SI Vault
Myron Cope
October 30, 1967
Paul Hahn has never won a Masters or a U.S. Open, but his annual earnings from golf put him in the Nicklaus bracket. He does it by hitting shots that would make most golfers weep
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October 30, 1967

Top Man On The Laugh Tour

Paul Hahn has never won a Masters or a U.S. Open, but his annual earnings from golf put him in the Nicklaus bracket. He does it by hitting shots that would make most golfers weep

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Hahn drives straight down the middle, more than 200 yards—rather a difficult accomplishment, because he has teed off while resting on both knees. "A golf club travels 140 miles an hour in the downswing," he points out, leading up to the rhetorical question: Isn't it a waste of time to pick the grass clean of twigs and otherwise clean up around the ball lest the smallest foreign object create havoc with one's swing? He hits another picturesque drive, after having covered his ball with the classified section of the morning paper, blasting unerringly through Male Help Wanted.

Somewhere in Hahn's gallery there is bound to be a golfer who is convinced that his club pro has saddled him with five strokes by fitting him with shafts that are a smidgen too long. What, then, is Hahn up to now? He has that 6' 1" driver in his hands. He spreads his feet wide, like a hammer thrower, and whirls the monster club overhead—and then clubs the ball a distance of 300 yards, where it comes to rest in the center of the fairway. "Oh, that straight ball," he sighs with mock disgust. "I can't get rid of it—been fighting it for weeks." By the time Hahn's act is finished he has exposed just about every plausible excuse that man has invented for lousing up a golf shot.

"Human frailties are so manifest on a golf course," he later declares, having sprawled out in a contour chair in the den of his townhouse. Not exactly dressed for philosophy, Hahn wears a one-piece parachutist's jump suit made of scarlet velour, a polka-dot ascot at his throat. "People think the few good shots they hit are indicative of their game and the many poor ones are bad luck," he says. "I see this. I observe it constantly. And that's exactly where I get the satire for my show."

Hahn may not make as much money as Arnold Palmer (which is to say, the twin-engine Piper Comanche he pilots from exhibition to exhibition is not Palmer's Jet Commander), yet, while never leaving the tee, he has found a way to gross six figures annually from golf, remaining serenely free of the paranoia, ulcers and clammy palms that afflict the tournament pros. At country clubs and driving ranges spectators pay up to $5 a head to see his act, and the house usually clears a worthwhile profit after paying his fee. Besides getting $1,000 for an outdoor exhibition, Hahn charges $500 to perform indoors (say, at a sports equipment show), where he uses a net to catch his shots. He has played to as many as 8,000 spectators massed on a hillside at the Masters and has commanded his customary fee when entertaining as few as 200 business executives at conventions. For an additional $500, Hahn will stick around to deliver an after-dinner talk. Years ago he was an unknown golfer on the pro tour. His total winnings were, he admits, "not enough to mark my ball." Today, 17 years and 17 Cadillacs since he became a trick-shot artist, his only problem is too much business. His outdoor price used to be $500, but he doubled it this year to discourage bookings. It hasn't discouraged them at all.

Although a total of 16 trick-shot artists crisscross the country today, Hahn is the only one clearly possessing greater prestige than your country club's head-waiter. Many of them pass the hat. Some in the business have traveled under gamy monikers—for example, Count Yogi and Mysterious Montague—and others have been known to set up local yokels for a fast hustle. Hahn, on the other hand, holds Class A membership in the PGA and frequently is invited to preside over seminars at sectional meetings of club pros. He performs quiet acts of generosity toward needy caddies and young golfers. Conscious of the fact that trick-shot artists are apt to be lumped into a category with oil-stock salesmen and gypsy fortune tellers, Hahn rarely wagers more than a $1 nassau with friends, and he gambles with strangers only when goaded—as he was by Doug Sanders one long-ago day at Daytona Beach.

On that occasion Hahn was about to tee off with his brother, Dr. Stanley Hahn, one of two Baptist ministers in the family, when two members of the University of Florida golf team—Sanders was one, and future tournament pro Dave Ragan was the other—recognized him. They asked to join the round. "Glad to have you," Hahn answered.

"How about a little wager between you and me?" Sanders said to Hahn.

"I'd rather not, son, I wouldn't feel right if I took your money."

"Oh, come on," Sanders persisted. "Just a little friendly action to make things interesting."

"All right, I'll bet you a dollar."

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