Remembering the wisdom of Dow Finsterwald (and stories of the Masters, Arnold Palmer, Ben Hogan and more)

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Dow Finsterwald always called me “guy,” as in “you know, what I mean, guy?”

Everyone else when we talked was simply a “fella,” as in “that fella over there can really swing it,” he’d say as we walked the range at Bay Hill during the Arnold Palmer Invitational studying the pros in action.

Finsterwald died on Friday at age 93. He was a sweetheart of a guy and one helluva fella.

I wrote a story about his enduring friendship with Arnold Palmer that spanned seven decades. The three of us sat in Palmer’s office at Bay Hill as Palmer thumbed through his mail. He held a copy of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover aloft and told Finsterwald, the 1958 PGA champion,  and me, “Look who’s going to be here.”

Palmer’s face lit up as he explained that model Kate Upton would be attending his March tournament, visiting the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, and discussing their plans to do a commercial together in support of Arizona Iced Tea’s Arnold Palmer, his refreshing drink.

That’s when Finsterwald interjected and said, “No offense, Arnold, but I think she’s going to sell a lot more tea than you.”

I dug up the transcript from the interview that followed and it’s chock full of wisdom from a man who lived quite the life in the game – PGA Tour and major winner, Ryder Cup captain, Masters and USGA official, PGA board member, director of golf at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, pal to Palmer and the list goes on and on. I asked him once to share some stories from life on the road traveling with The King and he said, “Not sure I can tell them. Good clean fun and a lot of it.”

His start in golf

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald celebrates after winning the 1958 PGA Championship. (Photo: Associated Press)

“In 1944, I followed the Cincinnati Reds on the radio. I’d listen to the former Yankee Waite Hoyt and keep a box score. I was a fan. There was a Donald Ross 9-hole course in Athens, Ohio, near where I lived. They needed someone to sweep the locker room, hose down the shower, and open the place. My father said if you do a good job and save your money you can go to the World Series this fall. It came September and I didn’t go to the World Series. I bought a set of MacGregor golf clubs. You might say baseball got me into golf.”

Playing in his first Masters

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald

A friendly “tug-o-war” is enacted by PGA Championship finalists Lionel Hebert and Dow Finsterwald on July 20, 1957, in Dayton, Ohio.

“I was still in college, September 1950, the St. Louis Open and I shot 60 the last round, which at the time was the lowest round that had ever been posted on the PGA. The following year, I was named in February by the USGA as an alternate to the Walker Cup team. I was the last of five. They were concerned about the draft. The Korean War was going on. They didn’t know who would be around.”

“Back in the day, members of the Walker Cup team were invited to the Masters and I got the invitation like all the members of the team. I turned pro in December of ’51. I informed the PGA of my intentions. I don’t think I told Augusta. I got the invitation and went. I didn’t tell them whether I was an amateur or a pro. I’ll take youth as an excuse. I wasn’t trying to hide anything. No intent to deceive.”

“First round (in 1951), I was paired with Denny Shute. On (the par-3) 12 I hit my first ball in the water. I proceeded to move down by Rae’s Creek and hit three more in the water and make 11. As you undoubtedly know the 13th tee is to the right of the green and we were walking and he came over to me and said, ‘Kid, we had a good best-ball.’ Denny had made 2. That was quite a thrill.”

Memories of Ben Hogan

“One thing I remember from Hogan was on the cover of Time Magazine. The quote read, ‘If you can’t outplay him, outwork ‘em.’ I became a ball beater after reading that. I used his equipment for a number of years. We were invited to his home at Shady Oaks during the Colonial tournament. When people ask me what type of guy he was I say he was a very private person. That experience at his home reinforced that. It was like 4,200 square feet. It had one bedroom. He wasn’t going to have any guests staying with him. Wouldn’t that make you feel he wanted his privacy?”

Ben Hogan holds the trophy after he won the 1951 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. (Photo: Associated Press)

Friendship with Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer and longtime friend, Dow Finsterwald at Bay Hill Lodge and Club in Orlando in 2013. (Photo by Tracy Wilcox/Golfweek)

“I’m four days older than (Arnold Palmer). He always called me Finster. We first met at Raleigh Country Club in North Carolina in the spring of 1948, when I played for Ohio University and he played for Wake Forest. He threw a front nine 29 at me. That was my introduction to Arn. Quite a rude awakening to how good he already was and would be. Another time, we were tied at the turn when he upped the ante: He said, ‘I’ll betcha a tub of beer I shoot 32 or better on the back side.’”

“There are some things you can’t really see in a swing and in a putting stroke that are in here (touches his heart). Arn had a great deal of it.”

“After I won the PGA, Athens CC held Dow Finsterwald Day (Sept. 25, 1958). It’s remembered for being the first time Arnold and Jack had played together. [In 2008, the historical society recognized their first encounter on the golf course with a plaque at the first tee.]”

“I think (Jack Nicklaus) had won the Ohio Open by then at age 16. Arnold flew over from Latrobe. Howard Baker-Saunders, a fine player at Ohio State, was the fourth. We played 18 holes. Did a morning clinic. Palmer drove the first green. Nicklaus drove over it. It was 330 yards downhill. It was obvious from that day that Jack had a bright future. But you never know until they get out there.”

“The other thing I remember from the day is Arnold shot 62 and broke my course record. He broke a lot of course records; that wasn’t the only one. It was a day I enjoyed very much. It’s only fitting that he did.”

“It must’ve been 20 years later that Palmer returned for a scholarship fund at (Ohio) University. It’s a 9-hole course with two sets of tees. On the second nine, we played from the same set of tees as we had in 1958. He drove it on the green by this much (holds two fingers close together). He says, ‘That’s the one thing I wanted to do today. Drive that green.’”

More memories with Arnold

Dow Finsterwald (seated, left) hanging out with pal Arnold Palmer in his office at Bay Hill in Orlando. (Tracy Wilcox/Golfweek)

“In 1958, Arn had been in a playoff in Wilmington, North Carolina, on Monday of the Masters. When he got there, he was a little worn out but he still played a practice round with me. After the round, Hogan, in Arnold’s presence, said, ‘How did this guy ever get in the tournament?’ I think Hogan must’ve been trying to pull his chain because Arnold had won either four or five tournaments that winter. He’d won Baton Rouge, St. Petersburg. Hogan couldn’t have been oblivious to a guy winning that many tournaments. Of course, Arnold ended up winning the Masters that week. I’ll verify that did take place.”

“I’m not saying I’m a good person, but I’m a much better person for having known Arnold and been able to observe the manner in which he handles situations and people. It was an education and an experience in which hopefully I’ve learned a great deal from.”

“Take for instance the time Palmer and Winnie flew to the Broadmoor after the playoff loss at Olympic (at the 1966 U.S. Open). He had dinner with the president of the hotel and general manager and then we went to a place called the Golden Bee. Guys were coming out of the kitchen, dishwashers to get his autograph. He accommodated them in such a gracious matter you would’ve thought he had won. It was just Arnold being Arnold.”

“We spent our winters at Bay Hill for one reason: because of Arnold. We first stayed there during the Citrus Open at Rio Pinar. I remember staying there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But we both liked to watch the cowboys (movies). We both liked to tinker with clubs, we both liked to practice, we both liked the game very much. Our wives became good friends. We first bought property in 1981. He has a condo in the same building. I generally add that he’s on the high-rent floor. I was a regular in the Shootout. They had to separate us for balance. They don’t have to do that now.”

“I’m a great believer in friends don’t keep score. One-way streets are very short, and usually not ending anywhere. I feel very fortunate to have known him.”

On the start of IMG

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald at the 1977 Ryder Cup at the Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s Golf Course in Lytham St Annes, England. (Photo: Associated Press)

“Mark McCormack was practicing law in Cleveland and there was a guy named Dick Taylor who worked for Carling Brewery. The two of them put together a management firm. There was Casper, Littler, myself, Arnold, five or six guys. The two of them were a team and finally, Arnold wanted to be represented by one person, Mark, rather than a stable of five. Mark agreed to that.”

“Arnold and I were sharing a room in Baton Rouge or somewhere. He got a call from Mark and he said our agreement is a handshake but there’s a young kid over here who’s doing quite well and he needs some guidance. ‘Would you have a problem if I represented Gary Player also?’ Arn said, ‘If you feel he needs some help and you can help him, go for it.’ That’s when Mark went from representing one player to two and history proves just how many and how that grew.”

Winning the PGA Championship

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald celebrates after winning the 1958 PGA Championship. (Photo: Associated Press)

“I won the 1958 PGA at Llanerch in a suburb of Philadelphia. It was the first stroke-play for PGA, the first nationally-televised PGA, first time non-members had been invited to play – Arnold, Casper, Venturi among the five.”

“The 12th hole was a par-3. I ended up behind a tree on the left. (Sam Snead) had put it on the green. This green was in bad shape. It was a pretty rough son of a gun. I got it over the tree and on the green to about 12-15 feet. Sam was not a lot further away with his tee shot. He missed for birdie and I made mine for par. Nobody should make a putt on that green but I did and then he missed a short one. Instead of losing a shot or two I ended up gaining one. It was a big turning point. I had bogeyed the hole before. I played the front nine in 31. I think I parred in and won by two over Casper.”

“I go back for the Champions dinner. I missed last year (2012). I had open heart surgery in July. I got a new aorta. The defending champ picks the dinner. Tiger chose Thai. I couldn’t use the chopsticks. I told Tiger I was going to need some silverware. I told him if he defended I’d practice for the whole year. He got a chuckle. [Woods defended his title twice in 2000 and 2007.]”

Being ‘in the money’ and his second act at The Broadmoor

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald, winner of the 1958 PGA Championship, speaks during a news conference at the 90th PGA Championship on Aug. 5, 2008, at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Michigan. (Photo: Kiichiro Sato/Associated Press)

“They called me ‘Mr. Conservative’ because I finished in the money in 72 consecutive tournaments in the 1950s. [That streak was the second longest at the time, after Byron Nelson’s 113 consecutive tournament cuts in the 1940s.] The cut was 60, but they paid only 30. When the streak ended in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I made the cut, but didn’t make any money.”

“In 1963, I stepped away from the Tour. Ed Dudley was the pro at Broadmoor and Augusta. He became ill just after the Ryder Cup matches in Atlanta. He died shortly thereafter. He told the owner of the hotel if anything bad had happened to him, call Finsterwald.”

“I still could play in a liberal number of tournaments. I did that for a few years and then realized I couldn’t do it at the level I wanted to so I cut back.”

On his close calls at the Masters and what could’ve been

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald

Dow Finsterwald at the 1957 PGA Championship. (Photo: Associated Press)

“I didn’t dwell on what could’ve been. I felt fortunate to have been there. What’s the old saying? ‘It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’ I’m not going to say I wasn’t a good player because I was a good player but a great player, that’s questionable. 1956-60, I was among the top four money winners five years in a row. Never No. 1. But second, third or fourth. Consistency was one of my hallmarks. I never dwelled on what might have been. I was pleased to have been in a position where I had a chance. You can make your life pretty miserable if you dwell on, ‘I should’ve done this or that.’”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek

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