By Dave Seanor
World Golf Hall of Fame voters must consider not only a player’s competitive record, but also his or her contributions to the game.
Did the candidate do anything besides win tournaments? Is this a person who exemplifies the honor and traditions of golf?
Henry Picard qualifies on all counts.
Picard won 26 times on the professional circuit between 1932 and 1941. The only man to post more victories during that span was golf’s all-time victory leader Sam Snead, who notched 27 of his 82 triumphs in that decade.
Two of Picard’s victories in the ’30s were majors, the 1938 Masters and the ’39 PGA Championship. On two other occasions he reached the semifinals of the PGA, which was a match-play event until 1958. Picard played in two Ryder Cups, compiling a 3-1 record.
But he essentially retired from tournament golf in 1941, turning his attention to teaching at Twin Hills Golf & Country Club in Oklahoma City, Canterbury Golf Club in Ohio and Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla.
Though he was a New Englander who never lost his accent, Picard (pronounced pe-CARD, and not the Southernized PICK-erd that often was used by his contemporaries, including Byron Nelson) had a long-standing relationship with Charleston, S.C. At 18, Picard moved from Plymouth, Mass., to take an assistant professional’s job (later becoming head pro) at the Country Club of Charleston. During his heyday, Picard was attached to Hershey (Pa.) Country Club. He moved back to Charleston in 1971 and was a fixture at the Country Club until his death, at 90, in 1997.
It was in Charleston where Picard met and advised a young Beth Daniel, the LPGA Hall of Famer who will present Picard at the Oct. 30 Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Picard had an eye for talent. In 1930, he saw something special in a struggling young pro from Texas. Picard’s encouragement and offer of financial assistance to the small but feisty slasher from Fort Worth arguably changed the course of golf history. The kid’s name was Ben Hogan.
In 1948, with three of his nine major championships under his belt, Hogan wrote the classic instruction book “Ben Hogan’s Power Golf.” It was dedicated to Henry Picard, “one of the best friends I have in professional golf . . . an outstanding player, an outstanding teacher, and an outstanding man.”
Elaborating, Hogan wrote: “This story will probably embarrass Henry, but it is so typical of him that I would like to tell it anyhow and I hope he will forgive me. At one time during those early days before I had ever won a tournament, my finances were low and I was a long way from home. In fact I had no idea of where the money was going to come from to get my wife and me home in case I didn’t win any in the particular tournament I was playing in at the time. Henry must have sensed my predicament because he came to me before that tournament and said, ‘Look Ben, I don’t know what your financial situation is and it is none of my business, but I want you to know that if you ever need any help to stay on the tour you can always come to me.’
“Fortunately, I never did have to call on Picard for financial assistance. But knowing that help was there if I needed it enabled me to forget about my troubles. I went out and won enough money in that tournament to keep going. I’ve been going ever since.”
Picard had secured a controversial entry for the obscure Hogan into the 1938 Hershey Four-Ball, to which invitations were limited to the game’s elite. Hogan and his partner Vic Ghezzi won, giving Bantam Ben his first victory as a pro. Hogan replaced Picard, on the latter’s recommendation, at Hershey CC when Picard left to become head professional at Canterbury in 1940. That was the same year Picard advised Hogan to weaken his grip, a tip that helped Hogan conquer the hook that had ruined so many of his rounds.
Picard also sorted out problems Snead was having off the tee, later joking, “It was the most expensive lesson I ever gave.”
Like Hogan and Snead, Picard came from humble beginnings. He was a caddie and clubhouse steward at Plymouth Country Club.
As an apprentice in 1924, Picard joined Plymouth head pro Donald Vinton for a winter trip to Charleston, where Vinton was the winter pro. Picard won a regional tournament and easily was persuaded to stick around. His breakthrough victory came a decade later, at the 1934 North and South Open at Pinehurst, N.C.
Picard moved to Hershey the following year. Free from his duties in the shop, he won six tournaments that season. Newspapers dubbed him the “Chocolate Soldier.”
Picard had one of the most admired golf swings of his day, a long, fluid move that was modeled after Bobby Jones. He was a deadly long-iron player but a conservative tactician. Regardless of circumstances, Picard refused to gamble on low-percentage shots.
In 1938, Picard scored a two-shot victory over Harry Cooper and Ralph Guldahl at the Masters. Picard played in the Masters 29 times, notching six top 10s.
His PGA Championship victory in ’39 was filled with drama.
Picard’s road to the final at Pomonok County Club in Flushing, N.Y., included an 8-and-7 third-round win over Al Watrous, in which Picard was 10 under par for 29 holes.
His opponent in the final was a sizzling Nelson, who had won his quarterfinal, 10 and 9, and his semifinal, 9 and 8. But Nelson couldn’t overtake Picard until the 32nd hole, and they arrived at the 36th, a 300-yard par 4, with Nelson 1 up. Accounts vary as to the details, but Picard won the hole by knocking his approach inside Nelson’s and making the birdie putt. On the first extra hole, Nelson split the fairway and Picard hit his tee shot into the rough. He got a free drop in the tall stuff because a radio truck had run over his ball. Picard wedged onto the green, leaving himself 20 feet for birdie. Nelson stuck his approach to 5 feet. Picard made his putt; Nelson missed.
By all accounts, Picard was a man who kept his vocation in perspective. He quit playing tournament golf in his late 30s, opting to spend more time with his wife and four children.
“I thought there were other things in life besides golf,” he said years later. “And I still think the same way.”