After a while, Mary must have realized the spankings were futile because Jim continued to disobey her, and eventually he started caddying at the club. The going rate was $2.50 for 18 holes and that included the tip. After a few years' experience, Jim moved next door, to the adjoining Augusta National Golf Club, site of the Masters.
"Caddies there could make $20 or more a day, so you had to work your way up to it," says Dent. "I'd go over on weekends, when a lot of people were there, and get the leftovers—the ones who only paid $15 and nobody else wanted."
Dent played Augusta National half a dozen times, always with other caddies, on the day after the course was closed for the summer. Whenever he could, he also played on Augusta's public courses. He continued to putt on The Hill and to sneak onto the back nine at the country club.
When Dent was in high school in the late 1950s, the PGA Tour still had a Caucasians-only rule. Charlie Sifford's debut on the PGA Tour was still a few years away, and the idea of a black man becoming a Tour professional was almost unimaginable, even to the boys from The Hill. Many of them continued to caddie in high school, but golf for them was only a hobby. No one suspected that Dent was different from the rest. But he knew. "After I started caddying, I really got into golf," he says. "It got to be fun and a challenge."
David DuPree was Dent's football coach at Augusta's Lucy Laney High, where Dent started at tight end for two years. Nevertheless, DuPree was unaware of Dent's golf aspirations until they had long since been realized. One day 15 years ago, a reporter phoned him from Florida to ask whether the Tour's longest hitter had developed his muscles lifting weights in high school. "At first I told him the Jim Dent I knew wasn't a professional golfer," DuPree says. "I was surprised to find' out he was."
Andrew Chishom, who was a football teammate of Dent's and a close friend of his at Laney High, wasn't surprised. He has felt the force of Dent's ambition. Thirty years after the fact, he blames his arthritic shoulder on Dent, who tried mightily to run through him one day in practice. "From the black perspective at that time, the idea of becoming a professional golfer didn't seem to be even a remote possibility," says Chishom, who is now a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina. "But Jim had an explosive, competitive temperament and fierce determination. It just shows that as long as you believe in yourself, you never know what you might become."
In retrospect, says Juanita, "the way Jim was always digging holes everywhere for golf balls and playing, we should have known he was serious. But he was so quiet, you didn't know what he was thinking about half of the time."
Dent's reticence made him an enigma at Laney High. No one could get a fix on the guy with the easygoing manner and the ever-present smile. At six feet and 170 pounds, he cut a dashing figure. His trouser creases always seemed a little smoother. His shoes shone a little brighter. And, as is often the case in high school, the result was he had more than his share of girlfriends. "He had an air of sophistication, which the kids called 'sweetness,' " says Johnnie Jackson, the Laney High offensive-line coach at the time. "It set Jim apart. He seemed to be a young man among boys."
Especially confounding was Dent's nonchalance about sports. According to Jackson, Dent was a gifted athlete who excelled at football and could have been on the basketball and baseball teams. He preferred to spend his springs by the radio, listening to the Dodgers play baseball and studying swings at the golf course.
As a senior, after Laney's 1960 team had finished 6-3-1, Dent (whose teammates included New York Jet-to-be Emerson Boozer) was wooed by several schools to play football. However, he wound up at Paine College, a predominantly black Methodist school in Augusta, 10 minutes from The Hill. After a few weeks there, he dropped out and headed north to Atlantic City. There, he quickly learned that he could play golf every morning and then work in the afternoons, giving him the time he felt he needed to develop his game. Before leaving, though, he hinted at his grand plans, bragging to Boozer that by dropping out he would gain "a four-year advantage on all the guys going to college."