Through the late
1930s and '40s Hahn wandered. He boxed, drove taxis and led sightseeing tours.
The Walgreen drugstore chain probably is not aware that it more or less
sponsored him on a golf tour of sorts. Bouncing around the South, Hahn hustled
lessons to customers on driving ranges and public courses, but principally
managed to pay his rent by working as a short-order cook at the nearest
Walgreen pharmacy. This was excellent training, he believes, for a man destined
to make his fortune with deft hands. "In Augusta, Ga.," he remembers,
"Walgreen's had a breakfast special—two eggs, bacon, grits, toast and
coffee, all for 19¢. That special went over so big that I used to fry 45 dozen
eggs every morning." Even today, he cannot crack an egg without executing a
In 1941, when Hahn
married a brown-haired Charleston girl, Bobbie Bryan, he had to pawn his golf
clubs in Jacksonville in order for them to complete their honeymoon trip to
Miami. Entering World War II, he rose to lieutenant commander aboard a hospital
ship, and on one voyage safely carried 400 pregnant WACs home from England.
Later he became a disc jockey, a sign manufacturer and a chef, among other
"I had a gypsy
restlessness in me," Hahn says. "I was the black sheep in the family,
the wastrel. When you mentioned Paul, they'd tisk, tisk. Now, of course,
they're very proud of me." Just as his hands compulsively seek the ornate
gesture, Hahn's tongue savors a verbal curlicue. Brushing a speck of lint off a
$125 blazer, he cries, "Oh, the vicissitudes of fortune!"
As a golfer, Hahn
found work now and then as a club pro or assistant pro and briefly in 1947 and
'48 tried the pro tour. But he arrived at a withering view of himself: though
his game showed signs of brilliance, Paul Hahn was a born loser.
At one tournament,
the Hawaiian Open in Honolulu, he partied all night and then shot a 69 the
first day for a first-place tie with Lloyd Mangrum. "I'd gone out on that
course not knowing whether I was on foot or on horseback," Hahn recalls.
His 69 sobered him. "That night I went to bed early. The next morning I ate
a good breakfast and hit just the right number of practice balls before
stepping up to the first tee." The starter gave him a generous
introduction, and the gallery applauded enthusiastically. Hahn then hit a
gigantic slice into the Pacific Ocean.
ruminated, doesn't every new man on the tour succumb to pressure? Perhaps so,
but Hahn began to wonder if his dramatic failure had not been symptomatic of a
Greensboro Open a little later, I was playing a very respectable round," he
goes on, "but I found myself repeatedly putting right to the edge of the
cup. That night at my hotel I concluded that I wasn't really a competitor—that
instead I was attuned to audience response. You see, you can get a very big
Ohhhh! by just missing. I found myself subconsciously, yet deliberately,
putting for close rather than in. You know, there are people born to
lose—people who feel better because they lost. That was exactly the case with
me. Perhaps it was a compulsion to get sympathy from the audience."
Hahn made the cut
at Greensboro but dropped out of the tournament and forswore the pro
Soon after, he
began to consider a trick-shot career. Employed as an assistant pro at Glen Oak
Country Club in suburban Chicago, Hahn discovered his ability to amuse a crowd.
"I used to clown around on the practice tee with goofy swings—one-legged
swings, whirling-dervish swings, that sort of thing," he says. "I found
I could collect an audience, and, when I'd mention the names of the prominent
members, they'd later slip me a 10 or a 20." Nevertheless, like many a
virtuoso before him, Hahn required a moment of angry passion to declare for his
art. It happened two years later, in 1950, when he was head pro at a club owned
by nouveau riche Californians in the San Joaquin Valley.
Hahn had been
hired after having created a stir by shooting two straight rounds of 64 in a
nearby town where he was working as a restaurant chef. In his first year at the
club he cleared $14,000 hustling lessons and merchandise, but he received
neither a salary nor a guarantee. His wife Bobbie, usually good-natured despite
their nomadic existence, grew unhappy. "The club wouldn't even let us put a
Coke machine in the pro shop or sell cigarettes," she says. The president's
wife treated her briskly. Hahn, fed up, at last demanded a salary—only $200 a
month. When the board turned him down flat he bought a trailer and struck out
on a trick-shot exhibition tour. "I figured if I could take in $170 a week
I could make it," he says.