Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands

Easy Laughs

November 25, 2010

Over the years, Golf Digest has chatted with anyone who's anyone in golf, on topics as varied as pressure, gamesmanship, temper and other embarrassing situations. In this final installment celebrating our 60th anniversary,

we've compiled tales involving the famous and not-so-famous. --Mike O'Malley



__ April 2000

There was a period in the late 1970s when there were some death threats on tour. Hubert Green won the U.S. Open under a death threat in 1977. Somewhere in that time I found myself paired with Jack Nicklaus for the last round at Augusta. We were five or six strokes behind, not totally out of contention, but not really threatening, either. After I'd finished warming up, I saw Jack coming off the range, and damned if we weren't dressed exactly the same. Immediately I asked my wife, Jeanne, to go to the pro shop and buy me a different-color shirt, because it's weird when you're dressed exactly like the guy next to you.

Now at about the same moment, this big guy comes over to me and says, "Tom, I don't want to upset you, but it's my responsibility to tell you that Jack has received a death threat today. We have to consider it as being serious. There are going to be some FBI guys and some security in the gallery, and I'm going to be with you, very close but outside the ropes. I just wanted you to know."

Jeanne finally shows up with the new shirt, and I take off the shirt I'm wearing, right there on the first tee. I have a very hairy chest, and people started whistling and carrying on; it was pretty funny. Jack strolled over and said, "What in the hell are you doing?" I said, "I just want to make sure they don't shoot the wrong guy." He laughed like hell. We both played terrible.


__ *November 2003 *

In my playing days, a group of us led by the devious Hugh Lewis invented a game called "Noddy is hidden." A noddy is a condom, and the object of the game was to unleash it on the victim in a way that would cause the greatest embarrassment possible. At a cocktail party, pro-am dinner or even during a tournament, if the cry "Noddy is hidden!" went out, you had best be on your guard.

One fellow, just introduced on the first tee, removed the cover from his driver and found noddy stretched over his wooden clubhead. Another found noddy placed in the sun visor of the family automobile, which caused him--and his wife--great consternation. They put one in my golf glove once; it fell out in view of spectators and brought me almost to tears with humiliation. That was when I decided to exact my revenge.

Weeks later, at a large house party for the mayor of Altrincham, Hugh Lewis was entertaining a group of people that included the mayor's wife. I offered to refill their glasses of gin. I padded into the kitchen and emerged moments later with their beverages, brimming with gin, lemon slices and fresh ice cubes. I handed one to the mayor's wife. Slowly, the warmth of her hand melted the ice. I watched and waited until the bottom cube was almost melted, then leaned into Hugh's ear and hissed, "Noddy is hidden!" At that very moment the noddy floated to the top of the glass belonging to the wife, freed at last after I'd placed it in the ice tray hours before. Hugh was mortified. He snatched it from her hand before she saw what was in her glass, but the roars of the other guests, combined with the expression of horror and disbelief on Hugh's face, is something I will treasure all my days.

We decided that night to cancel the game "Noddy is hidden" forever, lest one night we wind up in jail.



__ May 1994

I always go over to see Ben at Shady Oaks when we do Colonial. A few years ago, Frank Chirkinian [CBS producer] said, "Maybe we'll join you. I'll bring Gary over, too."

Frank introduced Gary to Ben, and they sat down with us. Ben never rushes anything. Ben takes his time.

So after a while, Hogan looked across at Gary and said, "What did you say your name was?" Gary said, "My name is Gary McCord." A few minutes later, Hogan asked him, "What do you do?"

"I work for CBS, and I'm a pro, and I'm on the tour."


A couple of minutes more go by, and Hogan says, "How long have you been on tour?" And Gary says, "I've been on tour 16 years."

Hogan's next question was, "What have you won?" Gary says, "I haven't won anything."

"Umph. Sixteen years, haven't won anything." Went back talking to Frank and me, and then out of a clear-blue sky Ben stops, turns and looks straight at McCord and says, "What the hell are you doing on tour?"

McCord says, "I don't know."

McCord never said another word. When Gary and Frank left, I stayed with Ben a little bit just to talk. About five minutes went by, and he turned to me again and said, "What the hell was his name?"


May 2003

It's 1999, and we're doing the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. I'm in the tower at 18 with Dan Hicks. We decide to do an interview with Sam. He was what, 87 or something? We were advised that Sam had good days and bad days, so we decided to do the interview on tape. The last thing you want to do is embarrass anybody.

It started slowly, but all of a sudden Sam turns to Dan and says, "You know, I sat down and thought about it once, and if I had shot 69 in the final round of the Open, I'd have won eight of them."

From that moment, he snapped in and he was lucid. Clear as a bell. So then Dan asked him about his longevity. Sam said, "Well, I never drank much. Always took pretty good care of myself. Got to bed early, got a lot of sleep." Then, with an old Sam Snead grin, he looked at Dan and said, "Course, I did shake those bedsprings every now and then!"

With that, we lose it. So the interview never aired, but it was tremendous.



May 1962

There is no reason the average person shouldn't feel perfectly at ease playing golf with a big-name professional. It's much easier than wrestling an elephant, and hardly as embarrassing as walking naked into choir practice.

However, as I stood on the first tee, wishing I had wood covers, I counted precisely 9,786,546 people lining the fairway.

Fortunately I wasn't alone. Another hospital case was with us, a rancher from San Antonio named Bob Woodward. I looked around for any generals or corporation presidents I might recognize in the throng, reached for my cigarettes, dropped them, picked them up, stuck one in my ear and set fire to my nose.

Palmer and Finsterwald drove beautifully, of course, and, as luck would have it, so did Woodward, the rat. Now the terrible, agonizing moment had come. Vaguely I remember hearing Arnold say, "Come on and show us something," as I stumbled between the tee markers.

I simply stood there, waiting for some divine power to move the clubhead back. I don't have any idea how or where the ball went. All I could hear was Finsterwald saying, "Go ahead and hit another one."

I suavely turned around, pitched the driver to my caddie and said, "Let's play it, baby."

"It'll be kind of tough off that roof across the street," said Palmer.

One of the curious things that happens to you playing golf in such company and before a big crowd is that you keep wishing for eight or 10 gallons of water to drink. And you feel compelled to unbutton your shirt to the waist to breathe. Malaria was never like this.




__ April 1986

In probably our most elaborate routine we drained the pond on the 16th hole and then built a bridge, which we painted blue. Then we filled the pond until the water came about a half-inch above the bridge. I went to get Mr. Roberts, brought him to the 16th tee and helped him put on galoshes. "What the hell is this?" he asked.

"Mr. Roberts," I said, "I want you to hit a shot, and it will go into the hole. After the audience sees it go in for a hole-in-one, I want you to stride down to the edge of the water and just walk on across."

"Walk across the water? Doesn't that have some kind of religious connotation?" he said.

"Yes sir. When you see all this put together, I think it will be something everybody will get a big kick out of." Well, he hit the ball, strolled down to the water as instructed and just started walking across. Then he stopped after eight or 10 feet, turned and told the caddie to follow him. The caddie refused, and Mr. Roberts said, "Come on." So the caddie started but missed the bridge and started going under, clubs and all. We didn't realize the poor guy couldn't swim, and we had to jump in and retrieve him.

In editing the film we dubbed in the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah" just as Mr. Roberts started across the water. As the caddie started going under, we inserted a little placard that read, "Oh ye of little faith." It was a great hit with the members.

The "rubber ducky" incident was even funnier because it made Roberts look foolish, yet he didn't complain, even though he was tricked into it.

I gave Mr. Roberts a rubber duck, the kind little kids play with in the bathtub. I asked him to hold the duck in his hand and walk up and down the clubhouse porch, explaining to the audience why there were no ducks in the ponds at Augusta National. But I sped up the film so Mr. Roberts appeared to walk much faster. It made him look like a comic figure, like the Keystone Cops. He really made a great talk, but I didn't record it. Instead, I dubbed in a voice from a child's record, which said, "Before I go to bed at night, I always have a little bathy. And when I'm in my bathy, I have a special friend who plays with me. Rubber Ducky, I love you ... "

Well, when that hit the screen that night, there was a tremendous suppression. You could look around the room and see tears coming down the members' cheeks as they tried to keep from laughing. Finally the dam broke, and there was a huge burst of laughter. Mr. Roberts didn't take it too well; he was still waiting to hear his comments about ducks at Augusta National. He never said a word about it, but he did give me a stern look.



__ *June 2004 and May 2000 *

I had beaten him in a playoff for the PGA Championship at Riviera a couple months earlier, so when we got paired [at Wentworth], it was being built up over there as a rematch.

Anyway, we're having lunch in the clubhouse there, which is a castle. Lisa [Elkington's wife] and I are eating a little sandwich off in the corner. Monty has maybe 25 people at his table, royalty and all, with a fabulous buffet. Part of the spread is this huge custard castle, a replica of the one we're eating in. Monty gets up and goes toward the custard, and he wiped out the whole west side of the clubhouse, an entire custard wing including maybe part of the locker room. I think, Isn't that nice of Monty, scooping up all that custard for all those people at his table to share? Well, damned if he doesn't sit down and eat the whole thing himself. I turned to Lisa and said, "There ain't a man alive who can eat that much custard and beat me." I won, 3 and 1.... Is this going in your article?



September 2003

I hired Henry, who had worked for the BBC and had a thick British accent, a wonderful way with words and a perspective of the game that blended beautifully with our American announcers. For Henry's first American telecast, at a tournament in Massachusetts, I decided to put him on the 16th hole. We had just built a 40-foot tower there, the tallest in our history, and at that time we didn't have ladders, because we'd never needed them. I was in the truck for the rehearsal, and suddenly it dawned on me: *How is Henry going to get up that tower? *

Henry was getting on in years, his physical condition was deplorable, and he loved his martinis. It was raining, and the metal scaffolding was slippery. It was a disaster waiting to happen. I zoomed out to the 16th just in time to see Henry start up the scaffolding. Before I could say anything, he had scurried up that thing like a spider. He was at the top in about 30 seconds. It was the most astonishing thing I'd ever seen. When Henry came down, I started in on him. "That was dangerous, Henry. It's wet outside and ..."

"Yes, yes, my boy," he interrupted. "Now, let's go to the clubhouse and get wet on the inside." And off he went to find a martini.


August 1968

Dear Mr. Casper,

I have read that you are a Mormon and that you don't smoke or drink. Statistics show that the average American male smokes 37½ cartons of cigarettes and drinks 42 gallons of liquor a year. I would appreciate your sending me your unused 37½ cartons of cigarettes and 42 gallons of liquor, because I do drink and smoke.



__ July 1970

The night before the pro-am portion of the 1969 National Airlines Open, the hosts held a cocktail party for the professional and amateur participants. When Joe Namath left the party, he took with him, as mementos, five stewardesses. When Frank Beard left the party, he took with him, as a memento, a National Airlines overnight bag.


*October 1974 *

With the suddenness of a vicious right-cross, it was over. Though quick, the swing was surprisingly good. The ball flew relatively straight and landed about 15 yards beyond the 125-yard marker--a healthy 8-iron even for an accomplished player.

At one point, Ali suddenly jumped away from the ball and thrust both hands high into the air. All eyes followed his movements. All ears tuned in for his next remarks. "Muhammad Ali is the world's greatest golfer!" he proclaimed. "Nobody can beat Muhammad Ali! Not Arnold Palmer! Not Jack Nicklaus! Not nobody!"

Everybody was laughing, some even applauding.

"I'm gonna start with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus!" Ali said. "I'm gonna make 'em look bad, predict the score, how bad I'm gonna beat 'em, everything--just like I do in boxing!" Then, pausing just long enough to catch his breath, Ali glanced at his trainer, Angelo Dundee.

"Hey, Angie, let's quit boxing and start playing golf," he said. "We'll get rich--and besides, that ball can't hit back!"


August 1972

I remember playing with the Prince of Wales, the late Duke of Windsor. He was a big shot, just around the corner from becoming King Edward. We were playing at Royal St. George's. After the ninth hole, we went in for a bit of tea. He walked ahead of me. But the head waiter stopped us at the clubhouse door. He said I wasn't allowed in because I was a professional. The prince said, "You either change that rule or I will take the 'Royal' out of 'Royal St. George's.' "



__ April 1982

One year at the Crosby, contending for the lead during the third round, Weiskopf pushed his drive far to the right on the ninth hole. As he was addressing his next shot, a photographer suddenly materialized and so startled Weiskopf that he shanked the ball into the ocean. Weiskopf, who invokes a longshoreman's vocabulary when angered, blistered the hapless photographer with a string of expletives. Then he realized a woman scorer was standing nearby and apologized profusely to her.

"That's all right, Tom," the scorer replied. "I'm a golfer, too, and I know how you feel. Besides, the son of a bitch shouldn't have been there."



__ June 1969

'The secret," Dick Martin says, grinning, "is handicapping." Martin once played five high-handicap players' best ball, with the added stipulation that they would play their second shot from where his tee shot finished. Naturally, Martin could outhit any of them, but on this day he developed the most fantastic hook. Every tee shot hooked into the woods, except a couple that barely dribbled off the tee. Martin won the nine-hole match in five holes.


__ May 2002

Tom watson introduced us to a game at the British Open called "thousand-dollar no-bogeys." I don't gamble a lot--I'm not like Calc [Mark Calcavecchia] or Phil Mickelson, where I've got to play for $1,000 a hole--but I enjoy the competition. Four of us got together, and if somebody could go the entire 18 holes without making a bogey, the three of us would pay him $1,000 each. At Turnberry in '94, it was a beautiful week, weather-wise. I'm playing a practice round with Corey Pavin, Ben Crenshaw and Davis Love. Ben bogeyed the second hole, Davis the 12th and Corey maybe the 14th. That left me. It was the most fun I remember having, those last four holes, the three of them rooting against me out loud. As soon as I hit my tee ball on 18, I offered them a buyout for $975. Nobody took it. I made my par, and they all paid me $1,000. It took a while, but I got a check from every one of them. Somebody's wife wasn't too happy, though.


__ December 2007

One Friday night when I was 16, a bunch of us went to the county fair. A truck pulled in there, sort of away from the midway, and we watched a guy get out and put together a big cage he had in the bed of the truck. After he got the cage together, he put up a little table. Then he went to the cab of the truck and brings out an orangutan. He starts yelling: "Five to win 50! Who can beat the orangutan? Pay $5 to try, and get $50 if you can whip him!"

We'd never seen anything like that before. We decided that one of us had to try, and I drew the short straw. Five of us put up a buck each, and I gave the guy with the truck $5. Before helping me into the boxing gloves and headgear, he made me sign a waiver. Looking back, that was a bad sign.

I got in the ring. The orangutan didn't look like much. He came up about to my chest, though his arms were as long as he was tall. When the match started, he didn't lift his arms. He kept them down at his side and used them to pivot and follow me as I circled him like Muhammad Ali. I just didn't see how I could miss. My strategy was to fake with my right hand, and when the orangutan tried to block the punch, I'd throw my left.

My buddies were going wild. "Get him, Boo! Kick his butt!" They really wanted that $50. I moved in close and faked with my right, and that's the last thing I remember. I woke up bleeding in the back of a friend's pickup. The orangutan had knocked me cold with one punch, which I didn't even see coming.


January 2005

In Valdosta, Ga., during a mini-tour event, a player named James Black bet me $20 he could put five golf balls in his mouth and then close his mouth all the way. I tried it but could get only two in there. James put all five balls in, which was amazing, but then he said, "I'll give you a chance to get even. I bet I can fit a whole loaf of bread in my mouth." There's no way a human can do this! So I went out, got one of those extra-long loaves of Wonder Bread and took it back. James just smiled. He started compressing the bread--squeezed it, sat on it, stomped on it--and then began shoving it in his mouth. It took awhile, but he got it all in there and closed his mouth. It was the damnedest thing I've ever seen, a bargain for the $40 it cost me.



__ August 2005

I'd make a jump on a motorcycle before I'd jump with a golf cart again. In the mid-'70s I played a lot of golf at Rivermont in Alpharetta, Ga. The 17th hole there is a par 3 that's steeply downhill. The path has a series of hairpin turns, and if you ignore them you'll just keep going over a huge ledge. The guys I hung out with pointed out that if you gathered enough speed you could go over the cliff and land where the path resumes farther down the hill. For days they dared me to make the jump, and when I came to the hole in a foul mood one afternoon--I wasn't playing well--I just went for it.

Halfway down the hill I realized I'd made a mistake. You have no idea how unstable a three-wheel golf cart is when it becomes airborne. By the grace of God I made a perfect three-point landing, but the tires were like basketballs, and the cart bounced like an SOB. When I got the thing stopped down near the green, I immediately got a royal chewing out from my wife. I couldn't blame her. She'd been in the passenger seat the whole time.


• __Dick Schaap (July 1970): __Pro football players are the best tippers, by far, among professional athletes. Bellhops hide when baseball teams come to town, and golfers hide when bellhops appear.

Ken Green, on the cost of his second divorce (June 2003): I've got a room named after me on the sixth floor at Palm Beach County Courthouse.

Seve Ballesteros, recalling his first British Open, as an 18-year-old at Carnoustie in 1975 (April 1977) I shot 79-80. That's one under par.

JoAnne Carner, on how life has changed the most from when she was a rookie on the LPGA Tour (December 2000) They invented gunpowder.

Bob Drum, in a letter to the editor (March 1988) I read the results of the TV poll with interest. I'm called a "dirty old man who looks like a heavy drinker who doesn't play golf." I play golf.

Tommy Bolt (June 1993): I never cussed much. That's a bunch of bull----.

Dan Jenkins, on the rain-delayed opening round of the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage (September 2009) I've seen shorter NBA seasons.

Arnold Palmer, when asked if anyone ever had as much fun as he did during his career (January 2000) If they did, they had a hell of a time.