At his first show,
in Riverside, Calif., a gallery consisting of two persons turned out. One of
them was a local sportswriter, which reduced the paid attendance to one.
"Oh, I died a thousand deaths that day," Hahn remembers. Adhering to a
canon of show business, he went through with his one-hour performance, much to
the embarrassment of both himself and his audience.
"I hitched up
my trailer," Hahn says, "and went on to my next show at El Centro,
where I appeared at a driving range at night. The temperature must have been
under 30°. I had a $50 guarantee plus half the gate. Twelve people showed up. I
froze my butt off. But the next day, at Yuma, Ariz., 150 people turned out and
I got about $175." Working coast to coast and border to border four times
his first year, Hahn gave 320 exhibitions and grossed more than $50,000.
He wore loud
colors and outsized caps and generally played the clown. "How trite!"
he exclaims today. "What gall I had to foist this trite buffoonery on the
public!" Still, that first year he stumbled upon a daring shot that worked
wonders for his box-office appeal.
Ore. a newspaper photographer—doubtless the type that encourages suicide leaps
for the sake of an action photo—said to Hahn, "What can you do for an
"Anything," Hahn answered. "You name it."
"Hit a ball
out of a guy's mouth," the photographer suggested.
hard but rounded up a game volunteer, instructing him to lie on his back. Hahn
placed a tee in the man's mouth, then drew a deep breath, and cleanly hit a
five-iron. Thus was the William Tell shot born. Hahn drafted wife Bobbie to
serve as his assistant. "She wasn't crazy about the idea," he says,
"but she wasn't crazy about not eating, either." The William Tell, as
the hallmark of Hahn's act, catapulted him and his wife to caviar. He has
performed the shot more than 2,000 times, never missing the ball, though on one
occasion he hit more than just the ball. In 1962 he employed a pretty young
actress to serve as his assistant for a series of performances at an auto show
in Detroit. The first day she allowed the ball to trickle off the tee and roll
onto her cheekbone as Hahn whipped into his downswing too late to halt the
club. It grazed the actress' cheekbone. For a month she was equipped to
audition only for Tareyton cigarette commercials.
1960, two years before the Detroit mishap, Hahn has performed the William Tell
only rarely, having dropped it from his regular routine. Ben Hogan, among
others, helped convince him he no longer needed it to attract crowds.
"Besides," Hogan told him, "you're going to miss that shot someday
and wreck your career as well as your wife." Lloyds of London gave Hahn
still another reason for dispensing with the shot. Lloyds canceled insurance on
Bobbie after reviewing the policy and concluding that she would be a poor risk
if her husband ever tired of her. He was, after all, the beneficiary in the
In the 17 years
since Hahn quit his California pro shop in a pique, he has performed in 41
nations on six continents—most recently at the Alcan at St. Andrews (SI, Oct.
16)—pausing only once to wonder if he ought to settle down in one place. Six
years after he left the San Joaquin Valley he received a tempting proposition
from the very club that had refused to let him sell Cokes and cigarettes. The
club was drifting, and Hahn had become a figure in golf circles, appearing in
the movies and on network television. "The club needed a peg, it needed
drive," he says. "So the members voted to give me the club. That's
right—all they wanted was for me to promote the club and they would give me all
the physical property. Imagine! A free country club!
more," Hahn says, "the layout wasn't bad at all—a watered course with a
swimming pool. My wife said to me, 'Do you want a headache?' I said, 'No.' So
she said, 'Then you don't want the club.' "