SI Vault
 
Fluttering start for a hungry Hawk
Mark Mulvoy
August 16, 1971
Ken Harrelson shows promise, but only $210 profit, in his tour debut
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 16, 1971

Fluttering Start For A Hungry Hawk

Ken Harrelson shows promise, but only $210 profit, in his tour debut

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

For a guy who has raced hot rods, batted against Bob Gibson in the World Series, hustled in pool halls and faced down Charles Finley, the fabulous Hawk—as Ken Harrelson still likes to call himself—looked anything but predatory as he waited to hit his first official shot as a golf pro last week in Akron.

First of all, the Hawk had copped out on his mod brothers. Well, almost. The hip-hugging, zebra-striped, flare-bottomed pants and all those wild see-through shirts with HAWK scrawled on them were back at the motel, and he was wearing a drab brown-and-white striped shirt, ordinary white slacks—not even slightly flared—and brown-and-white shoes. Even his hair had been trimmed. Bowie Kuhn would never have recognized him.

Also, the former Cleveland first baseman was very nervous. He paced the tee while waiting to drive and looked at the gallery of about 750 people that would follow him that day.

"The Hawk's Flock!" he yelled. "The Hawk's Pigeons!" someone replied.

Finally, he stood over his ball. "Do I get a mulligan if I duck hook this one?" he asked. Then he backed away, tightened the glove on his left hand, adjusted the sunglasses that perched atop his head, wiped some dew from the face of his driver and readjusted the ball on the tee.

All this accomplished, the Hawk hit away, pulling the ball a bit (it would have been a foul at Municipal Stadium) toward the corner of a lake about 300 yards away. He stared anxiously as it caught the thick rough alongside the fairway and stopped short of the water. Someone gave Harrelson a "safe" sign, at which he dropped his driver, let out a big "Whew!" and staggered off, giving his flock the peace sign.

Harrelson wedged the ball out of the rough to within 10 feet of the cup. After studying his putt from every conceivable angle, he rolled the ball into the cup. No side door, right in the middle. He had birdied the 1st hole in his first pro tournament, just as he had hit a home run in his first at bat for the Boston Red Sox in 1967. The Hawk dropped his putter and strutted toward the cup in what he calls his Hawk Walk, a stiff-legged, neck-craning shuffle, and moments later he gave Jim Dent, one of his playing partners, a soul brother slap. Ah, yes, this was the real Hawk.

Harrelson did not birdie every hole at the $20,000 Little American Golf Classic, but he played surprisingly well—much better than everyone, including the Hawk, had expected. And he managed to keep his flock entertained with some verbal barbs and an occasional outburst of temper. Two horses whinnied nearby one day, and the Hawk yelled, "That's just like Gabe Paul talking with Sam McDowell." Once when he three-putted, Harrelson threw his golf ball into a lake. Another time he took the sunglasses from atop his head and smashed them. It was about the most use he got out of his shades all week.

For his three rounds Harrelson shot a total of 221, five strokes over par on the 7,110-yard North Course at the Firestone Country Club, and he tied for 22nd place in the tournament, a satellite for the $150,000 American Golf Classic. "I know it's stupid to say," Harrelson said afterward, "but I really could have won this tournament."

Unrealistic perhaps, but not stupid. For although he finished seven strokes behind winner Dean Refram, Harrelson played beautifully from tee to green. He consistently drove the ball beyond 280 yards, and he hit 46 of the 54 greens in regulation figures. But the Hawk putted as though he were using a baseball bat again. He three-putted eight greens, missed three tap-ins of less than a foot and, in all, needed a total of 105 putts in three rounds. "I'm a great putter as a rule," he said. "I'm not really worried about all those little putts I missed." He was concerned enough, however, to try out putters of a dozen of the established pros who arrived for the big tournament next door.

Continue Story
1 2