Re-match

I got an email last night from Tina Bradley-Mayers that her father had passed away.  Jackson Bradley was a dear friend to me, and although I didn’t see him all that much, we’d always pick up like no time had passed.  He helped me out with my golf swing when we first met in 1986 at The Hills of Lakeway.  And again at Riverhill in Kerrville.  Then he was kind enough to sit down and tell me stories of his life in golf for an article in Austin Golf Magazine in 2004.  After our interview, he insisted we go out and play nine holes at Austin Country Club.  (That’s a shot up there of him approaching the 6th green in our match that day.) I was 39 and a 0.4 handicap.  Mr. Bradley was 84 and was showing signs of Parkinson’s.  We talked about how it really only affected his putting, and if he could time it right, he could still putt fairly well.  He shot 37 and beat me by 2, and while I was grinding my ass off, I feel certain that he was toying with me.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Bradley.  See you on the other side, where I’ll be calling for a re-match.

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Texas Golf Professional

traderI’m not sure if he was ever in the PGA of America, but the late Larry Trader managed Willie’s golf course for years, doing all the stuff that golf pros do.  I ran across this shot of him I got back in 2004, a few years before he died, and it remains my favorite portrait. Probably because I knew Larry, and we’d spent a couple of hours together on this day talking about Willie and Evel Knievel and Ray Benson and Ear Campbell and Coach Royal and all the things that happened out there at Pedernales and on the road.  And because I know that he bummed that very cigarette there off my friend Mopar, who today will give a few golf lessons at Ascarate Park in El Paso.  I never asked Larry what happened to that finger.

Confessions of a Cart Jockey

Cart Jockeys.  They’re called that, because most of the time they’re speeding around the property in golf carts, and they get so good at driving them, they look like true athletes.  They’re unmistakable.  Sweat-stained golf shirt, khaki shorts with a dirty towel hanging from them, one foot dangling out of the cart, accelerator on the floor, one hand on the wheel and the other on a walkie-talkie. It’s a tight-knit fraternity.  At least at Barton Creek in the early ‘90’s it was.  Twenty or thirty guys, the occasional girl, most in school at UT, ACC, or SWT.  Cleaning golf clubs, storing and fetching golf bags, parking cars, washing and prepping golf carts and shagging range balls for the who’s-who of Central Texas.  For a college kid hoping to break into the golf business and become a PGA Professional, it was a dream job.  That is, if you’re not talking about money.  Summertime pay was good, but when winter rolled around, you might take home less than $400 a month.  My share of rent at the two-bedroom apartment where five of us lived was $210.  Winter was tough.  But we got to play the Fazio course, something even some the richest men in town couldn’t do.  My pledge class included some who went on to become lawyers, publishers, doctors, PGA Tour players, drug dealers, millionaires and crack-addicts.  We worked under the magic spell of one simply called Mule.  Some of you know him.  A great motivator and one of the finest PGA Professionals I’ve ever met, yet rarely recognized by the very association he served.  Initially, we felt betrayed when Mule left us for bigger things, but we soon realized he was not unlike any of us.  We all wanted bigger things.

MEETING BEN (originally published in Austin Golf magazine, April 2003)

As I swung open the back door of the shiny black Range Rover in the parking lot of the Crenshaw Course at Barton Creek Resort, I knew this would be a good job.  Inside was a big black Buick golf bag with the name Ben Crenshaw stitched proudly upon it.  The feeling of multiple epiphany when it’s almost too much to take?  Seeing the bag was enough for me, but as the driver door swung open, I realized what was about to happen.  I was seconds away from meeting the one person who made me want to be a golf pro.  I’d grown up watching Ben, idolizing his game and his putting.  I thought to myself… What are you going to say? Don’t drop his golf bag. Don’t pick up his putter and start swinging it around like a madman. Don’t say something stupid. Don’t slam his fingers in the door.

As he came around back, he gave me a genuine smile, handshake and “G’Mornin, pods.  You’re new here, aren’t you?  I’m Ben.”  I felt like a schoolgirl.  Did he actually think he had to introduce himself?  I shook his hand and said, “Yes I am. First day.  It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Crenshaw.”  He replied, “Call me Ben, uh …….”.  I realized I hadn’t told him my name.  (Imagine Chris Farley interviewing a guest.  (Stupid, stupid!!!) I told him my name, laughed, and finished my job of setting up his golf cart, all without injuring anyone or breaking anything.  He waved and drove off toward the first tee.

I saw him several times during and after my stint as a cart jockey, but his kind, genuine demeanor that day is something I’ll always treasure.  They say you remember where you were when big things happen.  When Ben Crenshaw won The Masters in 1995, I was five longnecks deep in a smoky bar in Singer Island, Florida after missing another cut in a mini-tour event.  I somehow felt connected to him when he sank the final putt.  I cried with you, Ben.

48 hours along the Texas Coast

jason_stone

Here’s another archived article from Austin Golf that ran in the October 2004 issue.  Another crowd favorite.  Enjoy.

The sun was setting over Port Aransas, Mustang Island, Aransas and Corpus Christi bays and the great state of Texas itsownself. I was on a Thursday night gambling cruise, the Texas Treasure, sitting on the steps of an empty pool once used back in the days of The Love Boat.  I was totally embraced in the solitude of the moment — contemplating my golf game, gambling savvy, butter beans, the existence of the Corn Palace and the uncertain future.  The frenzy of our testosterone-laced, down and dirty golf/fish trip had reached its zenith.  The fishing was over.  The golf balls were lost.  The booze bottles were dry.

“Yoh attencione pleece.  Di cahseeno wi opan in feefteen meenoots.  Gracias.”

It was fate that had brought us here.  Our loving wives (*Clotho, Lechesis, and Atropos) had somehow, someway each coordinated separate “Mom trips” that left us all alone as bachelors for a few days.  Solicitous men left at home with nothing to do. The usual amount of half-ass planning occurred, primarily just to get us in the mood.  But in general, we embraced the benefits of a lack of planning.

Typical pre-trip email exchanges displayed the camaraderie of a locker room. A sample: Stone might want his own room so he can watch porn.  Golf, fishing, and traveling in Texas embrace the Zen-like notion that the journey itself, rather than the destination, is the thing, so we settled on Corpus as a starting point and wisely chose to leave the rest to fate.  The question was how much we could cram into 48 hours.

The plane ride from Dallas ran through Houston and offered an extra hour to contemplate the days ahead.  It would be good to be with the fellas again.  It hit me that the fun of travel is the people.  Not only the folks you’re with, but the characters you meet.

Pre-trip discussions made Corpus our main point of focus, but ironically we quickly passed on the “Sparkling City by the Sea” as soon as we left the airport and headed out.  It may have been the dog track that started the diversion.  There’s something about thoughts of wagering hard-earned money on lightning-fast greyhounds that’s distracting.  But the kicker was the subtle billboard we barely noticed that advertised the pleasures of the “Texas Treasure.”

texastreasureOur man in shotgun noticed it in his subconscious.  TEXAS TREASURE.  But it didn’t register until his dark side slapped him with a reminder that there were dollar signs on the ad.

“Wait.  Did I just see a sign for a gambling cruise?”

“Where is it?  What did it say,” I blurted excitedly.  “Call information!”

And so it was decided, and our plans came together.  The Texas Treasure left every evening from Port Aransas.  Why stay in Corpus if tomorrow’s fishing charter also left from Port A?

Then in the form of another windblown billboard, destiny showed her powerful hand again.

Northshore Country Club. Best Bayfront Golf Experience in South Texas. Daily Fee Play Welcome! $45.  Tues.-Thurs.  Exit Northshore Blvd.

Perfect.  Hadn’t someone said Northshore had a famous stretch of holes on the back nine set against the backdrop of the bay?  In the 11 miles it took to cross the causeway bridge from Corpus, we’d spurned Corpus and determined the fate of the next 48 hours.   We’d launch our trip in the suburb of Portland on a golf course overlooking Corpus Christi Bay.  Elevation 21.

northshoreccNorthshore’s route offered everything an inland guy could expect from a Gulf Coast golf course.  The strong smell of saltwater hovered in the sweltering summer heat, a heat and humidity that might’ve been unbearable if not for the cooling gale force winds blowing in off the ocean.  On this day we’d play like the Scots on the fabled links of golf’s ancestry and face the Gulf winds like men.  Men like Steve Broughton, who as fate would have it, cruised up to the first tee as our threesome was about to swing away.

Four hours later we’d reflect upon how fortunate we were to experience Northshore with someone who could impart his course knowledge into our heads.  In the meantime, we’d enjoy a very difficult and impressive golf course with one helluva nice guy and playing partner. The course was not particularly long (6,805 yards), and there are not many trees, but with winds pushing 20 knots and a design loaded with bunkers, water hazards, sidehill lies and several blind tee shots, it was not an easy course.

“It’s a real, not easy course,” drawled Broughton, an Odessa native and further proof that the world’s most genuine folk come from the oil fields of West Texas.  “Have fun. You’re enjoying the privilege of playing this course at its toughest.” His comment sparked conversations of a Hogan Tour event in the nineties where the wind blew so hard, the final round leader shot 80 on Sunday and still won.

The famous stretch on the back nine (holes 13-16) was equivalent to playing a resort course in Hawaii. It starts with the signature par-3 13th, which plays from a spectacular tee over an inlet of the bay down to a massive green cuddled up against the sand and surf. The wind wailed and the ocean sprayed while we putted. 14 and 15 play along the bay.  We all nailed our tee shots left on the 531-yard 14th to the tiny little landing area, then avoided the cliffs that loomed right for our 2nd. The stretch continued with the 352-yard 15th that doglegs hard right and plays over an inlet just past the turn. The green here isn’t an inviting target. It’s tiny, elevated and surrounded by waste areas and a bunker.  16 was gnarly as well, a long par-3 into a deep green guarded by the Gulf and more bunkers.

The combination of Broughton’s good company and the outstanding golf course ensured a good time was had by all, and Broughton even gave us the number for his son-in-law Mike Bohn, a fishing guide in Rockport.  Everything had been perfect until I realized I’d lost my much-needed polarized sunglasses, but even that mistake added value to the road trip.

While retrieving my shades from the cart barn, I overheard casual cart jockey conversation, which sparked a wildfire of intrigue and mystery for our crew.

“I’m tellin’ you man, it ain’t that nice from the outside, but once you step foot in the Corn Palace, you’ll leave there hornier than a four-peckered billy goat!”

A simple, but intriguing term: Corn Palace.  Could it be real?  A little research revealed some evidence  of hearsay about a double-wide trailered “gentlemen’s club” somewhere nearby, just off the road, set in the middle of a corn field.

So there was plenty to discuss on the way to Port Aransas, a laid-back resort and fishing community on Mustang Island, 24 miles northeast of Corpus. Unlike South Padre, with its high-rise condos and sometimes overwhelming crowds, Port A has faded wood beach houses, quaint shops, countless condos, bed and breakfasts, beach-side rentals, and unique lodging reminiscent of the old days.

We reluctantly passed on the vintage Tarpon Inn, a newly remodeled hotel with a history dating back to 1886 when it served as a secret retreat for Franklin D. Roosevelt, and settled for the more affordable $59 walk-in special at the clean-looking Alistair Inn.  Good fortune struck again, as they were out of rooms, but checked us into their sister hotel down the road.

“It’s across the road from Sharkey’s,” mentioned the clerk as she smiled professionally.  “It’s the place to be for nightlife in Port A.”

Nice.

We were in a unique phase of the trip to which seasoned travelers are accustomed, but requires focus for beginners.  Take care of the basic business of setting up shop quickly, and get on with the fun. It was hard not to bullshit in the offices of Texas Charter Fleet & Yacht Brokers, the shop at the end of the Marina Market that arranged our next day’s fish trip.

After signing the paperwork and covering the tab, we naturally discussed the fishing and inquired about the night life, “Have you guys heard of a place called the Corn Palace?”

Quizzical looks ensued followed by slight smirks, and as one of them was about to answer, another guide walked in and interrupted the dialogue.  He was a little hillbilly scraggly with a ponytail.

“You shoulda hooked me up with them boys, I coulda showed em’ a little about flounder giggin,” he reflected to the others with a special emphasis on the “giggin.”

“Really?”

“Hell yeah.  When the weather gets cold, ain’t nothin’ better than headin’ out to the bays at night for flounder.  Some of them suckers git this big,” as he spread his arms wide in a big circle, reminding me of Hoagy Carmichael’s forgotten tune “Huggin and a Chalkin.”

I got a gal who’s mighty sweet
Big blue eyes and tiny feet
Her name is Rosabelle Magee
And she tips the scales at three-oh-three

Oh, gee, but ain’t it grand to have a gal so big and fat
That when you go to hug her, you don’t know where you’re at
You have to take a piece of chalk in your hand
And hug a ways and chalk a mark to see where you began

One day I was a-huggin’ and a-chalkin’ and a-chalkin’ and a-huggin’ away
When I met another fella with some chalk in his hand
A-comin’ around the other way over the mountain

A-comin’ around the other way

Nobody ever said I’m weak
My bones don’t ache, my joints don’t creak
But I grow pale and I get limp
Every time I see my baby blimp

Oh, gee, but ain’t it grand to have a gal so big and fat
That when you go to hug her
(You don’t know where you’re at)
(You have to take a piece of chalk in your hand)
(And hug a bit and chalk a mark to see where you began)

One day I was a-huggin’ and a-chalkin’ and a-beggin’ her to be my bride
When I met another fella with some chalk in his hand
A-comin’ around the other side (over the mountain)
A-comin’ around the other side

She’s a mile wide!
(Chalkin’ up a markdown and yellin’ “No More!”)
When I met another fella with some chalk in his hand
A-comin’ around the other side (over the mountain)
Over the Great Divide!!

Yet it was time to move on, and despite the allure of the Back Porch Bar with its deck overlooking the wharf, we were hungry for more golf.  This time in Rockport.

ferryoperatorThe ferry ride offered the chance to wind down a bit.  Check voicemail messages, call home, discuss possible locations of the Corn Palace and such.  Mid-week is void of tourists and offered the chance to see locals in action — a precursor to the evening meal at Sharkey’s, where the locals would have more of a profound impact than at any other point of the trip.

Soon we were northbound again on Texas 35.

Magically, wind-blown, saltwater stained coastal live oak trees appeared out of nowhere just outside of Rockport, a fishing village that dates back to the Civil War era where it was established as a shipping point and slaughterhouse town.  Along with neighboring Fulton, the area sports a laid-back demeanor characterized by seafood vendors, wooden fishing piers, shops, restaurants and art galleries that boast the works of the largest per-capita artist’s colony in the state.

We had an hour’s worth of daylight left, barely enough for nine holes, but it was the kind of light that makes for surreal golf environs, and the perfect introduction to Rockport Country Club.

rockport2It was stunning — in Tour quality condition and a great route.  We thought we’d been plopped down in the middle of one of Barton Creek’s decorated oak-lined tracks.  There was no question that we’d be back for more tomorrow.  It ended too soon, and before we knew it the sun had set, and we were parked on the ferry again back to Port A, ready for a little food and local atmosphere.

A nondescript brick and wood building that rests about 100 yards off the road with a huge gravel parking lot, Sharkey’s balances a cozy beer joint-pool hall demeanor with the potential of a wild weekend tourist party palace. We caught the former on a slow Wednesday night, void of tourists and buzzing with locals.  A 300-pound, former 2-technique greeted us at the bar, smiling and joking with his drinking buddy, a smallish, inebriated man approaching 60 whose stylish Judge Smails hat topped off his beach wardrobe of short shorts, sandals, and Hawaiian shirt.

“Wheres … (hiccup) …  aresyou schflishing tomorra?”, he slurred.

“The bays,” we replied.

He shot beer out of his nose and laughed.  “The bays?  Yous needs to be offschlore.” This was a point we’d
appreciate in 10 hours.

Skynyrd, neon, and a not unpleasant haze of smoke filled the air.  Old fish mounts, photos, and general bar shit hung from the walls.  Two pool tables lingered left of the bar. Bikers, fishing guides, post-revival attendees and two local families with young kids
bantered about.

“JUNIOR!  GIT … OVERRRR … HEEEEEERE!”, yelled a washed out fortyish chain smoking “Mom.”  Apparently she was pissed that her 3-year old couldn’t hold up at the 11 o’clock hour while she drank and enjoyed her night out with stepdad, brothers, sisters, and cousins.  Daddy was playing pool by-God, and the pizza would be there in a minute.

“SWEET … HOME … PORT ARANSAS,” sang the big boy at the bar as a few more smiled and joined in with the Skynyrd classic. “Where the skies are so blue.”

We ordered bourbons, beers and burgers, and while we waited we stepped downstairs for a tour of Sharkey’s enormous back party area.  Bars lined the walls and surrounded more pool tables, a stage, dance floor, and tables for hundreds.  Tonight the only occupant of this weekend fiesta oasis was a barmaid taking a smoke break, shaking semi-controllably because of an apparent imbalance of pills, hard liquor and bad luck.

“Hi boys!  What are y’all doin?”

“What are you doing?” I retorted as my buddies quickly escaped back upstairs. She graveled and mumbled quickly, her dialogue interrupted by a rattled cough.  “Oh, passing the time on a slow night.  I’m not from here, but I promised myself I’d live on the beach so here I am.  I’m taking classes. The oldest college student in school.  Did you know I inherited $300,000 in the 1980s. The government took a lot, I pissed the rest away, and here I am.  So that’s why I’m going to school again.”

“That’s nice,” I feigned as I slowly backed away and looked for the cover of the main bar.

We sat down with Jimmy Buffet playing, and it was time to dig into a big-ass Sharkey’s burger, hand-delivered by the big, kind biker cook, who was proud of his work.  He should’ve been.

A young twenty-something couple walked in.  Every head turned.  The female was the first sign of appealing female flesh the bar had seen.  Male conversations ensued, and more characters rolled in as the clock approached midnight.

Eavesdropping on the adjacent table, we overheard two truckers on a sabbatical from a friendly game of bar pool. “Man, I got done and went to the pisser, and a gawldang butter bean fell out.” We looked at each other in mid-burger bite and decided not to press.

Corn Palace.  Butter Beans.  Our wives and kids at home would be so proud. As thirty-something white guys who’d quit visiting fine establishments such as this years ago, we were intoxicated by the atmosphere.  At least we could walk to our rooms across the highway for some sleep.

Like a true fisherman, I slept restlessly, dreaming of reds and specks, and excited about the afternoon’s golf and the evening’s Gulf Coast gambling cruise.

buddycokerThat morning we were a little ahead of schedule.  We milled around The Wharf before sunrise with hot Circle K coffee, listening to fishing guides and watching sleepy tourists waiting on their charters. We knew our guide’s name, Captain Buddy Coker.

I didn’t have to look at the name embroidered on his shirt to know it was him.  A solid man in his fifties with kind eyes and crow’s feet only a golfer and a fisherman can develop.

We exchanged pleasantries, shot the sh*t about golf and discussed the fishing plans for the day.

We fished for speckled trout with live bait first, throwing “piggy perch” to no avail. Next we persistently pursued reds, cruising the bay and trying hole after hole with more piggies and cut bait.  But it wasn’t our day, despite the diligent efforts of Capt. Coker.  The winds were relentless, cloudying the water and making the conditions extremely difficult. All we mustered were a couple of hardheads.  Coker worked the radio for other guides who confirmed the difficult conditions and lack of luck.  Fish-wise, the most excitement occurred when we pulled aside one of Coker’s comrades, another guide who’d put a client into a serious one-on-one battle with a big bull red.  After 15 minutes with his rod doubled over, the line snapped and the redfish hauled ass.

But despite the fact that we didn’t catch any fish, we couldn’t have asked for a better guide.  Coker, a retired Air Force Colonel and former pilot for Continental, is also an accomplished amateur golfer.  A strong, athletic man, personable, patient, and professional. We passed the time talking golf, fishing, and listening to him tell stories.  On September 11, 2001, Coker had  just landed at Washington DC International Airport from an overnight flight and was about to go to sleep in his hotel next to the Pentagon when the plane hit.  His son is an Air Force Thunderbird.  Last weekend, he shot 75-69 to win a tournament at Delaware Springs. Last month, he had a client on a 12-foot bull shark.

It was refreshing to have the opportunity to spend time with a fine American like Buddy Coker.  And there’s something to be said about a fishing guide who’s more than a fishing guide.  Anyone can have fun catching fish, but on a day where the elusive speckled trout are more elusive than trout, it’s important to have something else to talk about.

At 11:30am, we flipped the proverbial coin and made the tough decision to call it a day and head to Rockport for more golf.  We’d never seen a fishing guide work so hard to get a client to the fish, so we invited our captain to join us at Rockport CC.  Buddy Coker may be a decorated pilot, a fine fishing guide and a good man, but golf is his passion.

“Ohhh, I’ve got to clean the boat up and you boys don’t have time to wait, trying to make the gambling boat and all this evening.” But you could see it in his eyes – the true golfman running through every scenario of how he might possibly pull off a surprise round of golf at a course he’d never played.  He downplayed it, but I had a hunch he’d do his damndest to make the round.

Our quest to enjoy RCC for a full 18 holes was mired in clusterphucked confusion. We were trying to fit too much in, and like true pigs, the real priority was the Texas Treasure.  No matter what happens, at all costs, get to the boat by 6:15. We needed our clubs and clothes from the hotel. We needed gas. We needed to eat.  We needed cash for the casino that night.   We had to cross the ferry.  The plan was to shower at the course and avoid having to cross the ferry again that evening, but the time we saved with that strategic move was lost in lollygag. We stumbled into the course around 2:30, yet still dicked around enough to postpone the first shot by another 20 minutes.  But it was all worth it.

rockport1A 1984 Bill Coore design (some say his first), with a little Jimmy Demaret influence, RCC is a top 25 Texas course hands-down.  And while it’s technically private, their policy is to reciprocate with other clubs and work with groups who’ve come to play.

The route rolls 6,500 yards from the tips through slight hills, dunes, and loads of bunkers—even one that stretches an impressive 400 yards.  Thousands of beautiful oaks litter the course, and water protects 12 holes. The fairways are mostly slim and the dogleg holes are short, requiring precise shot-making, but the course’s signature are its phenomenal greens.

The best hole might be the 14th, a 550-yard+ eye-opener that one of us reached in two with a 3-iron.  But there are plenty of signatures at RCC.  Coker caught up with us in the 4th fairway, quickly displaying his strong game by dropping a ball and sticking a 9-iron to two feet, ten seconds after he got out of the cart.

When the clock struck 5:30, we’d finished 16 and it was time to roll.  In our haste, we passed on the chance to get to know more about the charms of this  famous coastal hideaway for wealthy Texans since the 1880s, when trains brought vacationers from Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.  We could’ve taken another shot at the reds and specks again, delving into the over 20,000 acres of flats, bays and marshes.  We could’ve cultured ourselves by browsing art galleries.  We could’ve at least paid our respects to the fishermen and ranchers who’d stamped Live Oak Peninsula with their own enduring, salty character by having a meal at an institution like Kline’s – a popular restaurant where anglers and guides gather for predawn breakfasts strategy sessions and cold beers, seafood, steaks, and Mexican food in the evenings.

But there’d be another time for all of that, because it was now our time to experience the Las Vegas of the Gulf Coast.

Maybe 100 cars filled the lot, and the characters filing into the casino to pay their $15 for the food, drink, and wagering fit the profiles of avid riverboat gamblers.  BudGirls greeted us and pointed the way to the buffet, where we ate light to stay sharp and soaked in the scene.  Cocktails on the deck helped the mood and killed a little more of the 55 minute delay from departure to gambling time.  I wandered to the back of the boat to think and watch the crowd mingle about.

Sometimes, the people make the trip.  No matter where you go, what you do, or how it all shakes out; whether it’s the good company of your buddies, beautiful women at the airport, a macho fishing guide with no fish but a story to tell, the playing partners in your foursome, or strung out souls at a local bar, seeing the characters of the world is what’s special.

“Yoh attencione pleece. Di cahseeno wi opan in figh meenoots.  Gracias.”

I wanted to gamble but I was too caught up in the Zen of the moment, my mind racing.  The sunset blaring every shade of orange. The relentless power of the wind found only in open water.  The blue waters of the deep Gulf.  The sound of the boat crashing through the waves. The Corn Palace. My wife and boys at home, and how blessed I was.  The powerful realization of how many little things I ultimately had no control over had determined my fate on this trip and in life.

We’d set out to experience Corpus and play golf at Padre Isles, Oso Beach and Pharoah’s, but some supposed force had taken us elsewhere. I didn’t know it at the time but that same $15 ticket that got me onto the boat would garner $1200 in winnings, the result of a twenty-minute run on the craps table and an improbable blackjack on both of the two hands I had maxed on the casino-mandated “final hand of the night.”

For only 48 hours along the Texas coast, what a long strange trip it had been.

-stone

Austin Golf Magazine

austingolfjune2004

Of all the old Austin Golf Magazine issues I produced, this is the one of which I’m most proud.  People still tell me how much they loved this one.  For those who missed it (or never knew it existed), below is the interview.

jb-headshot

Jackson David Bradley
Born in Tipton, Indiana, October 26th, 1921

I lived in Indiana until I was seven. I had a uncle who was a doctor.  He was the one who introduced me to golf, and I broke all the windows on the street where he lived, because I thought I could just go out in the yard and practice hitting golf shots.  My aunt was a very small woman, so the clubs she had were perfect for me as modified junior clubs.

I moved to Long Beach, California in 1929 and lived there until I went to serve my country in the Navy in 1941.  I was on an attack transport that was involved in landings at places such as Okinawa and Iwojima.  I wanted to go into the Marines, because I thought I was a pretty tough guy. But my dad told me, “You don’t want to go into the Marines.  They’re the ones who do all the fighting and all the dying.”  And he was right.

Golf probably kept me out of jail.  I had an inclination to get into things and situations where I didn’t belong. A  wealthy local businessman named Will Reed offered the ten best junior players in the area the opportunity to join Virginia Country Club (now called Recreation Park and owned by the City of Long Beach), which was a very nice course.  It cost us $7.70 a month.  The seventy cents was the tax.

I turned pro in Long Beach when I was 19 at the Lakewood Golf Club.  I’d been there for about a year and a half when the war broke out Sunday morning, December 7, 1941.  We had a golf tournament going on, and every golfer on the course was Japanese.  I had to go out on the course and tell them what had happened.  They all marched in with their heads down and quit their round.

I’ve lived longer than I thought I would. My dad died when he was 54.  My grandfather Bradley died when he was about 60.  He and I had gone out to paint the barn, and he got his arms up over his head and had a heart attack.  I don’t think you want to paint over your head unless you’ve been checked out.

I think the Lord gives you what you can handle. I have five daughters, and I think maybe if I’d had a son, I might have been too hard on him to excel where I didn’t.  It’s probably a natural inclination.

I guess everyone in golf is a specialist now. Short game specialists, fitness specialists, mental game specialists.  When I started out, we did everything.  Cleaned the floors, waxed the cabinets, jumped on a tractor.  There are too many things to be done before you open the door.  There was no such thing as being a specialist.

I gave Brent Buckman a lesson one time when I was at The Academy of Golf.  All I did was straighten out his posture, and he played lights out.  It doesn’t take much to get him to play well.  He’s a good player and a very nice man.

I played in fifteen consecutive PGA Championships, from 1947 to 1961.  I played in ten US Opens.  I played in the first US Senior Open, which was at Winged Foot.  That was the same year they passed the “Arnold Palmer rule”, where you had to be 50 to play in a senior event.

Nicklaus wasn’t on the team when the Ryder Cup was at Champions in 1967.  The reason was that he wasn’t yet a PGA Member.  He didn’t turn pro until 1962.  Back then, you had to be a PGA Member to play in the Ryder Cup.  That was before the players took over.

In the 1961 US Open at Cherry Hills, Nicklaus was still an amateur and almost won.  That was the year Arnold Palmer shot 65 in the final round to win.  I finished tied for 17th with Sam Snead, Gary Player and Bob Goalby. If I’d have shot 73 in the final round instead of 74, I would’ve played in the Masters the following year.

I had it going in the third round there. I was five under par on the 13th hole, tied with Hogan, and I took the gas.  I bombed a drive on 14 and had about 200 yards left.  I was way up on a hill hitting down to the green and tried to hit it pin high with a seven iron.  I wasn’t thinking.  It landed up on the green, but spun all the way back down.  The next hole, I knew I was still in the thick of things and got a little excited.  It was about a 200-yard par three, and I half shanked it.  I went from five under to three under in just a few minutes, and then I did the most remarkable thing that has ever happened to me in golf.  I hit my second shot to the 16th hole, and it went into the cup.  But it had so much backspin that it spun around in there and hopped back up out.  That ball was down in the hole and came out.  Coming around to  18, I was four-under, and I drove it into a little inlet off the fairway.  I had to play the shot with one foot in the water, and I half-shanked it into a greenside bunker.  I hit a terrible bunker shot just on the green and promptly three-putted for a 69.  That took me out of business.  I played right behind Palmer that year and watched him drive it on the first green.  I could hit it as far as him, so I stepped up there and tried to do the same thing, but I hit it in the creek and started out with a six.  That wasn’t the way I wanted to start.

I won the first pro tournament I entered, the Santa Anita Open.  It was a WPA (Work Progress Administration) course, par 70, about 7,000 yards long. I shot the course record and beat some very good players. The entire purse was $1000.  First prize was $300.  I felt like a rich man.  In 1948, I won the Montebello Open, where Pete Jacobs (Tommy and John Jacobs’ dad) was the manager/owner.  I beat Teddy Rhodes by a shot.  Teddy was the best black golfer back then.

In the LA Open, about a 1000 people qualified. I might have been about 20 then.  In the qualifying round, I was paired with Howard Wheeler, a cross-handed black golfer who was a good player and a very nice man.  Anyway, they teed us off about an hour and a half earlier than everyone else.  At the time, I couldn’t figure out why, but I later learned that they didn’t like blacks or Jews playing their course.

jb-young-jacksonJohnny Revolta and I starred in the first live television show about golf. It was called Pars, Birdies and Eagles. It was in primetime, and the whole thing was improvised. We had a higher rating than Milton Berle.  I had to join the Screen Actor’s Guild, which was good for me, because I think actors were getting about $165/hour back then.  Joe Jemsek was one of our sponsors.

Jemsek owned Cog Hill and St. Andrews (west of Chicago).  Joe was a Russian, and a brilliant guy.  He worked as a caddie and car parker at Cog Hill and ended up owning it.  He told me one year that his golf operation netted him $265,000 after taxes, which was a small fortune in the late forties.  He contacted every corporation he could think of, and he’d host their outings. He was a wizard at everything he did.

In 1944 at Medinah, I was paired with Bob Hamilton, who was a PGA Champion, and Tony Penna.  I’d shot 69-71 on Saturday, and Hamilton shot in the high eighties and withdrew.  I think he was all huffed up because here was this nobody Bradley kid who was chipping in and doing all sorts of good things on a very tough course.  In the afternoon, Penna lasted seven holes and quit.  I had to sit on a bench somewhere on the front nine with my scorecard and wait on the group behind to come up, so I’d have someone to play in with.

jb-good-21I came around when golf was in the dark ages, and I think golf may have progressed to the dark ages again. There’s an opinion on everything.  Biomechanics, for example.  I don’t know if I’ve met anyone smart enough to do all the things that are being taught today.  Golf has also really gotten commercial.

In 1953 in the PGA at Birmingham CC in Michigan, I found myself matched against Ellsworth Vines in the first round.  He’d beaten me the year before at Oakland Hills, and he was somewhat demeaning to me in his victory.  The good Lord was very kind in giving me a chance for revenge. I dusted him off.  Not by much, maybe 3 & 2, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  But then I had bigger problems.  I had to play the winner of the Sam Snead/Tommy Bolt match.

Bolt did a terrible thing to Snead.  He had Snead’s bags packed and delivered to him in the locker room along with his airline reservations back to Virginia.  When Snead got to the locker room and saw his packed bags and airline tickets, Bolt told him, “You won’t be around here very long.  I just wanted to save you some money.”  Everyone died of hysterics.  In the afternoon, I was playing Bolt.

Early into that round, Bolt wasn’t paying much attention, and I birdied the first couple of holes.  We were playing stymies, and they still had the old “60 foot” rule, where you couldn’t touch your ball until you were within 60 feet of the hole.  Bolt walked up on the third hole and started to mark his ball, and I stopped him and said, “Tommy, don’t mark your ball, or you’ll lose the hole.”  He didn’t like that.  The reporters were all over us, and I told him, “Tommy, I know you haven’t been in many big time tournaments, but ol’ Jackson will get you through this.”  I think I beat him one-up.  It’s interesting how you could apply the needle.  I lost my third round match to Dave Douglas on the 37th hole, which kept me out of the Masters.

We played match play until 1958.  In the last match play event, Dow Finsterwald was a finalist.  Lionel Hebert beat him, and the next year at the Larnyx Club in Philadelphia, we went to medal play.  They were nice enough to have us back for the 40th reunion of that event.  Finsterwald won this time.

It seemed like it was tough to run a business and play competitive golf.

I was on the PGA Rules Committee. I served seven years, and after five years, I told them I didn’t want to do it again, and they had a terrible experience with my replacement, so they had a special election and elected me back again.

My best friend in golf was Jay Hebert.

In The 1958 US Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, I had a pretty fair round going, and I was a cinch to make it to the weekend. On the 13th hole, a converted par 5, I played out of the rough, then short of the pond, then up on the green.  They’d syringed the greens, and my ball was covered in mud.  I four-putted from six feet below the hole.  I was furious.  I walked over into the rough to where John Winters and Joe Dye, who was the Executive Secretary of the USGA, were standing.  I took the muddy ball and ground it into Joe Dye’s palm and used very bad language on him.  In so many words, I expressed my interest in changing the rule.

I was on the PGA Rules Committee, and we met with the USGA in Augusta at the Masters the next year.  At that time, you could have 16 clubs in your bag, so we made a deal.  If we could mark and clean the ball on the green, we’d give up two clubs.  They agreed, and that happened in 1959.  I can’t say that I changed the rule, but remember, the USGA must work in accord with the Royal & Ancient.  They had to get the R&A to agree on any major rule changes.  In my presentation for the rules change, I said that in Scotland, you could drop a ball from 10,000 feet and it wouldn’t make a dent on the green, much less pick up mud.

The last time I played with Nicklaus, he and I played a practice round with Ben Hogan before the first round of the 1961 US Open at Oakland Hills, where Gene Littler won.

Ben Hogan had a date with King Leopold III of Belgium and his wife Lilianne.  Hogan called me and said, “I want you to block off a week and send me a bill.  We’re going to entertain Leopold and Lilianne.”  I said, “Wonderful.  And don’t worry about the money.”  It was a bitter cold day at River Oaks, and after nine holes we had lunch.  Hogan said, “Jackson, you keep going with them.  I’m going to bow out.”  This was after his car accident, and his circulation just wasn’t good enough to keep him out there in the cold.

I made the cut in 90% of the events I played.  I think if I played today, I could’ve made a nice living as a tour player.  The money they play for today is really incredible. In the early fifties, the combined total purses from events all over the world were less than $500,000.

I wish someone would put together information on how purses have changed.  Nicklaus never won any money.

Arnold Palmer gave golf a different look.  He was a real charging player.  He was a very good driver and an excellent putter.  He kept George Low, who was the Dave Pelz of my era, on his payroll.  George kept Arnold down and steady on the green, and taught him to knock his knees in like he did.  I think Arnold had the greatest effect on golf because he was a showman.  He was a swashbuckler.  He made no bones about trying to win every tournament he entered.

Tiger Woods’ game is simple to fix. He doesn’t seem to understand that if the club is swinging, the ball will go where the club wants it to.  He says the club gets stuck behind him?  That’s bull.  He’s just pulling the club.  There’s no pulling in the golf swing, only centrifugal force.  Tiger has had such an outstanding career.  He has a very intelligent mother and father, who could see what his potential was.  I think he worked at it hard for the first ten years he was on Tour, and now it seems like maybe he has quit working so hard.  I think a great musician once said, I need to practice every day. When I don’t practice every day, other expert musicians can tell.  When I don’t practice for a week, everyone on Earth can tell.

The first time I played with Byron Nelson was in 1942 at the New Orleans Open.  That was where I won my first check.  Twenty-five dollars.  When Byron changed from hickory to steel shafts, he learned to point the club to the sky in his backswing and swing square to square.  Everyone used to swing like Bobby Jones.  Buggywhippers.

I became a PGA member in 1946 and played in 15 consecutive PGA’s.  At the time, I didn’t think anything of it.  I just thought it was something I should do.  I was pretty good at qualifying.

In Akron, Ohio in the 1955 Firestone Open, I tied for first with Jack Burke, Henry Ransom and Doug Ford. Ransom sunk a fifty-footer to get into the playoff and then sunk a forty-footer on the first playoff hole to win.

The reason I came to Texas was because of Jack Burke. From Long Beach, I went to Edgewater Golf Club in Chicago in 1953.  Edgewater was the home of Chick Evans, who won the US Amateur and the US Open in the same year (1916).  When I was there, the club manager stole all the money and disappeared.  If I understand scripture, and I think I do, you don’t get away with anything.  The club couldn’t honor my contract because of the theft, and as luck would have it, Jack Burke and Jimmy Demaret called me and said that River Oaks needed a new pro. They’d recommended me, which was tantamount to getting the job unless you had a record as a child molester.  I was interviewed by Fisher Reynolds, and it was the most thorough interview I’d ever been through.  I really appreciated his concern in getting the right guy for the job.

jb-good-3

A golf pro in the development business is a good example of what Dr. Peters wrote about as the Peter Principle, where you finally elevate to a level of total incompetence.  I was at River Oaks for 14 years, until I went into business with some of the members.  We developed a golf community in Conroe.  I ended up in Huntsville at Elkins Lake.  I think if the homeowners had the opportunity, they’d have a Jackson Bradley parade.  I deeded the entire development into price of the lots, so the property owners own the entire development.

After Burke won the Masters and the PGA in 1956, he went over to Japan.  I was at River Oaks at the time.  While he was over there, he volunteered that I would take a Japanese player as an assistant, and he’d take one at Champions.  The only thing was, the guy I got was an excellent player, but couldn’t speak a word of English.  The only thing I could do with him was stick him out on the golf course and have him play with the members.  They loved it.  He averaged about 67 around the old Donald Ross course at River Oaks.

I had a caddie named Homero Blancas while I was at River Oaks.  Homero had a world of skill, but he also liked beer.  He was interviewed one time in Houston, and he said that he’d never had one golf lesson in his whole life.  I’d given him a thousand lessons, and my assistants had given him plenty.  So, Robbie Williams, the pro at Memorial Park called me and said, “Jackson, did you see what Homero said in the paper?”  I hadn’t, and he told me what Homero had said, and we had a good laugh about how many lessons we’d all given him.  Homero and I were inducted into the Texas Golf Hall of Fame at the same time.  At my speech, I said that the difference in lessons and non-lessons must be what you pay for, because Homero never paid for a single lesson.

Homero shot 55 at a little course in Longview, which I think is still the lowest recorded round in golf history.  He had the world by the tail.  I set him up with sponsors at River Oaks, where he could play golf and subsist on expenses, and in a few years, he’d be a multi-millionaire.  But he ran into a guy on the Tour who told him he should manage his own money.  Against my advice, this guy convinced him to quit his sponsors.  In three years, he was out of money.

jb-patentI held a patent on the first metal wood. In Houston from day to day, it’s constantly humid and dry, humid and dry, and the old woods would crack and chip, so I got tired of going to the post office and returning clubs to Chicago, Cincinnati and Chicopee, Massachusetts.  I taught a kid named Ralph Foltz.  His dad was a dentist, and I told him that there’s got to be a better way to make a club.  Drawing from my experiences as an errand boy for Dr. Hans Bush, who did technical work for dentists, I came up with an idea to make a filling and mold the clubhead around the filling.  Sort of a reverse process for filling a tooth.  Dr. Foltz liked the idea and agreed to back it.  He later died, and I let the patents lapse, like an idiot.

I tried to qualify for the British Open in 1966.  When I flew over to Scotland, George Fazio and I went out to Muirfield for a practice round.  When we got out there, it was raining and the wind was blowing so hard you couldn’t even get it over the rough on the first hole.  He hit three balls, and they all stayed in the rough.  I hit one and barely got it over.  George decided not to play, but I pressed on and played a round.  When I got in, the Scots were very interested in the crazy American out on the course.  They invited me in the clubhouse, which was unheard of.  The Secretary of the club came out to greet me on the last hole and told me that if anyone would play on such an awful day, they had to get to know who it was.

I used video before anyone. I used it to promote my development in Conroe.  I bought an outfit from Til Thompson in Ruidoso, New Mexico.  He developed the “photo finish” equipment used to determine horserace winners.  He did a custom-made job for me that cost about $6000.  It lasted about six months.  That was when I was making a little money and didn’t have any sense.

I didn’t know better at the time, but as I look back, you’ve got to get that first ball in play.  I tried to hit it hard off the tee.  Think about a tennis player.  He can be the best player ever, but if he doesn’t get that first serve in, he won’t beat anyone.

My best year was in 1953. I made the cut in every event I played, and cashed a check in almost all of them.

Bobby Leadbetter and Johnny Myers from Monroe, Louisiana were both assistant pros of mine at River Oaks in Houston.  So was Bob Rosburg.

Ernest Jones contended that there are no positions in golf other than posture at address and how you hold the club.  He said that the golf swing can only be conceived as one continuous motion.  That blows everyone out of the water.  I guess I’m one of the few people left that still teaches that way.