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The Hustler

One of Golf's Biggest Money-Winners Has Never Appeared on the Pro Circuit

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Among the name-brand professionals whom Leon admires, the ones he believes can play for their own money are Raymond Floyd and Lee Trevino. "So can Jim Colbert," he says, lacing his iron to within 10 feet of the pin. "But most of them...." He shrugs dismissively.

"I'll tell you a story," he says.

Several years ago, Leon played a very talented gentleman in a two-day golf match. So talented was this nice gentleman that he agreed to give Leon two strokes per side. The nice gentleman ended up owing Leon $18,000. He paid the hustler promptly half in cash, half in check. Leon never cashed the check. Instead, he framed it.

Leon likes telling this story not because of the money involved. It's one of his favorites because the nice gentleman he beat is one of the few men walking the planet to have won both the U.S. Open and the Masters. "Every time I see this guy on television," Leon says, "I think to myself what a nice gentleman he is."

Lately Leon has been devoting more time to a portfolio of business interests than to the golf course. The Senior Tour, he says, would be a challenge, a "great chase," but, in addition to the constant travel, there's not enough money in it to keep him interested. "But I plan to enter a few tournaments anyway," Leon says. "Just to compete and meet some nice people. That's all I want out of golf these days. Before, it was all about money. Now I realize anyone who plays and enjoys golf and enjoys the people he's with is a big winner, no matter what he does or doesn't accomplish."

Still, he says, he has one big golfing goal. In a couple of years he'd like to fulfill a lifelong dream and play in the U.S. Senior Amateur, which, should he win it, surely would be one of the most ironic titles ever bestowed.

"Yes, I suppose I fall somewhere between a professional and an amateur," he admits. "An amateur is, well, an amateur. And a professional is someone who plays for a living. I've been successful enough, fortunately, that I don't really have to do that anymore.

"But, on the other hand, if anyone's looking for a big game," he says, smiling, "I'm available."

Contributing editor Michael Konik is Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist.

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