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He's the man who modernised golf

The flamboyant, charismatic, brilliant, millionaire of golf...Walter Hagen

Posted Aug 24, 2010 by Legends

Walter Hagen

He is remembered as golf’s most flamboyant character, the man who modernised the game by realising the commercial opportunities of product endorsement where many have followed, the man who propelled professionals from the bottom rung of the golfing pecking order to the top, the man who continually embarrassed the golfing establishment….it is of course, the one and only, Walter Hagen.

Hagen was like no other professional there has ever been. He never prepared - mentally, physically or otherwise - exhaustively and he used golf to make him a fortune. In fact, he was the first ever golfer to make and to spend $1m! He once famously said: “I never wanted to be a millionaire. I just wanted to live like one.”

When you look at today’s golfers you realize how much they owe this man and for so many reasons.

Firstly, he realised the financial gains that could be made by product endorsement so much so that he used to carry 22 clubs in his bag instead of 14 as he was paid $500 per year for every club in his bag.

He made popular, colourful clothing on the golf course. He was known for his bright plus fours and tank tops with two-tone shoes compared to the grey and brown the rest of the field sported.

He also challenged the golfing hierarchy who considered the professionals to be lesser men in the golfing world. This was his serious side. Pros, especially in Britian, were not allowed to use the clubhouse facilities and were sometimes prohibited from entering through the front door. Hagen had no time for this as he believed that masters of their craft could never be second rate.

So what did he do?

He once hired a Rolls Royce and a footman and set himself up outside a clubhouse entrance, using the car as a changing room. On another occasion he refused to enter the clubhouse to collect his prize as he had earlier been refused entry. It was this kind of behaviour that elevated the professionals to the status they deserved.

And perhaps most importantly he brought a sense of sport and fun the game that had been missing before.

However, it wasn’t just this kind of behaviour for which he will be remembered. His talent was unquestionable, although he was either brilliant or shocking, and he was considered a master of the recovery shot.

The great Bobby Jones once said, after losing to Hagen in a 72-hole ‘World Championship’ match: “When a man misses his drive, and then misses his second shot, and then wins the hole with a birdie, it gets my goat.”

This brilliantly summed Hagen up. He knew one great shot could win or save any hole.

He won 11 major championships during his career, leaving him fourth in the all-time list behind Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Bobby Jones. He won five PGA Championships, including four on the bounce, when the tournament was in a matchplay format. He won in 1921, didn’t enter in ’22, lost in the final to Gene Sarazen in ’23, then won from ’24 to ’27. During those six years of competition Hagen lost just one match against the best professionals the United States had to offer.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame and was the captain of the first six US Ryder Cup teams. He sadly died on October 5th 1969.

All in all, a phenomenal golfer, character and man who has played a massive part in making the game what it is today.

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