Gambling on the Greens
Betting on Golf is a Natural Part of the Game, from $1 Skins to $100 Nassaus
From the Print Edition:
Arnold Schwarzenegger, July/Aug 03
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Sam Snead, one of the great professional players of all time, was also a confirmed gambler. In the late '30s, he was invited to play in a huge money match in Havana, Cuba. According to the lore, there was at least $100,000 worth of wagers on a 36-hole match that Snead played, and won, against the pro at the Havana Country Club. He got out of the country as soon as he could, afraid that associates of the dictator Fulgencio Batista, who lost money on the match, might take out their pique on him. As Snead once said: "I tried to quit gambling once, but it was about as much use as kicking a hog barefoot."
One of the most infamous betting matches of all time occurred between Lee Trevino and Ray Floyd, two of professional golf's greatest competitors. The betting match took place in the mid-1960s. Floyd was a newly qualified PGA Tour pro and Trevino was an assistant professional at the Horizon Hills Country Club in El Paso, Texas. Floyd was bold and brash, but had not yet come to glory and had yet to win a Masters, a U.S. Open or a PGA Championship. Trevino hadn't qualified for the PGA Tour yet, but wasn't far off from the first of his six major championships, the 1968 U.S. Open.
Both players had one golf course in common, Tenison Park in Dallas. It was a municipal layout that drew gamblers from all over Texas and much of the United States. Trevino and Floyd did not play each other or meet at Tenison. In 1966, Trevino moved to El Paso to take a job at Horizon Hills. As an assistant pro, he scooped up range balls, cleaned golf carts and collected bags from cars in the parking lot. He also had a fair amount of local gambling action going on, not big money, but enough to make a decent living.
A group of gamblers at Tenison Park, which included Titanic Thompson, arranged for Floyd to play Trevino. When Floyd arrived in the parking lot at Horizon Hills, Trevino met him in a golf cart to take his golf clubs.
"Well, who am I supposed to play?" queried Floyd.
"Me," replied Trevino.
"You? What do you do?"
Floyd was slightly astonished that a combination cart man, range sweeper and shoe-shine boy was his opponent. But not nearly as astonished as he would be once he saw Trevino play. The match was arranged for at least 36 holes, maybe 54. Floyd's backers had bets in the thousands against Trevino's backers. And Floyd had $1,000 of his own money riding. Trevino says he didn't bet any of his personal money. The details vary, depending on which man you talk to, as to the scores they shot. This isn't uncommon among gamblers. They might remember exactly how much money they won (or might choose to inflate it over time), but things like scores, times and sequence of events often are lost in the haze of personal history.
"I'm feeling pretty cocky about playing this guy," recalls Floyd. But then he discovered why he was playing Trevino in the first place. Trevino was a masterful shot maker, cool under pressure, something the world would know in short order. In the first round, Floyd shot a 66 and Trevino beat him by three shots. Floyd wanted to play another nine holes, but Trevino told him he had to put away the carts and straighten up the bag room. So Floyd stayed around until the next day, passing the time by playing cards and dove shooting, then they went out and played for another $1,000. "I shot 65. He shot 63," says Floyd. "My backers didn't want to stick around for another match, but I did. This guy's got $2,000 of my money and I wanted it back."
The next day the backers bets were doubled. It came down to the 18th hole, a par 5. "I had an eagle putt from 18 feet and Lee was just inside me," say Floyd. "I make mine for a 63. His putt doesn't go in, but I still to this day don't know how it didn't. I beat him 63 to 64. We're even. I said adios and got out of town. After playing Lee, I was getting all kinds of offers to play people. But I'll tell you one thing. After that I didn't play anybody I didn't know for big money. I think that's pretty good advice for anyone. I mean, who knew that Lee was going to become the great player he did? But at the time I didn't know him and I had a lot at stake. It was a helluva match."
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