Quite an argument followed about the playoff. Magoo suggested playing back to the Hills. Foot wanted to play to Herb Massey's restaurant on Eighth Avenue because he thought he would win and be able to afford the specialty, a chicken-fried steak with cream gravy. I thought they should play to the Forest Park Zoo, which wasn't too far. They decided to split the money, so we all went back to the Hills and got in a putting game that lasted until midnight.
To at least partly understand why anyone would hang around a municipal golf course for one-third of his life playing games such as these you have to understand something about the town and the state and what golf means there.
First of all, Fort Worth is basically a quiet place with a river, the Trinity, a fragrant stockyard on the North Side (where no one who lives South, West or East ever goes except to eat Mexican food at Joe Garcia's), a Convair plant, a couple of newspapers, a lot of beer taverns, a few elegant neighborhoods, a downtown area sparkling with loan companies, and a university, TCU, which is primarily noted for producing Sammy Baugh and Davey O'Brien. It is a town where little has happened, outside of a few important football games, since Vernon Castle, the famous dancer, was killed when he crashed a plane into a field in Benbrook during World War I. Nor has anyone cared to make something happen except, occasionally, on the golf courses.
Fort Worth is where Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson came from, and this is one of the first facts I ever learned. It probably happened to other kids the same way. There you were one day, waving a yardstick like a sword, playing Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk, when suddenly your parents decided you had a natural swing. They told you about Hogan and Nelson, and about Jimmy Demaret, who came from Houston, and about Ralph Guldahl, Lloyd Mangrum and Harry Cooper, who came from Dallas, and they shoved you onto the nearest course and said not to come home until you were ready for the Ethiopian Four Ball. So you stayed 20 years curing a shank and learning to love a duck hook.
Probably because of the climate—there are only two weeks out of the year when a man would not play golf, but even those February afternoons might be considered ideal in Pittsburgh—the sport has for 30 years been second in importance only to football. This is true throughout the state: in the north central area of Fort Worth and Dallas, through the thick pines of East Texas, in the hills and woods around Austin, along the palmed coasts of Houston and Corpus Christi and all across the peach-colored plains of West Texas and the Panhandle, where the fairways wind around mesquite and oil pumps and players are seen wearing silver tool-dresser's helmets and coveralls and carrying clubs in their hands instead of in bags.
Golf always received generous attention in the papers. As soon as you were old enough to read you saw headlines about people like Gus Moreland and Harry Todd playing in some weird thing called the Cisco Invitation. Almost every town with a hen house, some tin cans and broomsticks still has an annual invitational tournament. All kinds of places—Abilene, Lubbock, Tyler, Longview, Ranger, Eastland, Waxahachie, Midland. These invitationals begin in mid-March and last through mid-September. Each week there are from 10 to 20, and it is possible for an enterprising, neat-swinging high school or college golfer to play competitively for 22 weeks or more of the year, winning, if he is good enough, more sets of clubs, TV sets and silver trays than he can ever sell to get money to gamble with.
It was this vast amateur circuit that gave you Hogan and Nelson and Demaret, and later on Jackie Burke, Tommy Bolt, Ernie Vossler, Earl Stewart, Shelley Mayfield, Don Cherry, Billy Maxwell, Don January, Joe Conrad and Wes Ellis, and now Bobby Nichols, Dave Marr, Miller Barber, Jacky Cupit, Rex Baxter, Billy Martindale, Homero Blancas, Terry Dill, Charley Coody, Don Massengale, Dudley Wysong and Jerry Edwards, to name a few.
Vossler and Edwards, I can relate with a certain amount of pride, came right out of our game at Goat Hills. Ernie was a relentless competitor who could not understand why anyone but him ever sank a putt. Sometimes, when someone like Weldon the Oath made one, Ernie would just walk straight to the clubhouse. He was never as proficient as myself at club-breaking. I often broke my eight-iron on the dinky 17th hole, a par-3 flip shot, because I was either long and in the creek or short and in the trap—but Ernie had his moments. He bladed a seven-iron one afternoon at the 6th hole, I remember, and almost killed us all. He hurled the club straight into the brick fairway, and the shaft snapped. Both parts of the club bounced into the air. One jagged end sprang back and hit Ernie in the palm of the hand, causing a five-stitch gash. The other glanced toward Weldon and myself. It looked like we had been attacked by flashes of lightning as the steel sparkled in the sun, and we dived for safety.
Later on that same day Weldon had one of his talking fits—talking to the ball. He took oaths. Wearing his postman's cap and without golf shoes because he had rushed to the game so quickly, he gave the ball a wonderful lecture on the 14th tee. "This is your last chance, you lousy little crud," he said. "If you slice on me just one more time I'm gonna bite you right in half and chew your rubber guts up. Now I'm gonna hit you straight, you hear me! There's no by God reason why you got to slice on me ever' time, damn it! You hear me? You hear me tellin' you this?"
Then Weldon hit a world-record slice. It crossed at least two fairways, but before it landed he turned around two, three times, slung the club and went sprinting after the ball. When he got there he jumped up and down on it.