Jack Burke

After linking to and reading (again) Guy Yocom’s interview with Jack Burke in a previous entry, I feel compelled to give it its own post.  It is by far the best thing I’ve ever read about golf.  For those interested in learning the game, you must read this interview.  It’s a shame Mr. Burke isn’t running the PGA, the USGA and all the other groups that claim to support the game.  And for those of you who disagree with his views on golf, guess what:  you’re part of the problem.

Austin Golf Magazine


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.


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.


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.