SI Vault
Edwin Shrake
August 15, 1977
If so, some sharks in Las Vegas would have welcomed you and your wallet
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August 15, 1977

Care To Join Our Little Old Game?

If so, some sharks in Las Vegas would have welcomed you and your wallet

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"On holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas I always cook a big, huge meal because I know Doyle will bring home a bunch of his friends who have no place to go. Last year I was in the kitchen fixing a turkey and country ham with redeye gravy, and Doyle and his friends were in the den watching the football game on TV. I heard Doyle say he had $60,000 bet on the game. Can you imagine that? All I could think of was how many hours I would have had to work in that drugstore to clear $60,000. Doyle lost the bet. His friends lost, too. They were kind of sullen at dinner. That's about the only way I can ever tell if Doyle is winning or losing."

There is no such thing as an obscure golf pro coloring his hair and changing his name and arriving in Las Vegas—or in Fort Worth, or Mobile, or other towns where the king gamblers play golf—to lift Doyle Brunson's bankroll. You check them out. Too much is at stake to let a thief in the game. A couple of weeks ago, Doyle was driving his golf cart down a fairway and reading the bets he had written on a paper place mat from a coffee shop. Doyle added up the numbers and felt an ice machine go off in his chest. It turned out he had bet $276,000 on that particular round of golf. "That is enough money to make you think about what you are doing," Doyle says. "You're not just playing for numbers on a big scoreboard. This is real money out of your pocket if you lose. I'd like to see Jack Nicklaus, sometime, with a six-foot putt that if he misses he's got to go in the clubhouse and peel off $50,000."

"We don't bar golf hustlers from our PGI tournament," Jack Binion says. "Most of the guys in our tournament are golf hustlers, on some scale. But I try to handicap them so if they play their regular game, they've got an even match. Guys I don't know so well, I make some phone calls. Golf handicaps have always been a swindle. Suppose you play to an eight at Olympic in Seattle. That might be a three here. Who knows? But if you know the guys, you'll know Doyle Brunson and Butch Holmes will both shoot 78 to 81 on this course, day in and day out, and they ought to be an even match."

Binion got the idea for the PGI while playing golf in Fort Worth with Doyle. Pug Pearson, Sailor Roberts and other friends who have since persuaded Jack to retire from the game for a while. Bin-ion's last game of golf cost him $11,000. But he thought high-playing golfers around the country should learn about each other. There are guys who shoot 105 but are willing to bet $6,000 per hole if the match is fair. The rules of the PGI allow players who shoot 100 or so to tee up the ball anywhere they please, including sand traps. The 90-shooters can roll the ball around to improve a lie. The 80-shooters are supposed to play it as it is. Stamping down the line of a putt is permitted. You can tote as many clubs as you wish. Doyle Brunson carries four putters. Also, you can use grease.

Johnny Moss, the famous poker player and golf gambler who is now in his early 70s and runs the poker room at the Dunes, recalls using grease from time to time in big games with Titanic Thompson. Brunson says he first learned about grease 12 years ago from a jeweler in Arlington, Texas. Pearson says he learned about it from Doyle. Mostly they use grease in Texas and in Las Vegas. Many a sucker has seen grease used in Florida or California or New York without realizing it.

Any sort of grease will do, although Vaseline is the most popular. What you do is smear grease on the club face before a shot. The grease cuts the spin off the ball. The ball is thus inclined neither to hook nor to slice, and it flies farther. At the PGI you might hear a player wondering whether to hit a dry three-iron or a wet five-iron. Of course the use of grease is against USGA rules. "But you've got to use grease if the other guys are using it," says Dolph Arnold, who is Butch Holmes' partner in the commodities business and something of a king poker player in Houston, which is close to big league.

"Some people say the grease is psychological," says Jack Strauss, a gambler of note. "Well, the people who say that must not have tried it. Grease puts 10 to 20 extra yards on a shot. If you happen to be playing somewhere grease is not familiar, they'll look at you funny if they catch you doing it. I told some people one time I was putting on the grease to keep my clubs from rusting. It hadn't rained there in two years."

The players at the PGI were king gamblers, bookmakers, ranchers, pizza-chain owners, restaurateurs, car dealers, accountants, brokers and whatnot. They shared the love of gambling. Some were better at it than others. They all knew where their choking price was. If prodded, most of them would admit to a suspicion of superiority over the ordinary golf pro. The feeling is that the pros don't play for enough real money to be able to tell how much heart they've got.

One day last week Jack Strauss made a side bet of $600 to $100 that he would beat Red Whitehead of Dallas on at least one hole. Red can play about twice as good as Jack. "I've never paid off on that bet in my life and I've given it to better players than Red," Jack said. He then birdied the first hole, where he'd made a nine the day before, and beat Red's par.

On the opening afternoon of the PGI, Bobby Baldwin from Tulsa hit his drive at the 18th in high grass behind a tree near a fence. Whatever other bets he may have had, Baldwin was losing $9,000 to Brunson and he had pressed. In the opinion of Jack Binion, Baldwin is already a king poker player and is on his way to becoming the premier poker player. Brunson is the premier poker player right now in no-limit games. Baldwin is thin, has curly hair and wears glasses. Brunson calls him Owl.

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