It might even be that Dave Marr, the recently ordained champion of The Professional Golfers' Association of America, could develop into a new kind of American folk hero. A fine thing it would be, too. Marr is a man who enjoys a good glass of whiskey when nighttime comes, is not averse to a second one, and will wrestle any man in the house to get the check when it arrives. At 5 feet 9 and 155 pounds, he spends practically no time at all worrying about his muscles, and he eats only the food that tastes good. Although he never got past the second year of college, Marr reads more books in a week than lots of athletes do in a year—or a lifetime. Finally, he is a fast man with a quip and he relishes pinking the stuffed shirts of golf's officialdom.
All of these admirable qualities went relatively unnoticed during Marr's first 10 years or so as a pro golfer. He made a decent living and won a few tournaments—the Sam Snead Festival and the Seattle and Azalea Opens—but you had to be one of the cognoscenti to appreciate the full flavor of Dave Marr. The public didn't get a chance until the 1964 Masters, the first big tournament in which Dave was ever close to the top.
Standing on the tee of the final hole, Marr needed a birdie to tie Jack Nicklaus for second and was six strokes behind Arnold Palmer, who was about to win. Like everyone else, Palmer was delighted to see Dave doing so well. "What can I do to help you?" Palmer asked as they were about to hit their drives.
"Make a 12," replied Marr.
As it turned out, Marr sank a 25-foot, curling putt for the birdie, and for practically the first time all those millions of people watching television noticed Marr's boyish face and wide Irish grin. The fellows who make golf things noticed, too. Pretty soon, Marr was earning as much from endorsements as he was on the golf course. Eventually, he won $37,142.38 last year, but he never finished first. Frank Gifford, the former New York Giant football star and one of Marr's closest friends, started calling him "Ronnie Runner-up."
By this time Marr's colleagues on the tour had saluted his blend of intelligence and charm by electing him to a two-year term on their tournament committee. Through his second year, Marr served as committee chairman. As such, he had to spend most of his spare time doing paper work, cosigning checks, talking on the telephone and otherwise supervising the day-to-day problems of tournament golf. Under Marr's chairmanship the tournament committee put the finishing touches on several innovations that the players had wanted for some time—things like a 13-week TV package that brought in an extra $600,000 in prize money, a school for rookie pros and a four-ball, team-match tournament during the slack season in December.
Every now and then Marr would become exasperated with the plodding ways of the PGA's entrenched hierarchy, and his sharp tongue would inflict a few slash wounds. On one occasion he referred to a PGA official as "either an overpaid clerk or an underpaid executive." When his term as chairman came to an end last month, Marr spoke out publicly about some of the exasperations he had encountered (SI, August 9), and the PGA went into a foot-stamping fury that even included talk about suspending him. Marr's reply was to win the association's championship a week later. The smiles on the faces of the PGA executives as they presented him the huge Rodman Wanamaker Trophy were a bit strained, but Marr looked as if he had just put away a canary casserole.
At this same ceremony Arnold Palmer, who tied for a lowly 33rd in the tournament, was given one of the pink jackets worn by the members of the host Laurel Valley Golf Club and was baptized as an honorary member. When it came time for Marr to speak he turned to Palmer and said with a grin, "Now that you've got a member's coat, you're beginning to play like one."
Professional sport has gotten to be such a solemn business in recent years that athletes are not supposed to talk that way in public. Marr can't help it. He admires Palmer deeply, but likes to needle him, too, for Arnold takes life very literally. Last year, after Palmer announced he was going into the laundry business in New York, Marr said to him, "If any golf pro is going to do my laundry, it is going to be Chen Ching-Po."
Golf was a logical sport for David Francis Marr Jr. to take up as a boy. His father was a club pro in Houston, and Dave was too small to be very good at other games. His football career, for example, ended at the age of 12, when a kick in the face left him with a scar on his left eyebrow. "I broke up a bridge party at home when I walked in with that," he recalls.