Ford walks down memory lane at Hall of Fame
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Talking to Doug Ford is like a walk down golf’s memory lane. His stories are compelling, his experiences interesting, his honesty refreshing – and that was just after 30 minutes with one of the newest inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Ford, along with South African Ernie Els, former President George H.W. Bush, the late Jock Hutchison, Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki and the late Frank Chirkinian, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in a ceremony Monday evening.
Ford, 88, turned professional in 1949 and went on to win 25 professional events, including the 1955 PGA Championship and 1957 Masters, in which he defeated Sam Snead. Ford recalled the ’57 victory as if it were yesterday.
“I can remember every shot,” Ford said. “The shot that everybody talks about is the one I holed out at 18 out of the bunker. But really, the shot that I thought won me the tournament was my second shot at the par‑5 15th.”
Ford went on to talk about how he had a “Tin Cup” moment in Saturday’s third round, when he had a second shot into the 15th. He wasn’t long enough off the tee to go for the green in two, but decided to hit a 3-wood into the green. The shot hit the bank, jumped up on the green, then rolled back into the water. Ford eventually would make a bogey-6.
“The next day, didn’t I drive it in exactly the same spot,” Ford recalled. “I had a caddie named Fireball, and he gives me a 4‑iron. I said, ‘What are you doing, Fireball?’ He said, ‘You’ve got to lay up. They don’t remember you around here unless you win this tournament.’ ”
So, the two were fighting, going back and forth, taking and giving 3-wood and 4-iron. With the gallery laughing, Ford grabbed the 3-wood and hit the exact same shot as he did the day before. But instead of having the ball roll back in the water, it stayed up on the green and he went on to make birdie.
It was clear that Ford was full of stories about a Tour that none of us knows except from books.
A kid from New York City, he played his golf on the public courses in the Bronx. His father and three uncles were golf professionals, so, as Ford put it, “I had a very fundamentally sound golf swing, even when I was a junior.”
Ford’s mother didn’t want him to turn pro, mainly because the earning power of a professional golfer was very limited. “Being a golf pro in the ’30s and ’40s was not a very lucrative position to have,” he said. “I won a lot of money gambling. I used to gamble as an amateur. I went out one year as an amateur to see if I could play with these fellows because they were good. And I thought, ‘Well, I think I can make it.’ I had saved some money and war bonds and stuff, and I went out on my own in 1950.”
The L.A. Open at Riviera was Ford’s first event as a professional. Sam Snead won in a playoff over Ben Hogan, and Jack Burke Jr. was third. Ford tied for 50th, 23 shots back.
Coincidentally, Burke would put the green jacket on Ford just seven years later, but Snead was his biggest adversary.
“He was so natural,” Ford said of Snead, whom Ford cals the great player he ever saw. “Hogan most likely was the hardest worker and practiced more, but Snead was such a pleasure to play with. Hogan, he wouldn’t say five words in a round to you, (but) Snead would be telling you dirty jokes every hole.”
Back when Ford was playing, 150 players vied for a piece of the purse, usually split among 15 guys. Ford would make his living not winning golf tournaments but beating other pros in games Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of tournament week.
“I used to gamble a lot with a fellow named Jerry Barber, and he was from California, and he was as stubborn as I was,” Ford said. “I beat him for $6,000 one time, and I said to him, ‘Jerry, you can’t beat me.’ He says, ‘I’ll keep trying.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll be very happy to accommodate you.’ ”
Those were the days in which Doug Ford played and lived. The days when $300 meant you could get to the next town and play the next week, driving his Ford down the road from town to town, living a vagabond life to play a game with which we are no longer familiar.
“It’s a different game,” Ford said. “Equipment is what’s the key. You couldn’t do what they’re doing with the old equipment, I don’t believe. And I played with the greatest, Snead and Hogan and (Lloyd) Mangrum and (Cary) Middlecoff, and those were great players. But I wonder if they’d have had that equipment what they would have done with it.”