The Loop

Hall-of-Famer Herb Graffis had a unique window into professional golf

February 13, 2014

My first mentor in publishing was World Golf Hall-of-Famer Herb Graffis, Chicago entrepreneur and columnist who wrote the definitive history of the PGA of America. He was better known for being an R-rated after-dinner speaker despite resembling, in his impeccable three-piece suit and slicked-back silver hair, the Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger. He died 25 years ago this week at age 95, an anniversary that reminded me of a visit I had with him in his Fort Myers, Fla., home when I taped his thoughts for an interview in the February 1981 issue of Golf Digest. Here's a sampling of the one and only Herb Graffis:

On Bob Hope and Bing Crosby: "Bing mentioned to me one time that golf did a hell of a lot for both him and Hope in the old days. They would sing and work late, not getting through until 3 or 4 in the morning. Well, many of their fellow actors used to take narcotics to keep them going and then to put them to sleep. But Bing and Bob used to head straight for the course at daylight and play golf until they were so bleeping tired they had to go to sleep. That way they weren't exposed to drugs. Several years ago I proposed them for the Bob Jones Award for sportsmanship; they were more in the spirit of Jones than anybody who ever got the award. They put up with a hell of a lot of inconvenience because they liked golf and were doing something for it. But it took three ballots for the jury to give them the award, and by that time Bing was dead."

On Cary Middlecoff and slow play: "He said he didn't want to play slowly but he just couldn't get the club moving until it felt right. I thought that's a pretty damn good way for a dentist to be, because I don't want this SOB to let that drill start until it feels just right."

On Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts raising money for Dwight Eisenhower's presidential campaign: "If Bob Jones and Cliff Roberts were given the same scrutinizing treatment that campaign fund raisers get now, they would both have been clapped in jail."

On Arnold Palmer: "He's the boy next door. The kid you asked to run an errand to the corner store. When he won the U.S. Amateur in 1954, it was a bit of an embarrassment to the USGA. At that time, declaring an intention to turn professional was a violation of the rules of amateur status. Before he won the amateur, Palmer had been telling everybody he was going to turn pro. He wanted to be a pro so much, he'd already signed up with Wilson when he was still an amateur. But Arnold was such a nice kid that everybody just looked the other way."

On Sam Snead: "At the Inverness Four-Ball tournament in 1946, Walter Hagen, Freddie Corcoran and I were sitting in the locker room drinking when Sam Snead came in and said to Fred, 'Cancel that trip to the British Open. I'm not going. I just can't putt. No need wasting all that time and money.' Hagen said, 'Of course you can putt. I can give you a lesson and make you a good putter, if you want.' And Sam said, 'Come on out and show me what the hell's wrong.' And Walter said, 'I don't have to go out. I can sit here and tell you. You're scooping down at the ball. Swing your putter up at the ball, as if you're going to top it.' Snead went out, and 20 minutes later came back in. 'Fred,' he said, 'did you cancel the trip? Don't do it. I got it.' And that was the time Snead won the British Open."

On sports: "The first job I ever had was in sportswriting with The American in Chicago. I handled high school sports -- baseball, football, track and field. One day I learned the old-timers called sports the 'toy department.' And I was shocked; my pride was knocked down. But the more I've seen -- and eventually I covered everything in business, crime, government and wars -- the more I've realized what the hell is wrong with the toy department. The trouble with sports now is that it's beginning to act more like a business than it really is. These athletes are making the fans an imperiled species."