The Middle Ages of Pinehurst

pg. 3

Part III

Millions of people play this most challenging game. Of that group a few become prominent on a regional level. Within that group of sharp practitioners a mere handful have the talent to fully compete with the best in the world. There is another level – far beyond the everyday world – where a few extraordinary individuals perform in a manner which veers closely to the province of fiction.

It is not a matter of dedication – because there are innumerable players who could not be more diligent in their attempts to master the game. What happens is that a few times a generation in various areas of endeavor nature produces these anomalies which shine a little more – or more than a little – brighter than the rest.

To those privileged enough to witness such in full flight, it leaves an indelible mark. This mark lasts a lifetime and is recalled many times over with a wonder than never diminishes but evolves into something along the lines of a folk tale or myth. It is within these myths that the sport and its adjacent areas derive a great deal of vitality. Without such stories the game would be a pale, anemic replica of the robust, life enhancing reality it actually is. Further, history shows us that there is always an undeniable correlation between when these rather fantastical stories take place and the health of the sport.

These folk heroes are necessary on more levels than is commonly perceived. For instance, the overall business, which provides a livelihood for tens of thousands of families, grows in all areas. The importance to those families is not one to be taken lightly. Another fact which merits profound consideration is that children grow in the image of those who capture their imagination. One casual glance at the daily paper will tell you it is infinitely better for them to be enamoured of healthy pursuits than the dark antithesis. Adults find themselves actually jarred up out of their recliners and moving about with their own dormant pursuits awakened by the electricity which emanates from these folk stories. They stumble about ineptly with their emulations but that is not what matters – and once and a while a little magic does come through their own game. It’s an elevating scenario all around – a necessary counter balance to the tedium and adversities which beset and burden their daily lives. For well into antiquity all cultures have required a few who were not entirely of their kind to perform rituals which affected the tribe in a way which was not entirely comprehensible – but which provided the community with a service necessary to sustain well being and foster a progression toward that elusive better world.

Harvie Ward grew up as the son of a pharmacist in the small town of Tarboro, N.C. His native talent with the game led him to the golf team at the University of North Carolina. It was during these collegiate years – which included the individual NCAA title – that it became evident he would be a world class player. It was also during these years that it became evident his golfing ability was almost matched by a personality which had magnetism so irritable that even the most stoic of individuals could not help liking this singularly charmed individual. After all, how many fellows could amble up to the first tee late – for a match with the supremely inscrutable Ben Hogan scowling away – and have him laughing right away with a casual sideways comment?

Everybody loved Harvie. It was impossible not to. That’s the way it was.

Arnold and Harvie in the semi-finals at the 1948 North South Amateur. Courtesy of Corbis

This extraordinarily gifted young man was the number one protégé of no less than Bobby Jones himself. Jones lunched with the amateur on a weekly basis for quite some time. He also went to some lengths to ensure that all doors were open so that his talent could bloom to the fullest measure.

Harvie’s star really began to ascend to that rarified level in Pinehurst. The turning point of his playing career was his victory at the 1948 North South Amateur. This event almost did not occur – because it was in the middle of this particular tournament that Mr. Ross passed away. In fact, there was serious debate as to whether they should postpone or cancel the tournament. However, the directors of the tournament decided – correctly – that the patron saint of Pinehurst would have preferred for the show to go on. And go on it did with Harvie ousting a Pennsylvanian by the name of Arnold Palmer in the semis before tangling with the world class Frank Stranahan en route to a highly celebrated victory.

The golden boy followed up this turning point with many victories. It was after his 1953 triumph at the (British) Amateur that he moved into that circle of all time players. In 1955 – when the U.S. Amateur was still a major – he won the tournament (9 &8 in the final match). The following year found him again in the same winners circle. It was at this point in time that he was regarded by many knowledgeable people as… the greatest golfer in the world.

Courtesy of Corbis

It was also at this point in time that the USGA board took actions which unnecessarily destroyed him.

Care to guess who was the president of the board?