Hagen and the Invention of Professional Golf

This article is more than 16 years old.

Walter Hagen played golf with flair as well as exceptional talent, and his life beyond the course was never short on stories. With a few exceptions, today's professional golfers don't seem to be having nearly as much fun on the job as Hagen had. On today's greens, a pumping fist is considered a passionate display. Hagen used to turn his back on a putt that was still rolling and then smile to demonstrate his confidence in the outcome of his stroke. Even in tense matches with lots of money and considerable prestige at stake, Hagen would wander into the rough from time to time to chat up attractive women in the gallery.

Tom Clavin, who has previously written a book about the Ryder Cup, could have been forgiven for including more play-by-play in "Sir Walter," but he was astute enough to recognize that much of the time, Hagen himself would be more interesting to readers than the game he was playing, especially if the readers weren't golfers.

Hagen won pretty much everything there was to win, but one of the themes of Clavin's book is that Sir Walter's most important achievement was the invention of the profession he went on to dominate. When Hagen began playing golf, "golf pros" were menials who made and repaired clubs for the wealthy members of country clubs, gave those members and their wives golf lessons, and hoped for tips. Hagen took his act on the road and created enough interest in what he was doing so that a rudimentary pro golf tour became possible. Then, by refusing to accept treatment as a second class citizen by the snobs who regarded the pros as mercenary riff-raff, Hagen opened the clubhouse doors to the pros, who'd previously been asked to change their clothes in the pro shop or in their cars.

Unhappily, the end of Walter Hagen's life was painful and difficult.

Cancer and the treatments for it that he endured poisoned his last days. But when Tom Clavin went looking for fellow pros and others to remember Sir Walter, he often heard some variation of what Chuck Kocsis, an accomplished amateur golfer who frequently played with Hagen, offered: "Everybody loved the guy. He was a lot of fun."

This program aired on March 24, 2005. The audio for this program is not available.