Trying to cook quail and wild turkey gave the wives something to do besides compare clubhouse verandas. There were no more wives out on the tour then than now; it just seemed that way because they were divided into Ramblers, Setters and Shadows. The Ramblers walked about the course, chose vantage points and viewed the tournament distantly. The Setters were generally older, stayed on the porches with their knitting, or played cards, or pondered the possibility of getting a permanent wave soon. The Shadows never left their husbands, just put on bandannas and sunglasses and did the full 18 holes while displaying the fashions of the day.
Suddenly, one fine spring there came what was to develop into about the most pleasant week of the year for everybody invited. It was a brand-new experience, the Masters, and while it did not have any turkeys it had a course that looked as opulent as a La Salle with chrome horns, it had outdoor barbecues, ham cooked in wine, biscuits bigger than head covers, corn whiskey in pitchers, Bobby Jones for a host and so many southern colonels sitting under crawling wistaria that you were tempted to look up who won the Civil War.
That was the way of the pro tour. There were no more than 20 to 25 tournaments a year. But if a man could reach most of them, if he knew how to fit the club heads that were made in Scotland onto the shafts that were made in Tennessee and if he could survive the nightly games of pitch, bridge and seven-card low, he could pocket maybe $6,000 and rank a whopping fifth on the money list.
Of course, if he practiced—that odd thing Ben Hogan originated, hitting old balls to Stepin Fetchit out in a field—there was no telling how affluent he could become. He might even stagger into one of those deals like Johnny Farrell got, holding a pack of cigarettes on a magazine page for a so-help-me $1,000.
"What they call that?" Sam Snead asked Fred Corcoran, his agent and the tour's first manager. "Git me some of them un-dorse-munts."
Winning a tournament back in the Thirties was rarely worth more than $1,000, but $1,000 would buy a lot of pork and beans then. Provided you actually collected, of course. One year, 1935, Al Espinosa didn't. He won at Indianapolis but he held the check a few moments too long, at least long enough for the sponsor to vanish with the purse. It was three years before poor Espinosa got his money, and then it came from the PGA, not the long-gone sponsor.
There was, however, something more difficult than trying to cash a man's check. You had to learn how to win. Byron Nelson's baptism to the hazards of potential victory makes one of golf's best horror stories. Thin, young, broke, married and nervous, Nelson was playing in the General Brock Open at Niagara Falls, unknown and unsure, when it happened. Somehow he stumbled into the lead through the third round, and this was splendid except, great Gawd amighty, he was paired with
for the final 18.
Now, you get to the first tee early in a situation like that. You get there and then you fidget, pace, worry, blush and keep glancing down to see if your pants are buttoned. Naturally, in this case, there was no sign of Hagen. "Looks like Mr. Hagen is going to be late again," the starter said from deep in the cavern of his double-breasted coat, styled to the times, with lapels that were as wide as Horseshoe Falls.
"Late?" said Nelson, trying to keep down his Ovaltine. Sure. Late was part of it then, what a real pro did to a rookie—without penalty of disqualification—in fact, what Hagen usually did to everybody. Didn't he once send to the clubhouse for a folding chair so that Gene Sarazen, the man who introduced the sand iron and steel shafts, could sit down while he, that cunning Hagen, studied a simple chip shot? Didn't he like to psych guys by strolling over and peeking into their bags, shaking his head and walking away? Or look at their putts and gesture that they were impossible? Sure Hagen did. Other players, like Horton Smith, just squinted peculiarly at the rookies until the sad young men worked themselves into incurable hooks. Still others, like Dutch Harrison, sweet-talked a rookie out of his game. "Man, can you massage that ball," Dutch would say. "I ain't seen a swing that good since Macdonald Smith." But prince of the slow plays—that was Hagen.
And so it surely went, the starter saying, "You go ahead and tee off, Byron, if you wish. We'll pair Mr. Hagen with someone else when he arrives."