There were occasions when the spectators were permitted to be so indelicately close to the players that a championship could be settled by them. Or almost. No one learned this any more forcefully than Little. Though he never became the big winner that everyone predicted, possibly because he was so well fixed, he did achieve a week of glory at Canterbury during the 1940 U.S. Open. He tied Gene Sarazen for the title, and they had an 18-hole playoff the next day. It was a duel of different personalities. Little was always conscious of his public-relations role, but even his fellow pros found the independent Sarazen hard to fancy. "He had to be different," one of the old pros says now. "When everybody played in knickers, he switched to slacks. In fact, he started the trend to slacks. Now that everybody wears slacks, he is back wearing knickers."
Little seized an early lead in the playoff and seemed at last to be worthy of his role as the bonus champion of the times. But even in the pressure-filled moments of an Open playoff he didn't want to offend anybody. When a fan came up to him at the 5th hole and said, " Mr. Little, I want to ask you a question," he smiled and said, "Of course, what is it?"
"What I want to know," the man said, "is whether you inhale or exhale on your backswing?"
Oh, dandy. Just what you want to hear during a playoff for the most important championship in the world. Nothing distracting about that at all.
Little duck-hooked his next two tee shots, pondering whether he inhaled or exhaled. He never fully decided which it was, but he managed to shoot a 70 and beat Sarazen by three strokes. And once more the Spalding Dot was guaranteed t o give you extra distance.
But this was 1940, wasn't it? Sure it was. The Thirties were gone—sunk slowly in the distance with the mashie nib-lick. A wonderfully unpredictable and quite remarkable decade of golf had ended, but didn't it leave a legacy? Didn't it leave the faint memory that somewhere around every dogleg there lurked the one thing that a Hogan and a Demaret and a Snead and a Nelson added up to? Individuals is what they were, true and distinctive. It was what they had to be, really. They would never have guessed that someday out there on that tour it would be a lot more important for them to have a tax consultant.