My Five: Favorite Improvised Beginnings

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My Five: Favorite Improvised Beginnings

October 22, 2012

Photo By: AP Photo

Photo By: AP Photo

Photo By: AP Photo

Photo By: David Cannon/Getty Images

Photo By: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Chi Chi RodriguezRodriguez was earning money as water carrier in a Puerto Rican sugar cane field and boxing in the streets when, at 7-years-old, he learned he could make more money caddieing. He first played with a club fashioned from the branch of a guava tree using rolled-up tin cans for balls. After a stint in the Army, where he manned a 105mm howitzer, Rodriguez made it to the PGA Tour, becoming at 5-7, 117 pounds, the longest pound-for-pound hitter in the game and eventually one the most creative iron players in history. He won eight official events between 1963 and 1979, and 22 more on the Senior Tour. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.

Photo By: AP Photo

Sam SneadSnead was 8-years-old when he turned a buggy whip attached to one of his big brother's old wooden heads into his first golf club and began swinging at rocks around his family's cow and chicken farm in Ashwood, Va., hitting one through the window of the local Baptist church during service. He soon graduated to shafts he fashioned out of swamp maple limbs and balls he found caddieing at the Homestead, playing "courses" he improvised in the woods. Snead later said learning in such a way was a key to a sublimely natural style that lasted for decades. "I figured everything out for myself," he said, "and when I finally got my hands on the real things, the regulation stuff seemed like a dream."

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Gene SarazenWhen Sarazen was a 13-year-old caddie, he "played" a four-mile long course as his commute from his home in Harrison to the Apawamis Club in neighboring Rye. According to his autobiography, written with Herbert Warren Wind, "this course started down a country road, cut across fields, took advantage of the football field of the Heathcote School, incorporated the back lawns of some of the estates and ended up near the 11th hole at Apawamis...you gauged your improvement by the number of strokes you cut off your total." It was a trek that symbolized Sarazen's journey from son of a poor Italian immigrant carpenter to career Grand Slam winner known as "The Squire."

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Seve BallesterosGrowing up next to a golf course in Pedrena, in northern Spain, Ballesteros found the rusted head of a 3-iron and would continually re-shaft it with sticks from nearby fields, whittling a point at the slender end, inserting it into the hosel and soaking the connection overnight so it would swell into a tight fit. With this club, Ballesteros would hit stones on a course he cut out on the sands of the beach. A year later, his older brother Manuel gave Seve an intact 3-iron that became the tool with which Seve would build one of the most dexterous games ever seen. "It was part of him," Manuel would say of the club. "Without it he could not exist."

Photo By: David Cannon/Getty Images

Bubba WatsonAs a kid in Milton along the Florida panhandle, Watson took some plastic golf balls given to him by his father, drew a five-foot circle in his dirt driveway for a target and then spent hours finding a way to hit every shot imaginable. "Hitting a plastic ball low is hard," Watson says. "So hitting a low cut with a plastic ball, think how hard that is. But when I learned to do it with a plastic ball, doing it with a real ball was easy." With his 125 mph-plus clubhead speed, Watson is the most dramatic curver of the ball in the game, supplanting Corey Pavin, who he defeated in a playoff at the Travelers Championship for his only official victory.

Photo By: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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