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He returned home a champion, but "he was hardly canonized by the Country Club of Rochester members," as his friend Clune recalls. "It was a pretty stuffy place then. There was a very strict social hierarchy there, and Walter was still thought of as just a glorified servant, a kid to fetch and carry." In his memoirs, Clune wrote, "Hagen returned to Rochester with little more panache than a factory hand punching a time clock."
The young Hagen was a handsome devil, black-haired and green-eyed, sturdily built and, at 5'11", tall for the time. He was a clean liver in those days but already a terror with the ladies. Not long after his Open victory, he met a lively and attractive young Rochester woman named Margaret Johnson, whose father, George W. Johnson, owned the Clinton Hotel on South Avenue. Margaret and her brother, George, had finished third in a dance contest staged by Vernon and Irene Castle, the premier popular dancers of the time. "Margaret was a thin, graceful girl then," says Clune. "She dressed like Irene Castle, and she was far wittier and more sophisticated than Walter. Margaret regarded him as a country boy. She wanted him to be a Fancy Dan, a gentleman sportsman. She would have preferred him to be an amateur golfer with a classy job as a stockbroker. She wanted him to take advantage of his new fame."
Hagen wasn't even certain that he wanted to continue with golf. In 1914, he had a tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies. He had been an ambidextrous pitcher in semipro ball in Rochester, so when Phillies manager-to-be Pat Moran asked him to throw a few, Hagen inquired of a dumbfounded Moran, "With which arm?" Moran was impressed, but he told Hagen he would have a better future as an outfielder and advised him to come back the next season for another tryout. Hagen decided golf was his game.
He and Margaret were married in 1917, and the country club set them up in a cottage on the premises. It irritated the socially ambitious Mrs. Hagen, however, that neither she nor Walter had clubhouse privileges. And Walter himself had begun to think with some trepidation of horizons beyond the place where he had spent his youth. In January of 1918, Margaret gave birth to Hagen's only child, Walter Jr., and soon after Hagen asked Clune to join him at the Pompeian Room of the Seneca, then Rochester's most popular hotel.
"Well, you're going, aren't you?"
"Jeez, I don't know. I was born here. I've always lived in Rochester. You know how it is. When I walk down the street, everybody knows me. Out there...I don't know...."
But Margaret would have none of these doubts. Hagen took the job. And his life changed. By coincidence Clune himself got a job as a newspaperman in Detroit a few months later, and he observed firsthand what he calls the metamorphosis of his friend. "In Detroit any aspect of the yokel disappeared," Clune says. "Margaret may have aspired to the high life, but Walter far surpassed her in living it." The golf course at Oakland Hills was not yet complete, so Hagen had ample time to knock back a few with the millionaire automobile crowd downtown at the Detroit Athletic Club. He began coming home later and later in the evening. One night, when he showed up two hours late for dinner and still had the cheek to complain about the menu, Margaret snapped at him, "Shut up, you. I can remember when, if you had ham on the table, you'd have thought it was your birthday."
"I'm afraid," wrote Clune, "Walter was as ill-suited for the restraints and ordinances of the conjugal state as a pirate."
In 1919 Hagen represented Oakland Hills at the U.S. Open at Brae Burn Country Club, in West Newton, Mass., the first Open after a two-year interruption caused by World War I. He shot a 78 in the opening round and was five strokes behind the leader, Mike Brady, entering the final 18. But he nibbled away at that lead, and he needed only to sink an eight-foot putt on the last green to tie Brady and force a playoff. Hagen insisted that Brady be brought out from the locker room to witness this dramatic event. Reluctantly Brady showed up, and Hagen, grinning broadly, knocked the ball in the hole.