Inventor Tony Antonious has received nearly 400 patents for golf gizmos—putters, irons, woods, shoes, bags, tees, even a cap that he claims prevents headaches. "He's the hero of every basement tinkerer hoping to fund his retirement with the next great invention," says one equipment manufacturer.
"Don't go to court with him," warns another. "He'll kill you."
A ubiquitous presence at shindigs like last week's PGA Merchandise Show, where he relentlessly hawks his wares, Antonious is best known for a glove he invented in 1967 His masterstroke was literally a finishing touch: the glove's adjustable closing mechanism. "I bought some Velcro and my wife, Sarah, sewed it onto the backs of some gloves," he says. Pros scoffed at the result, but when Antonious placed ads in golf magazines, orders flooded in. He quit his job as an accountant to try to become golf's Thomas Edison. "It was a bold move, but I believed in the security of a U.S. patent," he says. "Little did I realize it's not that secure."
Antonious rails at the fact that U.S. corporations often get away with stealing ideas from men like him—inventors too poor to defend their rights in court. But here was a little guy who had a big appetite for legal battle. He launched lawsuits against Spalding, Wilson and 13 other companies that added Velcro to their golf gloves without paying him royalties. Seven settled out of court. Eight went to trial and he beat them all and ultimately emerged a multimillionaire.
Yet even in triumph he fights a reputation for eccentricity. "I am no kook," Antonious insists. Sure, he speaks five languages, has a right leg that's an inch shorter than his left (the result of a 1934 motorcycle wreck) and keeps his address a secret.
Next on the Antonious docket: a courtroom battle with Spalding over the design of the company's Top-Flite Tour irons and Intimidator driver—stolen from him, he claims. "I have hurt no one and taken nothing that wasn't rightfully mine," says the 80-year-old Velcro man, who has been battling prostate cancer since 1988 and now has one more major goal: "Ultimate peace of mind! I haven't reached it yet, but I'm getting close."