Golf Digest editors picks
Bill Fields

Hometown Hero

Continued (page 2 of 2)

Seeking a fresh start, Goodman and his wife, Josephine, moved to California but as Goodman biographer Michael Blaine details in The King of Swings, his troubles continued when he was laid off from a job as a representative for Canada Dry. "Jobless and without a pension," Blaine wrote, "Goodman was at sea."

Goodman nearly died from cirrhosis of the liver as he neared his 50th birthday, languishing in a coma for several weeks and receiving the last rites before rallying. At 50 he stopped drinking and turned professional to give lessons at Bellflower Golf Center, a par-3 course and driving range near Los Angeles.

"He has completely recovered from his serious liver ailment and has returned to playing golf," Bellflower said in a press release announcing Goodman's appointment. "Johnny, who again packs 160 lbs. ('my best fightin' weight') on his 5 ft. 8 1/2 inch frame, says his once flawless swing has a few rusty creaks in it, but fellow golfers attest Johnny is back busting par again."

Fields: The story behind golf's most famous photo

Goodman lived another decade, passing away at 60 on Aug. 8, 1970. He is buried in his hometown, where within the last decade a municipal layout formerly called Applewood was renamed Johnny Goodman Championship Golf Course in his honor. "But he's still not appreciated to the point that he should be," says Dan Zadalis, another who hopes the Hall of Fame will reconsider Goodman.

"I remember Johnny as a nice fellow," says Kachergis. "He had a very tough start in life, and despite that he became a great golfer."

Goodman never got a parade in New York, like Bobby Jones or Ben Hogan, but he got one in Omaha after he won the Open.

As Blaine noted in his biography, an Omaha newspaperman, W.E. Christensen, captured the scene: "Happiest of all the cheering thousands were the caddies from Omaha's golf courses who, afoot and on bicycles, followed at the rear tires of Johnny's car throughout the 20-block parade and laughed at police attempts to make them keep a distance."

He was only 23, a lifetime ahead of him. He was a hero.

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July 28, 2014

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