10 of Golf's Biggest and Best Characters
Bryson DeChambeau has attracted a huge amount of attention from fans and media alike since he first burst upon the PGA Tour. Initially it was because of his idiosyncratic swing and the fact that all his irons were the same length. And then there was the time it took him to hit a shot, constantly consulting with his caddie. Now, of course, he is at the centre of attention because of his incredible physical transformation. He claims to have put on 42lb of muscle in less than a year and has turned himself into the biggest hitter on Tour. He is what you might call a character. And it got us thinking about some of the sport’s most colourful such individuals.
Here are just 10 of them.
Moe was a one-off with a swing that it was all his own. It is now widely believed that he was autistic, which would explain why he seldom spoke to the media or, indeed, to his fellow players. But there has never been a golfer who hit the ball as straight as Norman was able to do. He was once playing with Sam Snead and they came to a hole with a stream 250 yards away. Snead laid up and expected Norman to do the same but the Canadian reached for his driver. “You need to lay up Moe,” said Snead. “I am aiming for the bridge,” replied Norman. And he duly struck a drive that sailed off across the bridge and finished safely on the other side. Bizarrely, he also had a flamboyant taste in golf clothing at a time when it simply wasn’t fashionable to wear bright green trousers on the course.
Daly exploded onto the scene when he drove through the night to play in the 1991 US PGA Championship at Crooked Stick. Not only did he turn the sport on its head by winning, but he produced a display of big hitting that the game had never seen before. And he putted like an angel. He also won The Open at St Andrews, but it was his antics off the course that ended up making the real headlines - his personal life was a disaster, with numerous failed relationships, a taste for beer, an addiction to sweets and cigarettes and several complete meltdowns on the course. It is fair to say that Daly never came close to fulfilling his potential but he most certainly was and remains a huge character.
The American’s nickname was Lightning Bolt - and for very good reason. If you think that the likes of Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton have a temper, then you really have no clue about the way Bolt played the game. Let’s just say that he operated on a short fuse - a very short fuse. He used to break clubs on a regular basis and throw them into nearby lakes if they misbehaved. On one occasion his caddie famously handed him a two iron when the shot called for a short iron. Bolt asked his caddie what on earth he was doing giving him a two iron. He informed his employer that the two iron was the only club left that wasn’t damaged!
What makes a character? Is it a unique hairstyle? Is it the clothes? Is it a near-fanatical love of Arsenal FC? Is it the collection of Ferraris? Is it the personality? Is it the ability to bring out the best in those around him in a team environment? Is it that look when his eyes pop out of his head and he lets out a blood-curdling roar after holing a winning putt? Is it a passion for the Ryder Cup? Is it a desire to inflict maximum pain on American golfers? If the answer is yes, then the question must be ‘Ian Poulter’!
Kim was briefly regarded as the next big thing and was a truly larger than life character. He won tournaments, represented his country at the Ryder Cup and then suffered an injury and disappeared from view. He claims barely to play golf at all now, preferring to spend his time in casinos and enjoying the high life. He once said: “If you don’t like the way I live, change the channel. You’re the one who tuned in here. A lot of the golf public may not appreciate the way I live, which is by my own rules. But I give everybody respect. I am not rude to anybody. And I treat everyone the same.” He made $12m in five years on the PGA Tour so should be able to afford any lifestyle he chooses.
Everybody loves Lefty and the way he plays the game. One of the most wayward drivers on the PGA Tour, when everybody else reaches for an iron to keep the ball in play, Mickelson hauls out the driver, smashes the ball into the trees, finds the ball and then plays a miraculous recovery shot. Or gets himself even deeper into trouble. He is the man who puts the swash into swashbuckle. And let’s not forget that the only major to elude him is the US Open, in which he as six times finished runner up. And that still hurts him. He has turned 50, but don’t expect to see him changing his style of play anytime soon. Or his habit of singing autographs until there is nobody left in the queue. And thank goodness for that!
He boasts that he has never had a lesson in his life and we should all be relieved to hear that because any teaching pro who encouraged anybody to swing the club like Watson does should be drummed out of the profession. But it works. Somehow. He hits the ball miles with a huge controlled slice. And he is a proper golfer. He has won The Masters twice and you don’t do that unless you can play this game properly. He is also unbelievably creative. His clubs have pink shafts and he routinely uses either a pink or a yellow golf ball. And when he wins he turns into Blubbering Watson.
It is beyond argument that Hagen was the greatest golfer of his generation. At a time when professionals were treated like second-class citizens, Hagen regarded himself as a gentleman and he was responsible for a sea-change, ensuring that pros were finally welcomed in clubhouses. And boy did he enjoy the high life. He would often spend all night partying and drinking, turn up to play the next day with little or no sleep - and walk away with the trophy. He was golf’s first superstar and lived like one. He said: “I never wanted to be a millionaire. I just wanted to live like one."
SuperMex only ever stopped talking when he stood over the ball - and not always even then. He used to drive some of his playing partners to distraction, in their ears from the first tee to the 18th green. As a youngster he used to hustle, often playing for money that he didn’t have. He had a unique swing, hitting everything from left to right. And he hardly ever missed a fairway. He was also a magician on and around the greens. Trevino was once struck by lightning and afterwards said that if you are ever caught in a thunderstorm you should reach for a one iron “because not even God can hit a one iron!"
The King was the man who transformed professional golf, which was dying on its feet, desperate to find a charismatic character. And then along came Arnie. His philosophy was to hit the ball as hard as he could, find it, and then hit it again. When Arnie hitched up his trousers before hitting a shot you knew that you were going to see something special. A smoker in his early days, he was taken to one side and advised that it did not create a good impression. He gave up immediately. Palmer single-handedly saved The Open, winning it twice in swashbuckling fashion. He was loved wherever he played and today’s golfers should thank him every single day of their lives.
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