Funny stories. They’re as much a part of golf as birdies and bogeys. Through the years, Australian Golf Digest has been lucky enough to share time with some of the legendary storytellers and characters in the game. Senior writer Guy Yocom deserves special recognition for his My Shot series of interviews, prominent here with excerpts from other amazing features and columns through the decades. Something you’ll notice: one of the most appealing qualities of good jokesters is the ability to laugh at themselves as well as with others. And the best part? Our team of writers and photographers keep adding to the comedic moments, month by month. – THE EDITORS


Going OB at St Andrews
July 2016

It’s funny, hooking that famous opening tee shot out-of-bounds at the 1995 Open at St Andrews is probably what most people remember me for – more than me actually winning the the 1991 Open. When you Google ‘Ian Baker-Finch’, up comes the video. I chuckle now, because people ask me, “How do you possibly hit it out-of-bounds at St Andrews?” But it was a hard, 60km/h wind, early in the morning. I’m aiming down the 18th fairway – that’s where you have to aim in that wind. A huge gust blew my visor off and I hit a flip-hook that landed on the road, kicked hard left, spun and ran 50 metres under the fence on 18. Yes, it was terrible drive. Yes, I’d love to have a mulligan. But worse drives have been hit since. The pressure, the timing, and the wind added up to one of those moments. I was nervous and playing with Arnold Palmer in his final British Open. But something great came out of it – when we finished on the 18th hole, Arnold signed the ball he used and gave it to me. I still have Arnold Palmer’s final Open Championship golf ball 20 years later, so that was a bonus to those two days. Arnold really is a great man and a role model.

An Aussie Open knee-knocker
November 2004

It’s the 1990 Australian Open at The Australian. I’m playing with the Shark. Second last hole of the tournament. The shot was a 2-iron, low, back foot, start it at the lake and try to cut the ears out of it. In front of me was a four-foot wide pine tree and I had to aim to miss that and then visualise a shot. It jumped a little bit right, straight into the tree and as quick as I hit it, it came back and hit my kneecap. 

The funny thing was that I played with Greg in the first round, the second round and the last round. In the second round, he holed his 3-wood on the fifth for an albatross 2. He got a plaque on the fairway. I thought I’d get a plaque on the tree but they ended up taking the pine tree out!

A caddie’s bad day
September 2014

True story from the European Tour: a well-known caddie was running to catch a train to get to a tournament. There was little time to spare, and he had to go to the bathroom very badly. Just as he gets to the train station, he trips and falls. The impact jars everything loose. Disaster. Fortunately, there’s a clothing shop at the station. He shuffles in and buys a track suit, ignoring the wrinkled-up nose of the salesperson.

He barely makes the train. Once the train was underway, he goes into the bathroom, takes off every piece of his clothing and throws it out the window. He removes the track suit from the bag and finds, to his horror, that the suit is missing the pants portion. So he turns the top upside down, forces his legs into the sleeves, zips it up and returns to his seat, topless. For hours he absorbs glares from strangers and the conductors. 

When he arrived at the tournament, he could barely speak for two days. A post-traumatic-stress situation.

Joining Riviera when OJ Simpson was a member
October 2015

I joined in 1994. I’m there a month before the OJ murders. I saw him in the dining room the day of the murder… My biggest concern after the acquittal was running into him in a restaurant with Laurie [David’s ex-wife]. One time I asked her what she would do if she saw him eating. She said, “I would stand up, point to him and scream, ‘Murderer!’” And I said, “Well, we’re not going out to dinner for quite some time.”

Word choices
April 1997

I still try to use the right word. Bunker, not trap. And I never say “back side”. Once I listened to somebody say, “Here is Faldo at 14 with the wind gusting from his rear.” That conjures up a nice picture, doesn’t it?

Facing pressure learning the game as a kid in spain
June 2017

We would go from one shot to another until someone got closest to the hole six times. But if you were at zero when that happened, there were punishments, like going around the putting green twice on your knees, which is not easy. But the worst one was the guys with zero had to drop their pants, underwear and all, to their ankles, and couldn’t pull them up until they won a hole. You did not want to be at zero when someone at five would chip it close. That was not just pressure, that was absolute fear. Trust me, that was a lot worse than having a putt to win a tournament. I never had to drop my pants, but I came close.

‘Long-haired photographer’
August 2018

Lee Trevino, you couldn’t take a bad picture of him. The photograph of him wearing a pith helmet, holding a snake in one hand and a hatchet in the other shortly before he won the 1971 US Open at Merion, I shot that. More than 40 years later, I shot him posing with a snake for Golf Digest. Over the years, Lee always recognised me in the gallery, used me as his straight man as he wisecracked with the galleries. “Look at the long-haired photographer,” he’d say. “I’ll bet he smoked a pound of marijuana last night.” The gallery would roar, then Lee would look at me and wink. We both understood it was all about entertainment.

A couple goes OB
May 2017

There’s a passage in Dan Jenkins’ great novel Dead Solid Perfect in which the protagonist’s wife is caught getting it on by a TV network camera on the remote part of a golf course during a tournament. It’s based on a real incident, one that I witnessed. I’m at Colonial one year, at the 15th, a par 4 with a row of trees along the corner of the dogleg. The final group passes through, and the gallery moves with it, and that’s the last viewers saw from that camera. But privately, the camera lingers, and what do we see but a man and woman strolling up under the shade of the trees, where they proceed to get to know each other better.

For a good 15 minutes, the two of them take romance to new heights. Eventually they finish, but the camera stays with them as they amble up the 16th hole, to the 17th tee and finally the clubhouse, where, after exchanging winks and nods, they rejoin two people who clearly are their respective spouses.

The network guys have a devilish sense of humour and decided to make a film production of it. One of the guys allegedly took the tape with him onto one of the aircraft carriers heading out into the Pacific Ocean to retrieve some astronauts after splashdown. To entertain the crew.

Wardrobe fail
December 2013

I had to borrow a jacket from Max Shaw after my Open win in ’56, and some months later after I’d returned the jacket, they found the winner’s cheque. His wife went through the pockets before she sent it to the drycleaners and found a cheque for 1,000 pounds. It eventually got deposited where it should have.

Landing a Cessna at the Australian Golf Club
November 2010

Back in the early ’70s I suggested to the tournament director of the Wills Masters, Phil May, it would be a nice promotion to put a Cessna up for a hole-in-one. [Note: the prize was for holing a second shot on the 16th.] He said, “If you can get the thing in here, we’ll do it. It’s a great idea.” So I said, quite stupidly, “I’ll get it in.”

I’ll never forget the look on Bruce Devlin’s face. He was walking up this way and I was coming in this way. He was absolutely flabbergasted [laughs]. There were quite a few sizeable bounces because of the unevenness of the fairway. Anyway, we taxied it back to the driving range and that was it. But I couldn’t fly it out. I had to get it taken apart and trucked out.

I also landed one, as a hole-in-one prize, on the 16th fairway at Manly when [my wife] Carmel and I started the Australian Seniors’ Championship. I had a Qantas captain, a friend, and he said, “You’re too dumb to learn how to fly.” So the next day I drove to Bankstown Airport and went to a flying school. I passed the five examinations I had to pass within three months, including going solo. Then I got a bit of work flying the Shark Patrol plane on Sydney beaches, which was a lot of fun.

Dealing with a critic

Back in 1970, I strongly suggested in print that Arnold Palmer should have won the PGA Championship instead of Dave Stockton, then a member of the tour’s invisible rank and file. Stockton didn’t appreciate it, and legend has it that during a tournament in New Jersey, he went up to Bob Drum, and in a rather fierce tone of voice said, “Is Jenkins here? I want to talk to him!” Calmly, Drum said, “I don’t think he’s coming this week. Whom shall I say is asking?”


Why golfers lose it

Temper tantrums in golf are a strange thing. Nobody beats their 4-iron on their bag when they’re playing alone. They only do it when other people are around. Throwing a club is a way of saying, “I’m too good to have hit such a terrible shot.” They’re embarrassed and prideful. The truth, of course, is that they’re not that good. That’s why we in turn feel embarrassed for them.

Driving over his clubs with his car after blowing a tournament
November 2015

I drove over them lengthwise so that I got all of them from grip to clubhead. Unfortunately,
my watch was still in there.

The flight from hell
August 2016

I can laugh at it now, but I couldn’t laugh at it then. It wasn’t a plane flight from hell. What really happened was I got on there and was having a couple of beers with a mate. Then all of a sudden, I get up to go to the toilet and I come back and this guy’s sitting in my seat next to this good-looking girl. They’re both South African… He was trying to get on with her.

I said, “Oi, you’re in my seat.” And he told me to piss off. He had earrings [coming] out of his tattoos. What I said next is public knowledge… I was just calling a wanker, a wanker. That’s what I said to him. And that got me in trouble. It’s something I wouldn’t do now.

So we’re having an argument and then the boss of the European Tour says calm down. So I had to go and sit somewhere else. Next minute it’s in the press. “Escorted off the plane. Wayne Riley’s this, Wayne Riley’s that.” The story dragged on to the following week’s Greg Norman Holden International in Sydney. I was summoned to appear before the PGA Tour of Australasia, which reprimanded me for bringing the game into disrepute. I paid a fine and it’s one of my biggest regrets, paying that fine. They didn’t disclose how much it was. But I’ll tell everyone. Back then it was $3,000 and I shouldn’t have paid it. I should have walked into that meeting with a solicitor and went, “Was I charged?” And I wasn’t. I paid the money to make it go away and I was silly because I showed a sign of guilt.

Maybe, if you really look at it, that whole [controversy] could have shaped me into who I am – to become thick skinned. But I brought it on myself a little bit, too. I’ve always had something to say. That’s just me.

His No.1 caddie bust-up
March 2018

My buddy Michael Waite – nicknamed “Sponge” because of his hair – and I have had a couple of big stinks, but the one where he tossed my bag in the British Open at St Andrews, on I think the 11th hole, was one of the best of all time. I had asked him whether I could carry a bunker with my tee shot and he says, “Yeah.” So I let rip with my driver and absolutely crushed it but it hit the lip of the bunker and dropped in, so I gave him hurry-curry all the way down the fairway. I hit the shot out of the bunker and he says, “I’ve f—ing had enough of you. I’m outta here!” He grabbed the bag from both ends and lifted it above his head and slams it into the ground and storms over to my father behind the green and says, “Don, you caddie for your son because I just can’t do this anymore.” And my dad says, “Oh bugger that, I’m outta here.” So my dad did a runner and asked my coach at the time, Steven Bann, and he said, “No way.” So I’m left to carry my bag to the green and as I’m putting out, Sponge grabs the flag and I said, “What are you doing?” He replies, “I’m a professional and I’m going to finish my job. When we’re done, then you can go get f—ed!” I ended up birdieing five of the last seven holes and on the 18th green Sponge shakes my hand and says, “Thank you. Now you can go f— off!” I think he caddied for me the next week.

Bernard Darwin’s unfortunate partner
January 1978

Darwin was justly famous for his writings on golf, and equally notorious for his abominable temper on the course. It is always said that Darwin was completely unaware afterward what he had done or said in these moments of passion, unlikely though that may seem. He must, surely, have known what he was up to when he was playing in a foursomes match in a tournament with an inept partner and he accosted a perfect stranger who happened to be out for a walk on the links. “It may interest you to know, sir,” said Darwin through clenched teeth, “that I am tied to a turd.”


Rules to live by
December 2007

I don’t always observe them, but I use them for amusement:

  1. No double-bogeys on the first six holes.
  2. I don’t gamble. But if we must gamble, I only collect, I don’t pay.
  3. Under pressure, I’ll cheat ya.
  4. Any green in regulation, the second putt is called goo-oo-ood.

Playing with Nicholson and Dennis Hopper
December 2007

We were on the ninth hole at Sherwood Country Club. Hopper hits his ball in a creek and goes to look for it. He’s stomping around in there and chases out a bunch of quail. Now Hopper comes running out, yelling “Oh my God!” with this load of quail flying around his head – just as Jack is swinging! Jack’s ball goes off a quail, off a tree, bounces on a rock, and finally rolls into the creek. He watches it go in there and finally says, “Even I gotta take a stroke on that one.”

How to beat Hogan
December 2005

I’ve read how hard it was to beat Ben Hogan. The old guys talk about how Hogan would give them the silent treatment. If it had been me, I would have fought back. Along the 15th hole, I would have hidden his cigarettes.

How to meet a husband
September 2002

My girlfriend and I wanted to dance with Jesper’s friend. Jesper and his friend wanted to dance with my friend. Jesper and his buddy flipped a coin. Jesper lost, and he got me.


A big tip from Sinatra
December 2004 

Frank Sinatra and I were waiting for our car to be brought up after dinner. A kid brings the car and hands me the keys. I reach for my money clip, but Frank pushes my hand aside. “Kid, in the whole time you’ve been doing this, what’s the most you’ve ever been tipped?” The kid kind of blushes and says, “A hundred dollars, Mr Sinatra.” Frank pulls off two C-notes and says, “Here’s two hundred. Have a nice night.” The young man is ecstatic. Frank, obviously proud of himself, says to the kid, “By the way, who tipped you the hundred bucks?” The kid says, “You, Mr Sinatra, when you were here last week.”

Getting the best of Seve
September 2012

My nickname on tour is Seve because I do a pretty good imitation of Seve Ballesteros – I’ve done it on television, at tournament parties and had a lot of fun doing it with Seve when people could close their eyes and not tell us apart. One of my favourite Seve stories is when he was a young player just starting to get appearance fees around the world. He was playing in Europe, and Pete Coleman, who caddied for Bernhard Langer for years, was working for Seve. Back then you had your own bag of balls. Pete goes out and [collects] balls, and Seve typically is hitting a few in the bushes. Pete comes back and drops the balls down, and Seve counts ’em and says, “Pete, you’re six balls short – you owe me for six balls.”

The next day, Pete goes by the range early and picks up two dozen extra balls and shoves them in his pockets. Later he goes out with Seve. Seve’s firing a few in the junk, and Pete’s not even going in to look for them. He comes back in, dumps out the bag, Seve counts the balls – and there are 14 extra. Pete says, “You owe me for 14 balls, Seve.”

It’s in the name
June 2016

My father’s name was Jack Player. My mother’s name was Alice Player. So I was a Player. I just had to live with it. Everywhere I went, no one believed me.

I just got very conscious of it. I was giving lessons down at Narrabeen Driving Range back in the old days. I had just come out of my traineeship and had a sign up saying “Gary Player Lessons – 17 and 6 pence” – whatever that was in those days, it wasn’t very much. People used to come and laugh at the sign as soon as they saw me. I used to always wear black and so did he. But he was really muscly and I was really skinny and didn’t have a muscle in my body. One day I was on the tee at a pro-am and introduced myself. And all the guys just sort of called themselves Hogan, Snead and Demaret. I just said “I’m sick of this.”

So I went to the NSW registry office of Births Deaths & Marriages in Elizabeth Street and asked what I should do. The clerk suggested dropping Player and adopting my middle name as a surname. And that’s how Gary Edwin Player became Gary Edwin. All my kids are Edwins and my grandkids. That’s just the way it went. Even now when people hear of the story, they don’t believe it again.

My Dad didn’t speak to me for about eight years. So it caused a bit of trauma in the family. I think I’ve killed the family tree because the Players have come to an end and there would be just these Edwins that people have to trace. Gary, of course, thinks the whole thing’s hilarious.

Tiger’s weakness as a dancer
May 2001

He’s got nothing. He’s got no game. And I love him. He’s the greatest at his sport – maybe ever. I mean, there might not be another athlete who is as dominant at their sport as Tiger is. However, you’ve got Michael Jordan crossing over, playing other sports. Tiger will never cross over to be a basketball player, or anything else.

I remember Notah [Begay III] and I were in Sigma Chi fraternity as seniors [at Stanford], and Tiger had pledged Sigma Chi as a freshman. At some of the parties, I’d come and kind of sit up on the stairs overlooking this big mosh pit where everyone would dance. I’ll never forget one time a bunch of us were having a grand time watching Tiger dance. You know a guy that’s so dominant, you’ve got to bring him down a little. You’ve got to look for his weakness and really expose it. I think we found it: dancing. It’s a bad deal.

Tiger the fisherman
January 1999

I’ll never forget the first time we went out fishing. I asked Tiger, “Have you ever thrown a big cast?” He says, “Oh, yeah, I can throw. Sure. No problem.” I took out my rod and gave it to him. He throws it, and it’s… linguini.”


Beer and other delights
August 2003 

I’m not much of a drinker at all. Today, I might have three beers over the course of a year, if that. Sure, when I was younger, I was like a lot of college kids. I tried to drink all the beer in Columbus. Then I found out they just kept making more.

And I could eat! At Lafayette, Louisiana, where they played the Cajun Classic in the early ’60s, I’d go crazy for oysters. There’s a picture of me from that period hoisting a big fork full of oysters into my mouth. I put away eight dozen oysters, went back to the hotel and changed, then went out to dinner, where I ate two dozen more oysters before the entree arrived.

Yes, I could put the food away. During Hell Week at Ohio State, for breakfast each day they made us eat a garlic bud, tie an onion around our neck and eat a few goldfish to tide us over for the day. This stayed with you all day long, as you can imagine. The heartburn alone was unbelievable. And by the way, there’s not much of a taste with goldfish – just a little bitter.

The woes of legendary writer and broadcaster Henry Longhurst
October 1978

He accumulated a huge stockpile of anecdotes, many of them of a disreputable nature, which made him the most wonderful talker I have ever met. I once sat up all night while Longhurst and Alistair Cooke swapped stories. It was like a tennis match as they capped each other’s offering for hour after hour while I just poured the gin and listened.

As I know all too well, following the golf trail is not all beer and skittles, and Longhurst also suffered private tragedies which must have made the cheerful tone of his writing excessively difficult to sustain. Later, after a good recovery, I asked him about his health.
“I have to go back every three months for a check-up,” he said. “I always ask for the last appointment of the day so that if the prognosis is unfavourable, the pubs will be open.”

Craig Stadler’s magic jacket
June 2004

We were flying together a few years ago, so we switched up with someone so we could sit together.

“Wanna beer?” he asks me.

“Of course,” I said. So, he reaches inside his jacket and pulls out two beers, one for him and one for me.

Little while later, he says, “Want another beer?” I said, “Yeah, let me get the lady’s attention.” He says, “No, we don’t need any flight attendant.”

He reaches in the other side of his jacket, and pulls out two more beers. He must have had a case on him. We drank his jacket.

‘Major’ drinking problem
August 2019

I wouldn’t say it was a party. My trophy, I don’t know if you saw me try to pick it up, but it was awfully heavy. So when I was taking a drink out of it last night I needed a couple of extra hands to help me lift it. There wasn’t any beer; it was vodka!

A night out with Tiger
July 2006

An old friend who used to manage me, Angus Hawley, came up to me at the Australian Open dinner and said, “Tiger wants to go out and have a couple of drinks. What do you think?” I said, “I know a couple of places, we’ll take him to this bar in Kings Cross.” It was the Sugareef and back then every Tuesday night was absolutely chockas. We were all young and had plenty to drink. He loved his vodka and cranberry. That’s what he loved back then.

He was great fun to be out with. He was a single guy. And he loved a bit of freedom because no one in the place knew who he was back then. He kept saying, “I’m having a great time.”

I saw him the next day at the pro-am and he said, “Man, I don’t want to talk to you.”


A special ruling at Augusta
June 2004

Charlie Yates at Augusta National tells of Bob Jones’ dad being pressed into service as a rules official in one of the early years of the Masters. It had rained hard the night before the final round, and at the 12th hole a player requested relief from casual water. The Colonel asked him where he stood in the tournament.

“Eighteen-over,” the player says. The Colonel says, “Hell, do anything you want,” and walks away.

The Greenbrier and the homestead
September 1970

The style at both places has always been very much ladies and gentlemen. But not all of the Greenbrier ladies were so sedate. There were the Langhorne sisters, one of whom, Irene, married Charles Dana Gibson and became the original Gibson girl. Nancy became Lady Astor and was on the receiving end of at least one Winston Churchill classic.

“If I were your wife,” spat Lady Astor, “I should put arsenic in your coffee.”

Growled Churchill: “And if I were your husband, madam, I should drink it.”

The legend of Bullet Bob Burns
September 2012

One of my favourite player/caddie combos was Fulton Allem and Bullet Bob. Bullet is a pretty tough guy. The story has it that Bullet grew up with Bob Costas on Long Island, and in grade school Costas used to buy Bullet lunch all the time – though not necessarily voluntarily. Bullet and Fulty were made for each other. Their skin’s so thick it’s more like armour. Fulty was having a terrible day and said, “Bullet, I’m so frustrated, I just want to break something.” Without hesitating, Bullet said: “How about par?”

Golf’s Rocky Balboa
May 2012

Andy: I tried for years to get Hamish into golf but it’s a bit like the teenage boy who didn’t want to take up the piano. If the dad keeps pushing him, he’s not going to do it.

Hamish: And all of a sudden, look out, we have “The Shining 2”.

Andy: But then suddenly the dad steps away for a bit and we see Hame getting a few lessons and hitting a decent ball. So what would crush me even more, similar to “Rocky V” was if he was to grow up and challenge me.

Hamish: I’ve been driving balls into dead horse carcasses.

A family friend visits dad in the hospital
March 2005

“There’s good news and there’s bad news,” Marshall said.

“Good news first,” my father replied.

“Well, it turns out there is golf in heaven. We’ve got a track just like Pebble Beach.”

“That’s great,” my dad said with a smile. “So what’s the bad news?”

“You and I are playing Hogan and Jesus at 8am.”

A lesson learned from Christy O’connor Snr
November 1992

Remember that 90 percent of the people don’t care what you shot, and the other 10 percent wish it was more.


Life on the mini-tours after taking up the game late in life
May 2008

I knew very little about the rules and proper etiquette. In one tournament, I hit my ball down in a hazard. I went in and started picking up rocks, sticks and stuff so I could hit the ball. One of the guys I was playing with stood there, stunned. I started to pick up a leaf and said, “Can I move this leaf?” He stared at me for a minute and said, “If you pick up that leaf, you’ll be lying 12.”

Trouble between Nicklaus and Palmer
June 2008

Jack was always my idol. The crowd always pulled for Arnie against Jack, but Jack put up with it. I remember sitting in a clubhouse when Nicklaus and Palmer had a bit of a blue. I played early with Arnold. We came into the locker room, and a storm started to brew. Anyway, the storm got worse, and the players were called in. Jack was something like eight-over par playing the ninth hole. Arnold said, “You know what’s going to happen here, don’t you? They’re going to cancel the round because Jack is eight-over.” And just as he said it, Jack walked in behind him and heard him say it.

Jim Thorpe, when I first met him, said to me that we “Frenchmen” had to stick together out there. He and I were on the bench as Jack walked in. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but when Jack gets nervous or angry, he has a little twitch he does with his chin, and he goes bright red. Well, he did both. And as he walked past, he said, “Yeah, Arnold, just like they did for you all those times.”

At that, Jim Thorpe turned to me and said, “Newtie, this is no place for we Frenchmen. There’s an argument going on between God and Jesus Christ, so we better get out of here!”

Disposable cameras
June 2016

Do I regret tossing a fan’s camera into the water at the 2002 Skins Game? No. The fan was taking pictures during the players’ backswings all day. I told him repeatedly not to do it, and he couldn’t have given a damn. He just kept snapping. The last hole was worth $200,000, and Tiger needed to get up and down from a bunker to stop Phil from winning the cash. The guy clicked on Tiger’s backswing, Tiger flinched and hit a lousy shot, and Phil takes the $200,000. I was pissed. There’s a basic etiquette to following golf, especially photographing golf, and the guy ignored it at everyone’s expense except his own. As we walked across a bridge towards the clubhouse, I saw the fan and asked, “May I have your camera, please?” For some reason he let me take it, and I stuck my arm out and dropped it into the water. I think Tiger wound up paying for the camera.

Thrown under the bus
December 2002

The senior tour has small events for the guys who are too old to compete. It’s a beautiful thing. The first three I played in, the average age of my partners was 88. I had Paul Runyan, Freddie Haas and Sam Snead. Snead, as usual, was a beauty. After nine holes, he said, “I’m real embarrassed by how I’m playing – I’m going in.” I said, “Sam, it’s your choice, but they’re paying us $12,000 even if we finish last. So what do you say? Let’s finish.”

Sam gives in, and I proceed to birdie 10, 11, 13, 15 and 16. We’re tied for the lead, and suddenly Sam is all pumped up. I three-putted the last hole, and we lost by one. The next day in the paper, I read a quote by Sam: “If Rossie wouldn’t have three-putted the last hole, we could have won the tournament.”

A reckoning at St Andrews
July 1990

That the Scots are dry and quick of speech is legendary. Their talk is the conversational equivalent of the poisoned ear dagger. You can be dead on the ground before you know you’ve even been hit. My grandmother was known to alienate entire wings of our family wishing them a happy Christmas. I was struck by this when I went into one of St Andrews’ many fine bookstores. I counted seven but there are more, I am sure. I bought a couple of Balzac novels to read on the plane home. When I took them to the woman at the counter she wrapped them for me and observed crisply, “I see. An American comes to Scotland to buy French novels. It seems an Irish thing to do.”

For those of you who are connoisseurs of such matters, as I am, note the deftness of stroke and economy of line. In a single aside, a white-haired lady from a small town in Scotland managed to dismiss the United States of America, the Republic of Ireland and the literature of France. Well bowled, madam, well bowled.

A tip gone wrong
May 2004

When I taught at Metropolis Country Club in New York, there was a fellow who shanked chip shots, nothing else. The man smoked a pipe, and after a lot of thought I began placing his best pipe just outside his ball. He was terrified of hitting the pipe with the toe of the club, you see, and I cured him quick. I was telling this story in Houston not long ago, and a member overheard it and disappeared. He came back an hour later and placed his pipe, which was shattered to bits, in front of me. “Your tip doesn’t work for long irons,” he said.

Estimating gallery IQ
February 1978

One time I’m walkin’ off the 15th with Nicklaus. Big gallery. Just as we get through the ropes, this big, doe-eyed blonde steps right in front of Jack and coos, “I just love to watch you play… Johnny!” I’ll never forget the look on Jack’s face. I tell him, “Make two more birdies and you tie her IQ.”

Benevolent dictators at golf clubs
September 1976

My british benevolent dictator, and he really did dictate, was the late J.F. Abercromby, universally known as Aber and certainly one of the outstanding architects in all golf. About 40 years my senior, he used to wear a green velour porkpie hat and habitually carried under his arm an ancient wooden putter. We younger members were in considerable awe of him. I was standing beside him at the bar at Addington one Sunday morning when a member came in and pre-emptively demanded of the steward, “Where’s the suggestion book?” Aber turned slowly and prodded the luckless fellow with a bony finger. Then, pointing to himself, he said, “I’m the suggestion book!”

That’s the way to run a golf club.


A rough landing
October 2008

I’m in a helicopter with my wife, just west of Sydney. It’s a hot day, we’ve got a full passenger load, and we’re full of fuel. We came in too hot speed-wise for a tight landing zone near some apple trees. Suddenly alarms went off as the pilot tried to correct his mistake. The tail rotor hit the ground, and he tried to pull back, which lurched us forward into the apple orchard. At the last minute he reduced power and dropped us on the ground. It felt like when I landed on an aircraft carrier. Laura was stunned; I was furious. I really lit into that pilot, who didn’t seem to comprehend how close we’d come to buying the farm.


Going bald, and other worries
November 1999

I started losing hair in college. My dad’s mother pulled me aside last Christmas and said, “You know, they have drugs for that now. Then she said, real quiet, “But you gotta be careful… might decrease your sexual appetite.”

Diet confession
October 2002

It’s true: you are what you eat. The worst single food in the world is bacon, because it’s pure animal fat. But I have a piece on occasion. I’m not a martyr.

A double-edged sword
March 2017

There is no top-class athlete in the world that would be classed as mentally stable. You’ve got to be insane to do this for a living. I don’t play for the money and I don’t play for the ranking. I just love playing golf tournaments. It’s probably been a little bit of a detriment to my career. But if I wasn’t like that, maybe I wouldn’t be doing this anymore. It’s sort of a double-edged sword.

When golf gets too hard
April 2018

Don’t get me wrong, when you’re having lunch sitting in a chair directly next to Tiger Woods and you’re playing well, it’s the best job in the world. But when you miss a cut by one shot, and you’re reading a menu for dinner pointing at some random menu items for the waiter, praying that they don’t serve you up some dog meat or a fried chicken head, believe me there are better places you wish you could be.

Ian Stanley
‘There are no characters any more. They all go through the same routine. I am not decrying that, but when you hole a putt, punch the air for God’s sake.’

A call for more charisma
October 2002

Golf can be a selfish and lonely sport, especially early in your career, and I think we all really enjoyed each other’s company. We were a fraternity in a way. I remember when Bob (Shearer) won the Australian Open in Sydney in 1982, we went into every sponsor’s marquee and had a drink with them. By the time we got on the plane back to Melbourne, we were flying. We drank the plane dry midway through the journey. I am not sure the young blokes would do that now but I think it was important. Sport in general has lost its sense of fun. There are no characters any more. They all go through the same routine. I am not decrying that, but when you hole a putt, punch the air for God’s sake. If someone’s a bit different in any sport, they tend to criticise them. People love watching good golf shots but they also like
to see sportsmen with a little bit
of charisma.

Dressing for success
December 2018

The first time I wore the plus-fours was at The Open at St Andrews in 1978. There was a fellow that I knew in the UK by the name of Ron Matheson who was with Tony Jacklin Sportswear and he knew that I liked different types of gear, especially colours.

He had this outfit they were calling plus-twos because they were two inches below the knee instead of four and they were more streamlined. They were comfortable but I looked in the mirror and thought there was no way I could go that far, especially at St Andrews.

I came out on the Wednesday night wearing this outfit and Chris Tickner who I was sharing a house with burst out laughing. But his wife Pat looked at me and said, “That suits you. That really looks good.” I thought about it and then wore them the next day and shot 68.

I hit the back page of every paper in the UK and I hit the front page of three, and they said no one in golf had done that for so long that it’s not funny.

The key was having good socks. I got my socks from a little company called Corgi Hosiery and they were made of merino wool from Australia. It didn’t matter whether it was hot or cold and I just kept playing in them.