Fluttering start for a hungry Hawk

Ken Harrelson shows promise, but only $210 profit, in his tour debut
August 15, 1971

For a guy who has raced hot rods, batted against Bob Gibson in the World Series, hustled in pool halls and faced down Charles Finley, the fabulous Hawk—as Ken Harrelson still likes to call himself—looked anything but predatory as he waited to hit his first official shot as a golf pro last week in Akron.

First of all, the Hawk had copped out on his mod brothers. Well, almost. The hip-hugging, zebra-striped, flare-bottomed pants and all those wild see-through shirts with HAWK scrawled on them were back at the motel, and he was wearing a drab brown-and-white striped shirt, ordinary white slacks—not even slightly flared—and brown-and-white shoes. Even his hair had been trimmed. Bowie Kuhn would never have recognized him.

Also, the former Cleveland first baseman was very nervous. He paced the tee while waiting to drive and looked at the gallery of about 750 people that would follow him that day.

"The Hawk's Flock!" he yelled. "The Hawk's Pigeons!" someone replied.

Finally, he stood over his ball. "Do I get a mulligan if I duck hook this one?" he asked. Then he backed away, tightened the glove on his left hand, adjusted the sunglasses that perched atop his head, wiped some dew from the face of his driver and readjusted the ball on the tee.

All this accomplished, the Hawk hit away, pulling the ball a bit (it would have been a foul at Municipal Stadium) toward the corner of a lake about 300 yards away. He stared anxiously as it caught the thick rough alongside the fairway and stopped short of the water. Someone gave Harrelson a "safe" sign, at which he dropped his driver, let out a big "Whew!" and staggered off, giving his flock the peace sign.

Harrelson wedged the ball out of the rough to within 10 feet of the cup. After studying his putt from every conceivable angle, he rolled the ball into the cup. No side door, right in the middle. He had birdied the 1st hole in his first pro tournament, just as he had hit a home run in his first at bat for the Boston Red Sox in 1967. The Hawk dropped his putter and strutted toward the cup in what he calls his Hawk Walk, a stiff-legged, neck-craning shuffle, and moments later he gave Jim Dent, one of his playing partners, a soul brother slap. Ah, yes, this was the real Hawk.

Harrelson did not birdie every hole at the $20,000 Little American Golf Classic, but he played surprisingly well—much better than everyone, including the Hawk, had expected. And he managed to keep his flock entertained with some verbal barbs and an occasional outburst of temper. Two horses whinnied nearby one day, and the Hawk yelled, "That's just like Gabe Paul talking with Sam McDowell." Once when he three-putted, Harrelson threw his golf ball into a lake. Another time he took the sunglasses from atop his head and smashed them. It was about the most use he got out of his shades all week.

For his three rounds Harrelson shot a total of 221, five strokes over par on the 7,110-yard North Course at the Firestone Country Club, and he tied for 22nd place in the tournament, a satellite for the $150,000 American Golf Classic. "I know it's stupid to say," Harrelson said afterward, "but I really could have won this tournament."

Unrealistic perhaps, but not stupid. For although he finished seven strokes behind winner Dean Refram, Harrelson played beautifully from tee to green. He consistently drove the ball beyond 280 yards, and he hit 46 of the 54 greens in regulation figures. But the Hawk putted as though he were using a baseball bat again. He three-putted eight greens, missed three tap-ins of less than a foot and, in all, needed a total of 105 putts in three rounds. "I'm a great putter as a rule," he said. "I'm not really worried about all those little putts I missed." He was concerned enough, however, to try out putters of a dozen of the established pros who arrived for the big tournament next door.

Harrelson's approach to golf might be termed Palmeresque. He attacks the course, taking risks most players like to avoid. "I've always been wide open and flamboyant," he said, "and that's the way I'll play. I'm not taking out any irons and laying up. I'm opening the carburetor and letting the ball go. Nobody will ever call me a safe player." In all three rounds he tried chancy shots over trees and water, and not once did a gamble fail. "One lime it will," said Dave Marr, "and then he'll learn to play safe when he should play safe."

Most of the pros were impressed with the Hawk's compact swing. One of them even went so far as to say that golf "needs" the Hawk. (Bowie Kuhn once said that about baseball, remember?) "You'd expect his swing to be very fast and uncoordinated, since he has just quit baseball," said the pro, "but it isn't. He'll make money out here."

Some pros feel the tour needs more city slickers like Harrelson. "The trouble out here is that we've got too many farmers and too many milk shake drinkers," Larry Mowry said. "I'd like to see a few more city guys who will sit down and have a beer once in a while. Everybody wonders where all the farmers come from on the tour. Well, I know. They've been building golf courses where the pastures used to be, and all the farmers give their kids golf clubs."

Before he can citify the tour, however, Harrelson must pass a sectional qualifying school at Winston-Salem, N.C. next month, and then survive the tough PGA rookie school at Palm Beach Gardens in October. "I've played golf every day for five weeks," Harrelson said, "and I'll play every day until I go to Winston-Salem. I can't get worse, for sure."

If he does qualify for the tour, Harrelson will have no worries about money, at least for a while. Although he has spent most of the estimated $500,000 he made in baseball over the last four years, the Hawk now has an angel—Si Haddad, president of the ABC Demolition Corp. of Arlington, Va. "He'll have no money worries if he puts his mind to golf and works at it," Haddad said at Akron. "If he doesn't work at it, forget it." Was Harrelson going to get along on the tour rookie's average subsidy of $400 a week, Haddad was asked. "The Hawk?" he answered, raising his eyebrows. "Are you kidding?" Best guess is that Haddad will see that Harrelson does not fall below about $750 a week until he begins paying his way.

Last week the Hawk won only $210. Considering that he spent 15 hours shooting his 221, it means he earned $14 an hour. Playing baseball for Cleveland this year he made roughly $170 an hour. Maybe the Hawk should return to the Indians.

"No way," he said. "I could work out for a week and help the Red Sox. But there's no way I'll ever play in Cleveland again." Well, maybe in the Cleveland Open.

PHOTO

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)