From Publishers Weekly
Although the claim that Hagen "invented professional golf" is a stretch, the five-time PGA Championship winner undoubtedly influenced the sport. Hagen (1892–1969) grew up poor in Rochester, N.Y., but got a 10-cents-an-hour job at a local golf course when he was eight. Watching the men he caddied for taught him how to play the game as well as how to read people and greens, skills he quickly mastered. Journalist Clavin deftly shows how Hagen's success (by the time he was 30, he'd won national championships in the U.S., Great Britain and France) and his showman's personality inspired the 1920s boom in American golf course building, revolutionized the public's perception of the game and even led to the creation of the PGA. Clavin infuses his narrative with impressive facts: Hagen was the first player to use a tee (previously, golfers had hit their ball off a tiny mound of sand), the first golfer to start his own line of clubs and balls and the first person to stand up against the inferior treatment of professional golfers in comparison with their amateur counterparts. Clavin also captivatingly portrays Hagen's personal life, depicting him as a fun-loving sharp dresser with a carefree personality who could paint the town red at night and rule the greens during the day.
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Professional golfers often give credit to Arnold Palmer for turning the sport into the big-money spectacle it is today. That's all true, but Tiger Woods and company should also tip their logo-bedecked hats to Walter Hagen, who, as Clavin makes clear in this long-overdue biography, almost single-handedly created the idea of the golf pro as sports star. When Hagen, a working-class boy from Rochester, New York, decided to make his living winning golf tournaments, the sport was reserved for well-bred amateurs like Bobby Jones. Professionals weren't allowed in the clubhouses at the courses where tournaments were held. Clavin carefully sets that context and then shows how Hagen changed it all. It was the Roaring Twenties, and the Haig, as he came to be called, quickly established himself as the Babe Ruth of golf: partying all night, arriving at the course in his tux, and changing clothes in his limousine. The public loved it, and with on-course heroics to match off-course flamboyance, Hagen soon pried open the clubhouse doors. A fascinating slice of golf history that has the panache of a Preston Sturges movie. Bill Ott
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