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Tom McEwen

The late Tom McEwen, sports editor of The Tampa Times from 1958-62 before being named sports editor of The Tampa Tribune in 1962, graced the Tribune sports section with his award-winning column, The Morning After, and his Breakfast Bonus notes columns were a signature offering from the 19-time Florida Sports Writer of the Year. McEwen died in June, 2011 at the age of 88. His wife, Linda, occasionally contributes past columns and exerpts to this blog.

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You Ask, Why the Nine Iron?

Posted Apr 12, 2012 by Tom McEwen

Updated Apr 16, 2012 at 11:29 PM


This year’s magnificent Masters tournament at Augusta was won by never-give up Floridian Bubba Watson, who finally beat Louis Oosthuizen, South African, who even made a double eagle to match Gene Sarazen’s famous one in 1935, but still came up with a tournament loss. I was a great moment in golf for all concerned, playoff and all. It made me think of my experiences with the courtly Gene Sarazen, a good friend of Tom’s, who tried to improve my golf game years ago.

I loved sports, but golf was always my game. Tom played and was good, or he was very good under pressure to make the putt needed. I had a very fine teacher, a lady who had held the Georgia State Amateur Championship in golf for a bunch of years and she knew what she was doing.

You ask why the nine iron and not the wedge, well, you are talking about money. I did not even know a wedge existed early, because it wasn’t even in the matched set, 9,7,5,3, 2 and 4 wood and a putter, basic and you were lucky to get that.

Shagging balls to practice meant hitting a sack of used-up balls in a field and going and getting them yourself. I lucked out on the public links in Albany, Georgia, being athletic and all, in attracting enough attention to get my very own caddie. He was called Pork Chop, I never asked why, and he attached himself to me like a stamp.

As I began to know the game, and to hit the long ball, Pork Chop felt that he had a winner. When I chipped and putted, he had his doubts. Nevertheless, he continued to be loyal to me, and was cheap in caddie fees. He met me at all the tournaments I played in. In those days, the older gals had the edge in golf. Maybe they still do, but when I could hit drives way over 200 yards, my playing companions very experienced used to pull out what they called “Old Rusty” which was a decrepit old five iron, shoot that ball onto the green within three feet of the hole for a three and sink the easy putt. I may have made the green in regulation but missed my putts.

Such is golf.

The first time I knew there was anything better than a nine iron was after I had married my hero, Tom, the ultimate macho man from the Tampa Tribune in Florida. Dazzle me he did, and all of a sudden we were getting married and going on our honeymoon to Marco Island in southern Florida, home of the retired Gene Sarazen, a good friend of Tom’s from the Augusta Master’s days.

Gene was a superb player in those early golf years and was well known as the absolute inventor of the pitching wedge.

Well, the second day of our honeymoon, we were playing with Gene and his wife, Mary, also a good golfer. In awe, I began doing what we old golfers call slopping around. I don’t want you to think I was doing this on purpose. I was really trying, by George, Gene Sarazen and all.

So Gene, gracious as he has been all of his life, attempted to instruct me in the use of the wedge so that I can hit the proper shot from the side of the green where I had dumped my shot. I had to hit the ball over a gaping trap and then stop short close to the flag - you know the scene. My hands felt like hams clutching the club, and I listened to him the best I could really without knowing what he was saying. I think it was the drone in my ear, saying, “you choke, you can’t possibly hit this wedge with Gene Sarazen watching. He invented the club, you dunce.”

Well, with the weight of Sampson, I came down on the wedge shot only to find it skipping across the sand trap (no loft, you know) and see the ball careening toward the flag, nipping it, then falling into the hole.

After a silence, Gene said graciously, “just like I told you to do! See, it went in.”

But Tom reminded me it wasn’t very pretty. So you ask why the nine iron? I told you I couldn’t afford the wedge, still can’t hit it well.

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