Merely by chance, Larry Hinson and John Miller have never been paired in a golf tournament, thus sparing galleries the illusion that they are seeing double. Then again, perhaps it would simplify matters if the two were ordered to play together, always, so that everyone could at least be certain of one thing: that this was Hinson and Miller coming down the fairway—although not necessarily in that order.
The problem is that each looks remarkably like the other, especially when one of them is, say, standing on a tee and you are some 250 yards away. Both are young, Hinson 27, Miller 24. They are about 6'2", as lean as a pair of one-irons and have golden blond hair kept stylishly long, at least by golf's standards. Both respond to gallery applause with animated smiles and waves of the hand. Neither smokes. Both are natural lefthanders, although they play golf right-handed. And both have a flair for bright golf clothes. If one of them dressed like a Frank Beard—black slacks, white shirt, gray cardigan, Amana cap—the identity problem would be solved. But both show up at the course in striped or checkered slacks and richly colored solid shirts. And as for a hat—you must be crazy. Take a poll to determine the tour's top dressers and both Hinson and Miller would be near the top. Although not necessarily in that order.
Larry Hinson and John Miller are quite accustomed to being confused with one another. At the Crosby last month, Cary Middlecoff discussed the similarity while NBC offered a split-screen shot of the two, who were playing just a couple of holes apart. "I can't tell them apart," said Middlecoff. "They're like twins."
"People will walk up to me on the practice putting green and start discussing a possible business deal," says Miller. "I'll listen, get sort of interested and then I'll realize they think they're talking to Larry. It can get embarrassing. One time a guy I've known since I was 12 came up and called me Larry. Unbelievable!"
On Hinson's part, he was flying to a tournament shortly after the Masters, which Miller almost won and which gave him close to two hours of exposure on national television. A passenger came down the aisle of the plane, saw Hinson and said: "I want you to know I was really rooting for you out there."
"I just told him I was, too," says Hinson. "Most of the time it's easier to go along with it and pretend I am John."
There is one last thing both young golfers have in common—promise. Hinson is in his fourth full year on the tour, Miller his third, and both have experienced a fair amount of glory. Hinson earned $120,897 in 1970, Miller $91,081 last year. Each has won one tournament and come close in several others. While it is the consensus of most pros that Miller has the more solid swing—"The best on the tour," Jack Nicklaus has said—they speak highly of Hinson's determination and it would surprise no one to see either win any tournament, the major ones included, at any time.
Listen to the two of them talk and you will have no trouble in telling them apart. Hinson is the one with the Southern accent, having been raised in Douglas, Ga., a town of some 10,000. He is a friendly-looking person with sharply chiseled features and a wide mouth. Unlike many touring pros, he is cordial, even interested when strangers approach him during a tournament. He will say grace before dinner, not a short memorized chant, but one obviously designed for the occasion. When his wife Marion and his two young daughters join him on the tour, the little girls amuse themselves in the evening by using their father's enormous golf bag as a horse.
Occasionally a TV commentator will mention Hinson's courage. He is referring, however obliquely, to polio. Larry contracted the disease as a 5-year-old and it left him with a paralyzed left arm. "I couldn't understand why," he says. "I thought, 'it's mine, why can't I move it?' " For a year and a half he tried to use his arm without success. Then one day in school he was chasing a girl in a game of tag when he tripped. As he fell, instinct took control and he moved his paralyzed arm to break the fall. The arm, shriveled and atrophied from disuse, broke, the first of three breaks he was to suffer in the next year and a half. But at least he could move the arm again. As a result of the breaks, plus one missetting, Hinson has lost much of the normal arm rotation between his wrist and elbow. It is typical of him to view this limitation optimistically. "I'm lucky in a way," he says. "I can't turn my arm over, so there's no way I can duck hook the ball."
The polio also cost Hinson the muscle in the area at the base of his left thumb. On cold mornings, when he has an early tee-off time, the thumb tends to curl up, so that to assume a proper grip he must flatten it out against the handle of the club. "I could straighten it out with my other hand," he says, "but people would notice it and I don't want it to seem like I'm looking for sympathy, you know?"