Herbert Warren Wind continues with the correspondence of Harry Sprague, that barely fictional and extremely ebullient young golf pro. In this second series of letters to his sponsor, Harry tells how he almost won at Pensacola, and what he said to Bob Jones at Augusta
St. Petersburg, Florida
March 18, 1959
Mr. Amos A. Tabor
Old Denmark Hotel
St. Croix, Virgin Islands
Dear Mr. Tabor,
Well, here I am back at the old stand, giving out dictation again, which your boy can afford to do again after my big week in the Pensacola Open. The steno is going to send this letter to the foreign address you wrote you are staying at. I could make some cracks about that address, Mr. Tabor, but you are my sponsor so I guess you know what you are doing, if you don't mind my saying so.
That tie for second at Pensacola was worth over 1,000 bucks which is the most money old Harry Sprague has ever owned at one time in my life. Of course, you can say that I ought to be humiliated with myself for blowing a two (2) stroke lead on the last round, but tying for second place in any of these tournaments is no disgrace. Am I right? Thanks for your congratulations on that telegram. I received four (4) other telegrams, including one (1) from a golf ball manufacturing company offering me a contract to sign up with and another one (1) from my girl friend from Phoenix, Helene Dahlborg. Helene said she was thrilled which I was glad to hear, since when a friendly blonde who owns a private patio still remembers a guy two (2) months later, that ain't bad at all.
I have just got sort of a funny smile from the steno who is taking my dictation here after dictating her that last sentence. Miss Ada Braxton is her name and she is so young compared to local St. Pete standards you would expect to find her living in some live place like Clearwater. There are certainly a lot of veteran people here in this city. I am staying with Vickary and Grissom at a motel on the beach called The Fountain of Youth Motel, and all I can say is that no one there has apparently sat down at that fountain and ordered a drink for a very very long time. There is one woman there who is maybe sixty-one (61), sixty-two (62), and you never saw anyone queen it around like she does, and she gets away with it since she is like a Mann Act case compared with the other members of the feminine sex at the motel. They play cards or they shuffle around playing shuffle board most of the time, which I will try once the tournament is over seeing as how I don't want to risk losing my groove now that I have finally latched on to it.
I had expected you would be coming up to St. Pete and I could give you a blow by blow in person about how I blew the tournament at Pensacola, but as you're not coming up, I will tell you all about it now. As you know, I was sixty-seven (67), sixty-eight (68), sixty-seven (67) on my first three (3) rounds which gave me a three (3) stroke lead on the field. Now the funny thing is that I wasn't hitting the ball really good. I was not flying it a mile off the tee. I wasn't throwing it next to the pins on my approaches, and I wasn't sinking too many long ones. "Why are you suddenly scoring so well?" I asked myself one night. Well, all I could figure out was that I just wasn't hitting any real bad shots and when I hit a real good shot I cashed in on it. It's all very puzzling because I have hit the ball much sharper on many rounds when I was seventy-two (72), seventy-three (73).
"Jim, I guess perhaps the secret is I am getting meaner," I said to Jim Turnesa after the presentation ceremonies at Pensacola. "No, Harry," Jim says. "You are not getting meaner, you are just getting smarter. You act like you've been going to night school." You see, Mr. Tabor, no one knows why all of a sudden a guy starts scoring, except that this week all my old buddies keep ribbing me when they see me. "Hey, here comes a real putter," they say, like I couldn't hit any other shot in the bag. It's just like I told you.
But my old buddies were terrific last week when I needed them. Howie Johnson drove me out to the club to play the last round. Howie said there are cases on record where driving a car has hurt a hot golfer's game, because he is keyed up with extra adrenalin shots. Or something like that. Anyhow, he starts gripping the steering wheel too tight and then later on he grips his clubs too tight and loses it. Howie tried to relax me by talking about everything in the world but golf, which was very considerate of him and also of the other fellows who all wanted to see me hang in there. Al Besselink for example, asked me if I wanted to borrow his one (1) iron. "Where will I get a chance to use a one (1) iron on this track?" I said to Bessy. "You got to be prepared for any emergency, son," Bessy said. "If that is the case, Bessy," I said to him, "what I should borrow is your address book." That is a famous book which is almost as thick as the golf rule book but is much more interesting to read, if you follow me. When I said to Bessy I wanted to borrow it, it showed him how loose I was.
But I wasn't loose at all out there and I must have looked it. I was playing with Al Mengert and Bob Goalby, and when I started the last nine (9), Al's father, Pop Mengert, who is following the tour, asked me on the twelfth (12th) hole if I wanted him to run across the street to the drug store and get me some tranquilizer pills. This was very nice of Pop, but what I needed was a set of Hogan's nerves and since they don't sell them at a drug store there was no need for anyone to make a trip. Anyhow, on the last nine (9), as you read in the papers, I went par, boge, par, par, boge, par, boge, boge, boge. I got so tight off the tee I was blocking everything out and I was so weak on my approaches from the rough I was having to get down in two (2) from sixty (60) or seventy (70) feet and your boy just didn't have it, which is the frank side of it. I threw away a stroke here and a stroke there and I was lucky I didn't throw away any more. I am not trying to be modest, but I can see where I have got to learn seasoning before I can be a winner, because you have got to have first-class management and no one was keeping the store for me at Pensacola.
I mentioned this in my speech at the presentation ceremonies which got me a big hand. I wasn't Bob Hope out there at the mike but I kept my head and remembered to thank the greenskeeper. I also said I was ready to challenge Sam Snead on All-Star Golf, because I had detected a loop in his back swing and wanted to get at old Sam before he got well again. You got to be light like this when you talk into a mike, so if you ever have to address anybody at a convention, Mr. Tabor, take this tip from me and be sure to yak it up like a real pro.
Ass't Pro, Otter Lake, C.C.
April 5 1959