He knew the jokes
involving golf and the pearly gates, but he preferred the ones that captured
the earthly game. He liked this old chestnut: A foursome of regulars is on the
18th green, hard by a road. A funeral procession goes by, and one of the
golfers, Herb, doffs his cap and lowers his chin.
when'd you get so ceremonial?" one of the golfers asks.
"She gave me the best 60 years of her life."
Tom and Helen
Hearn were married in 1950. Mrs. Hearn never played the game, and if she ever
sees another twice-baked potato--the standard starch of the country club
dinner--it will be too soon. Yet golf widow was never a meaningful term to her.
She made great friends through her husband's golf, and she has pictures showing
a foursome of Hearns (there are five Hearn children) standing on various 1st
tees. That still left three at home.
Depression years Tommy Hearn was a middle-class kid who went to a public high
school on Long Island. On weekends he caddied at a club for business titans
called the Links. He had a dream about going to Yale--pictures of Yale football
players captured his boyhood notions of manliness. The man he often caddied
for, Cornelius Bliss, wrote a letter for him to the dean of admissions at Yale,
and Tom Hearn remained grateful to old Mr. Bliss for the rest of his life.
Mr. Hearn went to
Yale for a year, played the Yale course when he should have been in the
library, then left the university for 40 months to serve in the Navy on a
destroyer in the Pacific. There was no golf for him in those years, save for a
brief moment, the snapshot of which he filed in his head: September 1945 on the
island of Luzon, in the Philippines, watching golfers putt on greens made of
sand, smoothing their footprints with long bamboo sticks. On the Long Island
courses and at Yale, there were no sand greens. He finally graduated from Yale
in 1948, with another fast duffer, the first George Bush.
Mr. Hearn faced
his final days with courage and regrets. For years he drank too much, and then
one day he stopped. Smoking, the same. There were relationships in his life
that needed more attention. But he had no regrets about the hundreds of times
he rose in the predawn darkness to play Bethpage Black, or the money he spent
to join clubs when he was beyond midlife: Piping Rock, on Long Island; Mid
Ocean, in Bermuda; the Golf House Club at Elie, on the east coast of Scotland;
and Jupiter Island. For 20 years Greg Norman was his neighbor in the Sunshine
State. Mr. Hearn would often see Norman's helicopter, but the Shark himself
With the end
coming, Bill Campbell, a former USGA president, would drop by from time to time
to say hello and also goodbye. On one visit they spoke about Tom Morris Sr. as
a vestryman at Trinity Church in St. Andrews and about some contemporary
subjects, if you consider Tom Watson's chip-in on the 71st hole of the 1982
U.S. Open at Pebble Beach contemporary. Mr. Hearn was remembering that Campbell
was a witness to that shot, as a rules official, and Campbell was supplying the
details. They were golf buddies. More precisely, they were friends through
Facing his end,
Mr. Hearn said he was "undaunted," and he seemed it, colon cancer
notwithstanding. "Golf enriched every aspect of my life, but it was
collateral to my life," he said. Golf Channel bored him; it was an enabler,
he felt, to the one-dimensional. Golf didn't narrow Mr. Hearn; it did the
opposite. His favorite player was Julius Boros, for his tempo and his face,
"a face you could put on Mount Rushmore."
His favorite golf
quote was exceptionally brief. He was playing a casual game with his son David,
a good golfer. David drove his ball into a greenside bunker on a short par-4,
nearly holed his shot from the sand and tapped in. "That's 4," David
said. He had grounded his club, by mistake, in the sand and took the penalty