I'll never forget," the white-haired man was saying to Bing Crosby, "the time we were playing with the Duke at Saint-Cloud, and he kept worrying about Texas."
The speaker was Christopher J. Dunphy, a man who has been brightening the atmosphere and the conversation and the wagering at the more select American and European golf courses for nearly 40 years. At the moment, Dunphy was seated in the spacious locker room of the Seminole Golf Club, a few miles north of Palm Beach, Fla., with his good friend Crosby. They were recalling some of their mutual experiences with one of their close friends, the Duke of Windsor.
"The Duke doesn't like to bet much," Dunphy explained to a third party, "and it's a good idea to keep him down to about a $2 Nassau or he might get excited. On this day the Duke and I were playing Bing and Ray Graham, and Bing and I had a pretty good bundle riding on the match. Every hole or two either Bing or I would yell ' Texas' to the other one. Finally, the Duke said to me, 'I say, Chris, why is it that you and Bing are always talking about Texas?' I told the Duke to never mind, I'd explain later.
"After the game I told the Duke, 'Well, sir, now I'll explain about Texas. Every time Bing or I said Texas, that meant we were doubling the bets.' The Duke thought about this for a minute, and then he said, 'I say, Chris, I'm glad you didn't tell me about it at the time.' That Duke, he's really a cute little guy."
"Uh huh," Crosby agreed, "but you've got to watch him on a golf course. He always hits his second ball first, and there you are walking down the fairway thinking he's already hit and—whish—his other shot comes flying past your head."
As the Duke and Crosby and a number of favored people know, one of the rare privileges in the world of upper-crust golf is to pal around with Chris Dunphy, whether on the course or in the locker or drawing room, and to take part in the wagering and mock-serious invective which surrounds the high-powered wheeling and dealing wherever he goes. Dunphy's is a world peopled only by the very best golfers—Sam Snead, Ben Hogan or Claude Harmon—or the sporting members of European nobility—Windsor, the Duke of Marlborough, the Earl of Dudley—or leaders of business and finance—Marshall Field Jr., Henry Ford's brother Bill, Paul Shields, George Coleman, the late Robert R. Young—or the spectacular members of international society—Bobby Sweeney, Tommy Shevlin, Tommy Tailer, Teddy Bassett, Woolly Donohue, Jock and Neddy McLean, and Jack Kennedy, the presidential hopeful.
Most of these people zero in on Chris Dunphy at Seminole, where he spends nearly every golfable day from early December until late April and where he holds the significant title of Chairman of the Greens Committee. After Seminole closes up for the season, they find him at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, where, as he will this weekend, he runs one of the country's two or three most glamorous pro-amateur tournaments with the help of Sam Snead, the resident pro. During the summer months Dunphy can usually be found at Newport or on Long Island or playing on the famous courses of England, Scotland and western Europe. By autumn he is back at Palm Beach.
Dunphy is a stocky, dapper fellow of about 5 feet 7 who is obviously in wonderful physical condition. Under his well-groomed, snow-white hair is a handsome face with the patrimony of Ireland conspicuously chiseled on its sunburned contours. A stranger might guess him to be in his early 60s, and the estimate would not be contradicted, but the personnel records at Paramount Pictures, where he headed the publicity and advertising departments 25 years ago, show that he was born in 1889.
The odds are lopsided that wherever one finds Dunphy he will either be playing golf, which he still does consistently in the 70s, or sitting among a group of his famous friends—and talking. Either he will have them all laughing with an anecdote about one of his yesterdays or, like a wild boar standing off a pack of baying hounds, he will be parrying their combined efforts to get the better of him in a bet.
One of Dunphy's infinite supply of stories harks back to his first meeting with Tommy Armour, the famed Scottish golfer, who first arrived in this country in the early '20s when Dunphy's golf was at its peak. Someone set up a match between them at the Apawamis Club in Rye, N.Y., and Armour, who is a canny negotiator in his own right, arrived there with the notion of making a little walking-around money. The name of Dunphy meant nothing to Armour, who gladly gave Dunphy two strokes a side. "When I topped my drive off the first tee," Dunphy recalls, "I could see Tommy's face light up. He figured he had hold of a pretty good thing that afternoon. I had to take out a wood for the long second shot up to the green, but I hit it right alongside the pin, stiff. Armour had a nice drive and a good second to the green and was down in 2 for his par, but when I sank my little putt for a birdie he turned to me and said, 'Who are you, mon, anyway?' I told him, 'Don't worry about who I am, but let me warn you: there are a thousand better than me all over this big country.' " That afternoon Dunphy shot a 71 to Armour's 72, and left the Scotsman wondering if it might not be wise to return to the moors.