimmy Demaret, Cary Middlecoff or Lloyd Mangrum.
Since 1965, Dave Marr has had to be content with such modest successes as teaming up with Tommy Jacobs to win the CBS Golf Classic and tying with Frank Beard for the 36-hole Music City Invitational in Nashville, a gigantic feat for which he received, among other things, a $500 guitar. But, despite the fact that four years have sped by since he last won a tournament, he remains devoted to the tour. It is partly because the money is so good, partly because he believes he can still play championship golf, partly the fun and his interest in the game.
The family would be happier if he did. "When we were really kids out there," said Susan Marr, "it was great. But the longer you stay out, the more ding-a-lings you find. Really. There are just too many places, like Palm Springs, that are dingy. They bell me out."
One thing that may help get him away from the ding-a-lings is television, a calling in which he might find a secure future for himself, as his friend Frank Gifford did. A few weeks ago he agreed with ABC-TV to do color commentary at the 12 tournaments they cover this year. It will be one of the few times TV has put an active player to work covering any sport—and, if Marr gets hot on the tour in 1970, ABC viewers may see more of him than they will hear from him.
On this, Marr says, "We all have to face the problem of the future. How good are you? Can you stay up with the big hitters? In my case I can play my best but I might not win if I don't hole everything because Nicklaus can slop it around and outbirdie me."
Dave Marr suffers the dilemma of all of the nongreats. But he is mostly what the tour is made up of. A man with style, temperament, knowledge and all the shots, but one who rarely wins. But it is not true that as Marr goes so will go the rest. He has a more complete background than most, coming up as an assistant, coming out of a golf family, being exposed to Claude Harmon, Jack Burke, Jimmy Demaret, taking a deep interest in the well-being of the game and worrying about its public relations.
And then again he just might start to win. Wouldn't it be nice to play consistently, he thinks, the way he did in the 1969 Open at Champions in Houston? Shoot 286, close to the top, and pick up the good check every week. Be patient, playing fairways and greens, and let the putts fall where they will. Get your $70,000 a year in prize money and do another $40,000 in extras.
"That's fine," said Marr. "But, as Claude has always said, you can't turn it on and off. Only Hogan could do that. You've got to be totally committed, out there working all the time."
What truly keeps someone like Marr out there, whether he knows it or not, can best be told by reciting an incident that happened to him in Houston in the summer of 1969, during the U.S. Open. He had played superbly, enjoying one of those pleasurable spurts of his. Completing the first round, he came to the 18th hole needing to hit a four-wood to the green to get his par 4. Standing behind the green was Susan, chatting with Ben Hogan, who was wearing, as Dave later said, "his Marty Fleckman cap."
Marr hit a tremendous shot out of the rough and onto the green, four feet past the flag. The crowd had exploded appreciatively, and after he got his birdie Marr asked Susan:
"What'd the Hawk say when I cut it in there for three on 18?"
Susan grinned, "He said it was too much club."