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The conversation is nearly an hour old, and Doug Ford is enjoying calling himself names. Hustler. Renegade. The Missing Link. Only later in the discussion does he stumble upon Professional Golfer. "Oh, we gambled like hell," he says.
Ford is standing in the shade of a ficus tree at the Little Club in Gulf Stream, Fla., a short iron from his front door. His son Mike is a member of the Little Club, and so is Pete Dye. It is a Wednesday, Ladies' Day at the cozy, private 18-hole par-3, and Doug Ford is holding court.
"You could make more money gambling in the practice rounds than you could winning tournaments," says the 88-year-old Ford, one of six inductees in the 2011 class of the World Golf Hall of Fame. "I beat Jerry Barber for $6,000 at the Masters one year. He kept pressing and pressing and pressing. Finally, I said, 'Jerry, you cannot beat me on this golf course. You're wasting your time and your money. Keep this up, and I'll have your house.'"
Ford is wielding an old wooden putter from Auchterlonies in St. Andrews, and the club rests beautifully in his weathered hands, as if it was meant to be there, which it was. He was always deadly with the short clubs and especially handy with the putter. Sam Snead once said Ford could get up and down from a sewer.
"Out of the bushes, out of sand traps, anywhere," says Doug Sanders, one of Ford's friends and competitors. "We were up in New York one time, and he hit this chip shot with a seven-iron that bounced into the bank, kicked up and rolled right up to the hole. I said, 'Doug, how did you do that?' and he told me to go learn on my own. So I offered to take him to dinner, and after two carafes of wine and a $3.95 steak he finally told me. It cost me $25. It was the best hustle of my life."
Ford isn't shy about his short-game talents. "I was pretty good, I'll admit it," he says.
The scoring clubs are how Ford took nickels off the boys at Van Cortlandt and Mosholu in the Bronx, and how he won the 1955 PGA Championship and the '57 Masters, and how, at last, he received word from PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem that he would be inducted into the hall on May 9 during the week of the Players Championship. Ford won 19 times on the Tour, including his pair of majors, and played on four Ryder Cup teams.
"When the commissioner called me and said I was going to be inducted, the first words out of my mouth were, ''Bout time,'" Ford says. "And he said, 'You haven't changed at all, have you?' And I said, 'Nope, why should I?'"
Being an iconoclast has worked for Ford, and that's what he has remained to this day. He grew up a mile from the Polo Grounds, home of New York's baseball Giants, and rooted for the Yankees. Half of his neighborhood friends got FBI jobs; the other half became gunmen for the mob. "Golf kept me on the straight and narrow, I guess," he says. Not that golf was his favorite sport.
"I wanted to be a ballplayer—I played third base," Ford says. "All the priests in the met area doubled as scouts. I'm serious. This priest asked me if I'd like to go to Power Memorial, and I said, 'Sure, can you pay my carfare?' It was a nickel each way. He says, 'Oh, no, we don't pay carfare,' and I couldn't go."