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Hagen's successes as a golfer which included four Opens, 2 US Opens and 5 US PGA Championships, were overshadowed by his character. He "never wanted to be a millionaire, just to live like one". He was the first golfer to realise the commercial opportunities of product endorsement. Indeed he carried 22 clubs instead of 14 because he was paid US$500 per year for every club he carried. At the height of his popularity, he charged considerable appearance fees for exhibition matches. As a professional at his base in Florida, he charged US$40 per session. In fact, he went on to become the first golfer to earn and spend a million dollars. And spend he did. While staying in London, he hired a Rolls Royce and stayed at the Savoy. The cost for him and party once came to £10,000, the equivalent to a working man's lifetime wage! However he did earn US$100,000 per year during the 1920s.
He popularised colourful clothing on the golf course. Just imagine the sight of this American turning up to play the Open in colourful plus fours and tank top and two-tone shoes, while the rest of the field were wearing sporting clothes with all the colour that brown and grey can afford!
Despite these idiosyncrasies, there was a serious side to Hagen. Back then professionals were considered to be on the bottom rung of the golf pecking order, especially in Britain. They were not allowed to enjoy the facilities of the clubhouse and indeed were sometimes prohibited from entering it through the front door. However golf just mirrored a much wider division of men in society based on class and ancestry. As an American, Hagen had no time for this nonsense. After all, how can it be proper that those who are masters of their craft are considered second rate?
Once to highlight the stupidity of the situation, Hagen hired a Rolls Royce and footman and set himself up outside the clubhouse entrance. He used the Rolls Royce as a changing room given that he was prohibited from entering the clubhouse. On another occasion, he refused to enter a clubhouse to accept his prize because he was refused entry earlier in the day. No one did more to embarrass the golf establishment into elevating professionals to the status which their talents deserve.
Hagen's record of success in the Majors is a testament to his talent as a golfer. He was not one given to exhaustive preparation, mentally, physically or otherwise. As a player, his form was either superb or terrible. Luckily, he was a master of the recovery shot. Hagen was also given to employing psychology in order to exploit any weakness in his opponent. He once called his main competitor out of a clubhouse to watch him sink a putt on the 18th hole. He told him that the next day, he would beat him and win the tournament. Luckily he did.
Hagen's place in golf's hall of fame is deserved not only because of his achievements but also because he brought to the game a much needed sense of sport and fun. Professionals everywhere are indebted to him.
His greatest accomplishment was probably winning five PGA Championships, including four in a row, when it was a match-play tournament. He won in 1921, didn't play in 1922, lost to Gene Sarazen in the final in 1923, then won each year from 1924 through 1927. During those six years of competition, he lost just one match against the best professionals in the United States.
Hagen's eleven major championships is fourth on the all-time list, behind Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods. Since he got to play in only three of the six tournaments that have been considered majors, that eleven may well be better than Nicklaus's twenty.
Awards and Honors
• Gene Sarazen: "All the professionals ... should say a silent thanks to Walter Hagen each time they stretch a check between their fingers. It was Walter who made professional golf what it is."
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