SI Vault
Myron Cope
May 10, 1971
Dave Hill tees off, not always with a golf ball. His opinions have had the PGA in a flap—and the pros playing in a dairy pasture
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May 10, 1971

Often Bloody, But Uncowed

Dave Hill tees off, not always with a golf ball. His opinions have had the PGA in a flap—and the pros playing in a dairy pasture

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Still, he has plenty of credentials to make him a threat to take a U.S. Open. Hill, 34 this month, has won more than $100,000 in each of the past two years and has gathered up the precious Vardon Trophy, among other awards. His Vardon year, 1969, he not only had the lowest stroke average on the tour, 70.3, but won three tournaments, ranked second in money and made the Ryder Cup team, all of which was sufficient to lower the temperature of his cold war with the PGA by at least 10�. The PGA named Orville Moody—winner of one official tournament, the Open—Player of the Year. "I thought it was like playing a joke on people who follow golf," Hill bristles.

Probably because of his talent for gravitating to conflict, one does not see Hill's picture splashed around in sportswear or lawnmower advertisements, although his manager, Oscar Fraley, contends that only Hill's failure to win a major tournament has kept him from cashing in. (Fraley's principal occupation is writing, but his liaison with Hill is not illogical; Oscar's best-known book is The Untouchables.) But Tournament Director Tuthill disagrees. "Dave has the bad-guy image," says Tuthill. "Listen, I know how big-company policy people think. They don't want unfavorable publicity of any kind—not even questionable publicity. John Dillinger owned a few fast cars in his time, but I cannot see the Buick Motor Division running ads that say, ' John Dillinger drove Buicks.' "

An ironic coincidence, Tuthill's choice of imagery. Whether Buick likes it or not, Dave Hill drives Buicks—free ones. In 1969 he won the Buick Open, whose first prize included a five-year supply of you-know-whats. "They have since canceled the Buick Open," Hill points out, bemused. "I once won the Hot Springs Open, and they canceled that one, too. Do you suppose they're trying to tell me something?" Though Hill is one of only eight players to have won more than $100,000 in each of the past two years, his commercial spinoff at last word was limited to a contract with Ram golf equipment and small deals with Munsingwear and Etonic shoes. "I have an advertisement in mind for Etonic," he points out. " ' Dave Hill says Etonics taste best.' I don't have to explain that, do I?"

Beneath his immense dark eyebrows, Hill's eyes sizzle like two fried eggs in a pan when he thinks he has spotted injustice, something which usually accosts him wearing the badge of a PGA official. Hill says his temper is not one-tenth what it used to be, but since entering the $100,000 class he has been involved in no less than five more or less major incidents. The first occurred during the 1969 Ryder Cup matches in Southport, England and almost resulted in his being packed out of the country.

Following a round in which a British referee had issued an arguable ruling depriving Hill and his partner of a hole, Hill was standing with his wife and a priest friend in the entrance of his hotel dining room. An acquaintance approached and asked him how the day's golf had gone. Hill replied with words to the effect that the referee had not known his posterior from a cavity in the earth. Well, horrors! At a table six feet away, Eric Brown, the British captain, was visiting with the Tony Jacklins and the Peter Allisses, and Hill's strong bass voice had reached Brown's ears with much the effect that Andy Warhol might cause shouting from the back pew at a Presbyterian service. Five minutes after Hill and his party had been seated, two PGA officials marched briskly across the dining room to his table, as if to the roll of military snare drums.

Apologize to the British table for using foul language, they ordered Hill. Hill replied that inasmuch as he does not consider the three-letter synonym for rump to be all that shocking, he by no means would apologize, and that if Eric Brown would step over to his table, he would show him what real cussing is.

Apologize this minute, the PGA men commanded, or you will be on the next plane home. So Hill strode to the British table and said, sarcastically, "I would like to apologize for the statement you overheard while I was speaking to my wife and friends in the doorway." Monstrous behavior, cried the British press.

For the next few months Hill managed to stay out of trouble, owing to the fact that he vacations from the tour most of the last three months of the year. But in January, at the 1970 Los Angeles Open, controversy immediately resumed its familiar place at his side. He usually had played well at Los Angeles and had developed a small Angeleno following, fans who now decided to advertise themselves as Hill's Angels. They turned up at the tournament carrying banners and wearing buttons. Horrors again. PGA officials swooped down upon them as though they were carrying Vietcong flags.

"For years," says Hill, "the galleries had Palmer signs, Nicklaus signs, Trevino signs. A few people come up with a Hill sign, and they ban signs. I've always figured that if it's Dave Hill who does something, or is involved in something, they'll come up with a reason or a ruling why it shouldn't be done. When I think about it, it's funny. I wonder what I can do next to get a rule changed or a new one adopted."

Still, except for the PGA officials he kept busy, America remained largely unaware of Hill. Previously, his only nationally telecast flare-up had occurred at the 1963 Sinatra Open where, having completed an aggravating round, he prepared to snap his putter in two on the televised 18th green. "Don't break that club," he was told by Joe Black, then tournament supervisor, "or you'll be suspended." The club never had a chance. Hill got two months.

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