Monday, March 24, 2008

A Conversation With Ronnie Ward

A phone conversation with Ron Ward (October, 2007)

BK: Hello Ron, its Bill Kelly.

RW: Hey Kell, what’s cookin’ buddy? Sorry I missed your earlier call, I was playing golf.

BK: You’re a lucky guy.

RW: I know I am. I’m trying to get to be a good player.

BK: I’m working on a story about how Arnie met Winnie and….

RW: I was there.

BK: I know you were there, that’s why I’m calling. I had previously talked with Howard Everett and he mentioned you were there, along with Stan Dudas.

RW: Tonight I was walking down the eighteenth hole at Wildwood in the dark. I played till' dark like a six fifteen with a cart and then they didn't want any more carts out and I didn't want to hold them up. So I walked. At Mays landing I can play with a cart after dark because I've got a key to te cart shed. Well, anyway, I was walking down the eighteenth hole just now in the dark and I was think, I went to Brookline when Curtis Strange won two Opens in a row. So I was walking down the eighteenth green at Brookline, and do you know who Herbert Warren Wind is?

BK: Great golf writer.

RW: He went to school with a guy I worked with – he always called him "Herbie." So I finally met him and I said "Do you remember…John?"

So I’m walking down the 18th hole at Brookline and there’s Herbert Warren Wind and I’m walking down with him, and he says, see that house over there? That’s the house that Francis Ouimet lived in when he won the Open. That was a wonderful sight and I was just thinking about that tonight, so what is it you want to know?

BK: 1913 Open. Well here’s the connection to what you just told me. The 1913 U.S. Open was the greatest game ever played, not just because Ouimet, a 20 year old amateur won it, but because Johnny McDermott had won the two previous U.S. Opens. McDermott beat Vardon and Ray at Shawnee a week before the Open at Brookline and promised them they wouldn’t take the US championship trophy home with them. That threat put golf on the front pages of newspapers and made the 1913 Open a news story.

RW: I knew McDermott, because he hung out at Atlantic City when I was the pro there.

BK: He was the youngest ever to win the US Open, and still is at 19.

RW: And first American.

BK: There’s a book The Greatest Game.

RW: They made a movie of that too.

BK: Yea, and in the movie they have McDermott six foot two red head, when he wasn’t that tall or outlandish.

RW: He was near 70s when I knew him, a few years before he died because Leo Fraser took pretty good care of him.

BK: Yes, there’s a picture of them together in my book. Anyway, that tournament that caused all the commotion over the 1913 Open was at Shawnee, or what they called it before it became Shawnee. There was always some connections between Atlantic City and Shawnee going back to McDermott’s win there. The Shawnee amateur golfers planted a tree and put up a plaque by the front door near the trolley bell, and above the bay windows in the Taproom there’s an old, brown and white panoramic photo of Shawnee that’s there for a reason.

RW: Oh, no kidding, I never realized that.

BK: In any case, there’s a number of connections between Atlantic City and Shawnee, including you.

RW: Well, yea, I worked at Shawnee for nine years, and then I was starting to have lots of kids and I started looking into some pro jobs, one in Albany, New York, and another in Elizabeth Manor in Virginia Beach. Then Stan Dudas called me one night and said, "Come on, we’re going to Atlantic City Country Club and I’m going to get you a pro job. I’m friends with Leo Fraser." Because one year they had the local PGA at the Atlantic City Country Country Club, and we had a big flood up in the Poconos, so Stan happened to be down here so he stayed here for a week and that’s how he and Leo got to be good friends. So Stan hand-picked me for the job. And Leo was a vascilator, you know what vasilator means? Fluctuate, so he never did tell me he hired me. It was funny, when I left to go to Wildwood, which was a step up, they had a big party for me and I told that story that I was never told I got hired. I was there in Atlantic City for four years, and the proper thing was to move forward to a head pro job.

BK: What years where you at Shawnee?

RW: I got there June 2nd of 1952, and I left there, we closed about the middle of October, 1960, and then I became the pro at Atlantic City, April 1st, 1961. And I stayed until March, 1965.

BK: When was Palmer there?

RW: Here’s what happened. Arnold Palmer was working for a guy named Bill Wehnes, who was in the paint business. And Bill used to come to Shanwnee, he had a beautiful wife. Palmer worked for Bill as a paint seller. So Bill came to Shawnee, and Fred Waring had this big invitational tournament that always started the day after Labor Day. So Bill Wehnes wanted to bring Arnold to play and he had him entered.

And then Arnold won the U.S. Amateur at the Detrioit Country Club on that Saturday. So now on Tuesday he’s there at Shawnee for the tournament. And Fred Warning, who owned the place, had a daughter named Dixie, and Dixie’s buddy was Winnie Waltzer. The Walter family liked to hang around the club but they didn’t play golf. Mr. Waltzer sold food, and him and Mr. Waring became friends. So that’s what Winnie was doing there. She used to hand around the pool a lot. I never did see her on the golf course, but she was a cute little girl.

So anyway, Arnie wins the national amateur out of the blue. He wasn’t expected to win it, he wasn’t favored like Tiger Woods was. So anyway, now he comes and plays, he meets Winnie and he marries her four months later. He used to hang around Shawnee in his spare time. He liked the place, and it was great.

And I have to tell you this story. He had a book out, and in the book Arnie talks about how he used to fly with his buddy when he was about 17. My buddy, he said, was always flying so low he would run the wheel on the ground as he was flying. So one day I was out playing golf at Shawnee – which is an island on the Delaware River in the Pocono mountains. So it’s a flat golf course out on the river. I remember the first time I saw it is so beautiful. So anyway we were out playing and while we were playing in comes this airplane so low we almost had to duck. So at Shawnee the hotel front door was kind of right by where you pulled up with the carts after the round by the first tee and as we were standing there, up comes Arnie in a car saying, "Did you see me?"

And we could almost touch him. So I thought it was wonderful that he wrote about that in the story. But he was always a good guy. That was the fun of Arnold Palmer.

BK: Was he ever at Shawnee before that tournament?

RW: No he had never gone to Shawnee before.

BK: Howard Everett was working there too.

RW: Howard ended up becoming a kind of a general manager. Fred Waring liked him. I always said that Howard Everett was one of the original Arnold Palmers, because as an amateur he was really good, and he was a good looking guy, and he could really wack the hell out of that ball. But amateurs stayed amateurs in those days, they didn’t turn pro.

Harvey Ward and Ken Ventura worked for the guy who caddied for Francis Oiuemet (in the 1913 Open), Eddie Lowrey, he became a Cadillac dealer out in California. So Ken and Harvey were working for him, and the USGA put the heat on them because they weren’t working, just taking money from him, so they turned pro. But it was better, back in those days, to stay amateur. But after Arnie won the U.S. Amateur, Stand Dudas was going to take him to Bermuda and play in a tournament with him as an amateur, but he said to Stan, "No, I’m going to turn pro."

Because it was just starting to get money in the game, Palmer was the beginning of the big money.

He used to be out on the Green Terrace, an outdoor eating place by the 18th green, and I remember one day, Arnie was out there doing a commercial. It probably showed for about 30 seconds and it took about two hours to do it. But that was one of those things that made it so the great pros stopped being so great. Hogan was great, and then after him Palmer came along, and Nicolas, but the masses were always busy making money.

The grand slam was what everyone always wanted to win – and I used to go watch the Masters, the Open and the PGA, I never went to the British Open, but I always liked to watch the first round because it seemed like in the first round everybody could take the gas.

I saw Johnny Miller, he was at his peak, in the first round he shot a 75 at the Masters, and I used to go eves drop on the press conference and he used to say, "I was always between clubs, and that’s why I shot 75."

Hogan was at his peak. One time he was playing at Whitemarsh and he hit a three-wood 150 yards, and a guy asked him how come he used a three-wood and he said, "That’s what the shot required." That was the epitome of moving the ball with the club. He was never a great putter. That was his demise.

BK: What’s the story about you camping out on his lawn or something?

WR: I went there a few times. It is really funny. What happened to me Kel, after I got to Wildwood, I saw when you make money in this business you should try to be a good player. I was a fake golf pro. If somebody would ask me a tricky question I’d pretend I knew the answer, but I never worked on my game because I was busy chasing girls and being a big shot. And then when I got to Wildwood, I said let’s try to work on your game. And Hogan was the best, so I wanted to pick his brain.

So one day I called the Dallas-Fort Worth newspaper and the sports guy who answered said, "You know, I just took some pictures to Hogan’s house last week," and he gave me the address, in the suburb of Fort Worth. So I went down to his house, I remember the first time I went there it was a Sunday, I was coming back from trying to qualify for the tour one year, and we went down to Brownsville, Texas to play. And I was coming back from Brownsville, Texas on a Sunday morning and I stopped at Hogan’s house, I knocked on the door, and Hogan was the King, the King of Golf. When I knocked on the door, there was a peep hole in the door like they have in motel rooms, you know? So I’m laughing my ass off at that – he’s the King of Golf and he’s got to have a peep hole to hide from people.

Because Hogan didn’t like people that much. He had a little rancher house, but he didn’t have a spare bedroom, he didn’t want company. So his wife opened the door, and she looked like death warmed over, all that tension and all. And I’m laughing, and asked, "Could I speak to Mister Hogan?"

"Do you have an appointment?" she said.

I said, "No."

"Then you can’t speak to Mister Hogan."

So the next day I went to this factory in Fort Worth and there was a lady there, his secretary, a great gal, but she said, "He won’t talk to you unless you have an appointment. But he’ll come out to have lunch right outside there," and she showed me where he came out and where his car was, and she said, "You be standing there and you can talk to him."

So he came out and pulled out of his parking lot at the factory and I’m standing there. And he stopped. And I said, "Mister Hogan, could I play golf with you this afternoon?"

And he said, "No, I’m not going to play today."

So then I thought quick, and I’m going to tell you the question I asked him, and see what he said.

"Mister Hogan, do you think the players of today are as great as the player’s of your day?" – What was his answer?

"They’re pretty good."

When he was young, see, he used pop off all the time, so he learned to keep his mouth shut. So when I asked him that question, he knew his players were very creative. Now these guys, everybody thinks they’re the all time greatest because they hit the ball eight thousand miles. But they weren’t any more creative than his guys, his guys were more creative. So he said, "They’re pretty good." That was a great statement.

The next time I went to his house, I was coming across the country, they used to have this thing where you could fly, like from Philly to California, you could get off in Dallas and get back on again without any problem. After 9/11 that all changed.

So I go to his house and there’s a guy out in the yard working, the yard man, so I said, "I’d like to talk to Ben Hogan," and he said, "He’ll come out in the garage there, wait until he comes out."

So he comes out in the garage, kind of an overhanging thing next to his door, and it was dark in there. And he comes out and I said, "Mister Hogan," and he kind of jumped up in the air, not expecting to see anybody. And I had his hear again, and we were standing in his driveway, with a little slope and a field across the street. So I said, "If you were standing in this driveway and had to hit a shot to that tree over there, would you use your basic swing or would you be taking a trick off the basic swing to handle that lie?"

And just as he was getting ready to answer I said something else.

He said, "Whose answering this question, you or me?"

I said, "You are, I’ll see you later."

When he was coming up he didn’t want to share his information. I knew a guy who was 85, Ivan Gantz, playing a senior tournament, he said Hogan caddied for him in the Fort Worth Open and then five years later Hogan was playing in the Fort Worth Open. Hogan said to him when he was caddying for him, "If I was doing the putting for you, you would win this tournament by ten shots."

This guy Ivan Gantz was so wonderful. He lived in Baltimore and he said every year he had to come home and cut greens and give lessons to make ends meet. That’s how the money game was in those days. And that’s why Hogan didn’t want to talk.

BK: Back to Shawnee and how Arnie met Winnie.

RW: Fred Waring owned the place. It was a wonderful tournament he had. He had Ed Sullivan playing in it when he was at his peak, and a guy named Don Cherry, a great singer, and he always came. And Frank Leahy, the great Notre Dame football coach. Notre Dame got all the Catholic kids in those days and beat everybody. After Knute Rockie came Frank Leahy, and after Leahey retired, a man named Walker from South Bend brought Leahey to play. At Shawnee the first tee is right at the hotel, and Leahey was due on the tee in ten minutes. And my boss, the starter said go find Leahey, and I got his room and went and knocked on the door and Mrs. Leahey answered and I told her "Mister Leahey is due on the tee." And he came to the door and said, "Yesss?"

And I told him, "Mister Leahey you are due on the tee in ten minutes," and he said, "Tell him I’ll be down in a couple hours." That’s how those guys were, they could boss away."

RW: There was these cute girls around – Fred’s daughter Dixie was a cuttie pie, but she was always kind of a bad personality because Fred was such a prick his kids weren’t allowed to be abusive. And her friend Winnie was as cute as a bell and Arnie meets her and Arnie was a lady’s man, so that was it. He’s walking around holding her hand, and I’m betting against it because my boss the golf Harry Obits always said, "Don’t mix girls and golf." So during the tournament I bet against Arnie and he could hold Winnie’s hand and still beat everybody."

BK: Did he win that tournament?

WR: He won it. It was a partners tournament. I think his partner was from Arnominik, , a stocky, but good player. He probably won the club championship at Aronomick, a great course where Jay Segal took the game up. So Arnie and his partner won the tournament, the only time he ever played it. Then about three months later he turned pro.

Winnie’s parents didn’t want her to marry him because he was just a golf pro, and in those days that was not very financially productive. In the early days they used to travel in a trailer.

BK: Everett said that he went down to Florida and then returned to Shawnee a few weeks later.

WR: I never played with Palmer. Howard Everett did and Fred Waring. I went to the US Open, and Palmer was there, and lost to Billy Casper, and I was watching him, and he was taking a chip shot from near the ropes and he looked up and saw me and said, "What the hell are you doing here?"

And I said, "I’m here to watch you win the U.S. Open.

"Pretty good idea," he said.

At the Masters they have driving range, putting green, through the club house and to the first tee.

I’d be out there watching them hit balls and putting and I’m standing there talking to Winnie one day, as I knew Winnie before Arnie did, and I knew her well later when she got to be Mrs. Palmer, so I’m talking to Winnie when Arnie said, "Who is that?"

"That’s Ronnie from Shawnee."

BK: Do you know who introduced them?

RW: Stan says he introduced them, but you don’t know. There was a girl named Cora Boward, a secretary, who was great for things like that. Cora probably introduced them.

It was sad when she died. When he put that last book out I bought it, and wanted him and Winnie to autograph copies for Stan for Christmas, and I have a David Leadbetter teacher down in Florida who is just a great guy and smart teacher, and I wanted to give him a copy, and I wanted a copy for the Wildwood Country Club, because he played at Wildwood when he was in the Coast Guard. They named a room after him there. So I called Latrobe and they said his office is in Orlando, and when I called down there the girl said she would get them to sign them, but she just got cancer and she didn’t last too long. So I never got the autographs.

RW: So what’s the story Kel?

BK: Well, Palmer just dedicated a park to Winnie, and I’m using that as an introduction to a story about how Arnie met Winnie at Shawnee, and the significance of Shawnee and how you and Howard Everett and Stan Dudas were all there, and you’re all local guys. So I thought there is a good story there.

RW: Yea, it was 1954, the year he won the National Amateur. He won the Amateur and it was a fluke that he was entered in this tournament at Shawnee a two days later. And he came to play and met Winnie, and then he used to come and hang around in his spare time. He liked hanging around. My boss Harry Obitz was a gregarious guy, and Arnie liked Harry. He liked to drink, what the hell did they drink, Italian Stingers, I think that was it. Who knows what it was, I don’t drink at all. But Shawnee was great, Fred Waring used to have people up there, Bobby Jones was there.

I was there from 1952 to 1960, and we had a giant flood in 1954, and if you’ve ever been to Shawnee I could show you where the water line was.

BK: Maybe we’ll take a ride up there someday.

RW: Yea, that would be great. In the nine years I was there they had one major flood that was like unbelievable. Since then, in the last four years, they’ve had about three of them, and it’s amazing how the guy can keep it going. They have a local tournament the Shawnee Open, and I played in it a couple of years ago, and it was kinda fun talking to the man who owns it because he’s trying to keep it afloat.

BK: Let’s go up and meet him someday because the course is now 100 years old and was built by Tillingast in 1907, a few years before they built the hotel.

RW: Golf World had a great story on it a couple of years ago.

BK: Are you on line?

RW: No, other than at the golf shop.

BK: Well check out

RW: OK Kel, I love to see guys who are hot to trot about something. I’m the same way about golf. I played Cape May National this morning, then I finished about 1:30 and took a nap, and about 4:30 I went over to Wildwood and played ‘til dark. Tomorrow I’m playing at Northhills Country Club at 10 o’clock and I’m going to play at Bala Country Club at 1 o’clock.

BK: You’re a lucky guy.

RW: Yea, I know. Give me a call. See ya’.

1 comment:

Golfer said...

I knew Ivan Gantz quite well. He had a farm in Elwood, Indiana and lived there after he retired with his "so-called" wife. He had a 10 acre driving range on the property and a small barn where one could swing the doors open in the winter to hit balls out of. He also had construction wheelbarrows in there which were filled with almost new balls. If Ivan liked you he gave free lessons (and then dinner if you would stay). I'd give him a couple of bucks for gas to pick up the balls with his tractor. It was the late 60's and he really taught me how to play the game. He was a strong advocate of the lateral slide like Johnny Miller played. "Screw the fairway !", said Ivan. He was also very big on the book "Psycho-Cybernetics" and insisted that you buy it. Ivan did tell a made-up tale or two (or three) however. He and Tommy Bolt were good friends and he showed me letters from Tommy when he got them. He talked about Hogan a lot too, not always in good terms. I later got to know Tommy as a Member of Black Diamond Ranch. And Tommy told me more stories about Ivan. Tommy played the ladies tees every day almost until he died.