Ageless master Toski settles into the right position again
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Prepared for the next trio of players who would proceed from the practice green to the first tee for Round 2 of the Masters, the marshal held the rope in his left hand, ready to move and stretch it out so that a passageway was cleared.
Keen on how the marshal was holding the rope, a gentleman stood quietly to the side and made an observation. “Look, he’s supinating,” said Bob Toski, pointing to the marshal’s hand, which was wrapped around the rope. “You know who the first one was to talk about supinate? (Ben) Hogan.”
Toski smiled. So did the marshal, plus a few others within earshot.
That Toski, the famed instructor, has that sort of soothing effect on people is a huge part of his legend. That he patted Ken Duke on the back at the first tee, then pronounced that he had time to talk was the sort of good fortune that happens often at Augusta National.
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“You want stories?” Toski asked. “I’ve got stories.”
That’s like Augusta National saying it has green grass, of course, a classic understatement. But the greater joy was, Toski had some time, because as one of the few concessions to his age, 87, he was only going to walk the back nine of Augusta National and watch his student, Duke, who gives the veteran swing coach great credit for helping him find his way into the Masters twice after turning 36.
The first time was in 2009 and Toski said he walked a practice round, having not been at Augusta National in years, and when he meandered down the 10th fairway he looked skyward and smiled. He called out to Hogan and Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Jimmy Demaret, and even to the most dapper of them all, Lloyd Mangrum. “Look at me, I’m having a nice time here,” Toski said. “Nice to see you.”
Toski laughs softly at that memory and prepares you for the tone with which he’ll reminisce. It matters not a bit that he didn’t have the luxury to play for the massive riches for which today’s players compete. “I wouldn’t trade the '50s for anything," he said. "They were the greatest – and I was part of it.”
Sixty years ago, Toski won four times and led the PGA Tour in earnings. It opened the door for a whopping 67 exhibitions all over the country, after which he felt he had had enough. At 30, he left touring and settled into the life of a club professional.
No regrets. After all, he carved out a brilliant career as a teacher and his work with Duke, now 45, indicates he’s still got it.
But what he’s really got are memories to be cherished, like the day at Pebble Beach when he watched Nelson hit ball after ball off the ground with his driver. “I told him, ‘I want you to hit every shot without a tee,’ and I asked him to change trajectory, hit fades, hit draws. He just blew me away. Never saw anything like it.”
When he first saw Augusta National it was as a competitor in the 1951 Masters and he thought he “had died and gone to heaven.” His opinion of the place and the tournament haven’t changed, either.
“This is hallowed ground. This is history. This place helped make the game of golf what it is.”
Toski was accompanied to Augusta this year by Kip Byrne, who played in the 1979 and 1981 U.S. Opens during a career that took him to stints on the PGA Tour and in Canada. It was up north where Byrne became friendly with an American golfer named Ken Duke. “We called him the ‘Real Deal,’ “ said Byrne, who was so impressed with Duke that he encouraged him to play some minitour stuff in Florida years ago. While there, Byrne introduced Duke to two people: his stepdaughter, Michelle, and his instructor, Toski.
“That’s why I call him ‘The Matchmaker,’ " said Toski, explaining that he became Duke’s teacher and Michelle became Duke’s wife.
“This guy is a legend,” said Byrne, pointing to Toski. As if on cue, a man walked up and introduced himself to Toski. “I read all your instructions,” said the man. He said he was from Nicaragua and now lived in California, but he recognized Toski from magazine instruction pieces.
Minutes later, a woman approached Toski and asked for his autograph. Byrne smiled. “It’s been like that for a few days. People keep stopping him. These people know their golf. They respect the game.”
So many of the men against whom he played and with whom he traveled have died, and Toski concedes that he thinks of them often. He follows today’s game and expresses some concerns about the way in which so many are swinging the club. Toski believes in a golfer being light on the feet, but so many young players love to anchor their feet and he doesn’t go for that.
“How do you move a boat with the anchor down?” he asked.
His fifth and final start in the Masters came in 1957. Toski missed the cut, shooting 78-73. Although he should have been in the prime of his career, at 31, he had had enough. He needed to be home with his wife and children, so Toski stopped touring.
Who knows what he could have accomplished as a player? He never regretted a thing.
“Memories," he said, "are more important than money.”