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The Hustler

One of Golf's Biggest Money-Winners Has Never Appeared on the Pro Circuit
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

(continued from page 2)

Leon beat the star 31 days in a row, for well over $3 million.

How, any reasonable person might wonder, did Leon get the star to continue playing after the star had lost even three or four times in a row? "Well, I didn't have to get him to do anything. He wanted to play. Twenty-five out of thirty-one of those times this guy had the advantage going into the fifteenth hole. I mean, he had me beat. All he had to do was shoot triple-bogeys coming in and he'd get the money."

Incredibly, as Leon and his caddie tried mightily not to laugh out loud, the star would consistently shoot 10s, 13s, even 18s when the pressure became intense.

"He kept playing because he knew he should have been winning. On paper he had way the best of it," Leon says. "But this is the key to gambling at golf: the winner is immune to pressure. He can always play to his ability. The loser can't."

Leon smiles faintly. "I've always been able to."

The world's greatest golf hustler does not attempt to disguise his talent--anyone who watches him swing a golf club immediately recognizes the man can play. His success, he says, is not the product of looking bad on the practice range and beautiful on the golf course; it's not the product of making intentionally unorthodox swings that look as though they've been constructed in a tool shed (a la Lee Trevino), and then shooting the lights out. He's the best in the business because when he gets nervous his game does not deteriorate. It gets better.

"I play a match for chicken feed and I don't do so well," Leon admits. "But when we're playing for something substantial it makes me more focused, more intense. In a big match I probably play better than my abilities."

Leon has played thousands of matches for tens of millions of dollars. But perhaps no single game was ever bigger than one he had with the CEO of a Texas-based oil company. "I met this fellow, we'll call him The Chairman, in Las Vegas, at the old Dunes golf course," Leon remembers. "This man was successful at everything he did. His entire life was one victory after another. The man had no fear. There was virtually no amount of money we wouldn't play for. Which was fine, 'cause that's basically been my policy my entire career."

In Las Vegas, The Chairman played the hustler in a "friendly" match for $50,000. Leon lost. "Not intentionally, mind you," he says, half-seriously. "I was giving him a few too many strokes. But the gentleman played great. And, naturally, I took every opportunity to remind him of that fact."

Flush with victory, The Chairman invited Leon to play in Austin, Texas, at The Chairman's home course. "We'll play for whatever you want," The Chairman told Leon. "Even up."

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