Hagen would still show up at his old haunt, the Detroit Athletic Club, but beyond that his public appearances were few. He refused to appear on a television show, Shell's Wonderful World of Golf, that Sarazen hosted in the 1960s. "I think he was worried he'd look too fat on TV," Sarazen says now. And he moved farther north still, to a cottage overlooking Long Lake outside Traverse City. Mich. In the mid-1960s he was staggered by yet another tragedy, the death of his grandson in a shooting accident. His social life was confined mostly to bumper pool sessions at the Little Bohemia bar downtown. When he turned 69 he quipped, "That's the easiest 69 I ever made."
In 1964 he was diagnosed as having throat cancer. In July 1965, Price, then living in New York, was asked by Walter Jr. to help get his father checked into St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City, where he was to have his larynx removed. One of the world's great talkers was about to lose his voice. But getting him into the hospital was no easy chore. "We must've gone to 10 bars on the way to St. Vincent's," says Price. "He was fairly loaded by the time we got him inside, but I'll be damned if he didn't make a pass at a nurse on the way.
"I was with him the night before the operation, and he wasn't the least bit concerned," says Price. "And after the operation he had virtually no voice, but you still couldn't shut him up. He'd just get mad when you couldn't understand him."
His friends in the PGA held a testimonial in Traverse City a couple of years later, and Arnold Palmer said, "If it were not for you, Walter, this dinner would be downstairs in the pro shop and not in the ballroom."
Walter Hagen died of cancer on Oct. 6, 1969. He was 76, an age he had not had the slightest intention of reaching. At his funeral, Edwin A. Schroeder, the pastor of Our Lady of Refuge Roman Catholic Church in Lake Orion, Mich., reaching for the appropriate metaphor, said, "His biggest game is over. He putted out."
It's difficult to say if the Haig would have appreciated that kind of 19th-hole eulogy. It seems more likely he would have liked a couple of the items on exhibit at the World Golf Hall of Fame in Pinehurst, N.C., better. One is a Willard Mullin cartoon showing a young and vigorous Hagen striding down a fairway in white tie and tails, holding aloft a glass of champagne, trailed by a smiling caddie towing a fresh supply of bubbly. That is Sir Walter as he would have liked to be remembered, the real "Lochinvar of the Links."
The other item is a scroll from the Michigan section of the PGA, which reads: "He drew the attention of the common man to golf...wrote new pages in the record books in all lands...while folks of all races marvelled at his game, they remember him best as a jolly good fellow."
Golf has yet to build a monument to Walter Hagen. But that'll do.