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Art Wall Jr.: still loving the game

NOTE: Part one of text, Photo, Two boxes

Editor’s note: Art Wall Jr., a resident of Sonoita, has been sidelined from playing competitive golf after three rotator cuff surgeries.

Wall, who has competed for more than four decades on the PGA Tour and Senior PGA Tour, visited with Tu so* Golf on a variety of subjects.


Q: What’s your present physical situation?

A: Right now I’m optimistic I’ll be able to play again. Whether I’ll be able to play competitively is very much up in the air. It’s doubtful.

The fact that I can play golf, that will satisfy me.

Right now my doctor, Dr. Frank Job, is not optimistic that I’ll be able to play competitively. Furthermore, if this injury goes on and on, it’s quite possible I’ll lose my exemption to play on the Senior Tour.

Right now I’m exempt, but I may run out by 1995.

Q: Your exemption, is that based on career earnings, both the regular and senior tour?

A: Career money earnings, all-time. Senior and regular tour combined, which is over $1 million right now. But people are going by me quite fast.

I haven’t played now for about 18 months.

Q: Have you had three shoulder surgeries?

A: Three, all rotator cuff. The problem is that the tendon is very weak. At age 70 things don’t heal very good. That’s my problem. It’s not the doctor’s problem. He’s done all he can for me, and more. He’s been very patient with me, and I’ve been patient with him. Age does something to the body, and I’m a good example of it.

Q: Have you ever thought of how many golf balls you must have hit in your lifetime? It’s got to be millions.

A: I’d say that’s probably true, and I haven’t even given it any thought. I was one of those persons who just went out and practiced without thinking I’ve hit 100 or 200 balls today. I always had an idea of how many I hit in a day. I knew how many I had in my practice bag because I had to go out and pick them up most of the time.

Q: Were you a player who liked to practice for long periods of time?

A: No, I wouldn’t overdo it. I enjoyed practicing, but I didn’t practice to the point of exhaustion. I didn’t see where that was doing me any good. If I was hitting the ball pretty close to the best of my ability, I wouldn’t keep on practicing. If you do, you’ll probably lose it. I would back off.

I thought I got more out of playing the golf course than hitting a bunch of golf balls. I felt like I could learn about playing a golf course, whether it was preparing for a tournament or just playing Pueblo Del Sol over here (in Sierra Vista). Or even the course back home in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, Honesdale Golf Club, even though I knew it like the back of my hand. I’d just play the shot that was there. I might have to hit a half 8-iron. In practicing I might not hit a half 8-iron. But out on the golf course I’d have a shot I’d have to work on more so than on the practice tee. That was my philosophy about practicing and playing.

Q: Do you miss playing?

A: I miss it very badly. I missed playing in The Tradition (in Scottsdale) a couple of weeks ago, and I’m going to miss playing in the Legends of Golf down in Austin, Texas. I’m going to miss that for the second year in a row, too. I miss that.

Those are two special golf tournaments for me right now.

Q: The Legends. That’s where the Senior Tour really got started, wasn’t it?

A: It did, didn’t it? Amazing. Tommy Bolt and I played in a six-hole playoff with Julius Boros and Roberto De Vicenzo. The first five holes were halved with birdies. The sixth hole Tommy and I couldn’t birdie. It was a joy and a pleasure to have been a part of that. It was outstanding.

My son, Gregory, caddied for me. He got a big kick out of watching Tommy Bolt. We played 54 holes plus the six playoff holes. Just watching Tommy hit golf shots was an education.

Q: Was Bolt one of the best shot-makers you’ve ever seen?

A: Yes. I might hit a 6-iron where Tommy would hit a 4-iron. He’d just feather it in there.

He had great feel, great touch for the shot, and great imagination, too. And playing with Boros and De Vicenzo, those two guys were legends in their time. It was a pleasure to be out there playing with those guys.

Q: How old were you then?

A: We’ll have to do a little subtraction. It was 1979. I’m 70 now. I was 55.

The first year of the Legends of Golf, Sam Snead and Gardner Dickinson won the tournament and Snead birdied the last three holes to finish ahead of Kel Nagle and Peter Thomson. We played in the second one.

But the six-hole playoff was on national TV, and it didn’t go off national TV even though it ran over. They kept it on. It caught the imagination of a lot of people that we could still play.

I was very much into it. I think we all were. I really wanted to win. Fortunately for Tommy and me, we came back the next year and won going away, so that was nice.

Q: If the Senior Tour had started 10 years earlier, when you were 50, you’d probably have been one of the dominant players on it. Do you agree?

A: I would have had a good opportunity. When Arnold Palmer became 50, they dropped the age limit down so they could get Arnold and a few other names that were just turning 50. I understand that thought. I guess it as a good thing. So be it. It was the way things evolved.

Q: What do you think about the Super Seniors (competition for over 60 players in Senior PGA Tour events), which has kept a lot of big names still out there?

A: The Super Seniors has been a real bonus. I don’t know how to explain it but to say it’s a real bonus. It’s a little hard for people to understand the Super Seniors vs. the Senior Tournament. When you become 60, you have to be eligible for the PGA Senior Tour to participate in Super Senior events. Palmer chooses not to. Everybody else chooses to play.

You get a check where you finish in the Super Seniors, a 36-hole event, and you take your score into the final day and play for whatever money you can make in the regular Senior event. Now a win in a Super Seniors event is worth $14,500.

Q: I imagine you won a lot of tournaments in which you didn’t get paid that much. It that so?

A: Amen. Most of them. The most money I won in a tournament was in 1976 when I won the Milwaukee Open. I won $26,000. I was 51 years and 7 months old, the second oldest to win a tournament on the PGA Tour. Snead is first, 52 years, 7 or 8 months. He won Greensboro.

I’m proud of that. I shot three rounds of 67 and a 70. I played very well. I won by one shot.

Q: That’s when you still were competing on the PGA Tour. How long did you think you could still be competitive there?

A: Jack Tuthill, the tournament supervisor, told me sometimes it’s a detriment to win at that age because you still think that you can play. You’ve had a great week. You’ve qualified for another year.

That next year I didn’t play very well. In fact, it was a little embarrassing. Jack was right. But I was still happy that I won in Milwaukee.

They had some senior tournaments in 1978, maybe four. Starting in ’79 there were a few more, so I really didn’t have a layoff. I just went from the regular tour to the seniors.

Q: Have you ever thought of what you would have done if the Senior Tour hadn’t evolved?

A: I’ve never looked back. You’re looking at a very lucky individual. I’m very pleased that I was able to accomplish what I accomplished. I’m very fortunate.

I didn’t have the greatest swing or the greatest ability, but I worked hard with what I had, and I made it into something that worked.

Q: Do you realize that you’ve played competitive golf for more than 50 years?

A: I started in 1949. I played 43 years on the PGA Tour and the Senior Tour.

Q: When you came on the PGA Tour, did you have to qualify back in those days?

A: When I came on the Tour, the first six months you could not accept money if you finished in the tournament, no matter where you finished. Even if you won you could not take money for six months.

I think that was that some fellows were coming out and declaring themselves pros. It made you think about turning pro.

Did I have to qualify? Yes. I had to play Monday qualifying. I qualified at Randolph for the Tucson Open when I first came out. I think I made it.

There was no qualifying school like now. You had to qualify every Monday unless you made the cut. If you made the cut, you didn’t have to qualify the next week.

The first money I won was in Jacksonville, Florida. I won $20. I finished tied for 20th. Last place was $100 and I finished in a five-way tie for 20th. I did not get the $20, but I got the satisfaction of knowing that I tied for 20th, which was good because there were about 144 players in the field.

Q: Have you always used the baseball grip?

A: I used the baseball grip all my life. I started that way. The real reason was, I didn’t know there was another way to grip the golf club. It felt the most comfortable.

In 1950 I had the opportunity to play with Tommy Armour. I recall Tommy Armour saying to me, “Laddie, you’re going to have to change that grip. You’ll never make it. You’ll never be a good player playing with that grip.’

For three days I tried the overlapping grip but it never felt comfortable, so I went back to the baseball or 10-finger grip and have been with it ever since.

Q: Isn’t the baseball grip used primarily by those who don’t have small hands?

A: My hands are not large. They’re small. But I just don’t have any other reason.

Q: Did you teach yourself to play?

A: I had a Scottish pro at the Honesdale Golf Club who gave me a lot of instruction and tips. He’d been around a lot of professional golfers for a long time. He came from St. Andrews. He lived his last number of years in Pennsylvania.

Q: When did you start?

A: I don’t really recall. It was about the age of 10. I started caddying for my mom and dad, my brother and I did on the nine-hole course in our hometown. The caddies could play on Mondays in the summertime. It just took off from there.

Q: Do you have the course record at Honesdale?

A: I shot some low numbers there. I can’t give you an exact number. Par was 36 for nine holes. A couple of times I shot 29 and once I shot 28.

I would say that’s probably the course record. I don’t think anybody’s gone any lower than that there.

Q: Do you hold many course records?

A: I don’t think I have too many. I have shot some low numbers.

Q: What’s the lowest you’ve ever shot?

A: I shot 61 in the Denver Open back in the 1960s. Par was 72.

Q: Did you have a chance to shoot 59 that day?

A: No. I birdied the last hole. But I missed a couple of short putts for birdies around 10 to 12 feet, but I made some unconscious putts, too.

The best 72 holes of golf I feel I ever played was not when I won the Masters. That was the most outstanding event in my golfing life, but the best 72 holes on a very difficult golf course was when I won the Mexican Open in 1964 at a course in Mexico City called Club De Golf. I shot 12 under par and beat De Vicenzo by one stroke. Tough golf course. Very difficult. That’s the best 72 I’ve ever played.

Q: Did you go back to the Masters this year for the champions dinner?

A: Yes. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was there for three days. I had as good a time as you could possibly have. I met a lot of nice people again.

Seve Ballesteros gave me the time of day. Ben Crenshaw, who had just won a tournament the week before, I sat next to him at dinner. Doug Ford sat on the other side. I had a great time.

Q: You’ve gone back almost every year, haven’t you?

A: There was a spell when I didn’t go back for a little while, about three years. I had my own personal reasons for not going back.

I’ve been there the last five or six years.

Q: Have you ever thought of teeing it up in the Masters again?

A: As much as I would like to, no. The last time I did I played one more year than I wanted to play because my son Gregory wanted to caddy for me. I said, OK, I’ll go back one more year and play.

It seems to me I shot 82 the first 18 holes. The last 18 I shot 79. I remember getting on the last hole in two with a drive and 4-wood and Gregory comes up to me and said, Dad, if you can two-putt, you’ll break 80.’ I said, Gregory, there’s a message there.’ He said, Now I know what you’re talking about.

Q: Is Augusta National longer now than years ago?

A: The course is much longer than when I played my best years there. They’ve added a lot of length to the tees, and they have bent-grass greens now.

I don’t know what kind of grass they had in my better years there, but they changed over about 10 to 12 years ago to bent greens. They’re extremely fast.

They’ve increased the yardage on No. 13 about 15 yards and added at least 20 yards to No. 15. With the equipment today, the ball seems to go farther. These fellows probably would make a mockery of those holes if they hadn’t been increased yardage-wise.

Q: Could you reach 13 and 15 in your good days?

A: Yes. I wasn’t the longest hitter, but I was sneaky long. I could get it out there at times.

Q: When you birdied five of the last six holes to win the Masters in 1959, how long were your putts?

A: The putt on 13 the last day was about 70 feet. I got down in two for birdie, which wasn’t bad. On 14 it was about 20 feet. On 15, I was on in two and probably had a 25-footer for eagle. It went in the hole and came out.

On 16 I had a 25-footer and I two-putted. On 17 I was around 18 feet and made that. On 18 I had about a 10- to 12-footer straight up the hill, dead center.

Q: Were you in what they call “the zone?’

A: I’ve heard that term. I never knew quite what it meant.

I knew what was going on. I wasn’t nervous.

Q: If I remember, you weren’t in the last group of the day.

A: No. After three days Arnold Palmer was leading by one stroke over Stan Leonard and Cary Middlecoff. Palmer, that day, went off two hours ahead of Middlecoff and Leonard. Does that tell you something?

I was six shots back. I finished about an hour after Palmer and about an hour before Leonard and Middlecoff.

Q: Was it televised?

A: Yes, ABC did it. I was paired with Julius Boros that day. Very nice. Super.

Q: So you didn’t know that you’d won when you finished?

A: No, I still had to sweat out Leonard and Middlecoff. As it turned out, it was Middlecoff who I had to be concerned about. He was one shot behind me after he eagled No. 15. He made three pars coming in.

Q: Did winning the Masters change your life?

A: Oh, definitely. You’re always referred to as a former Masters champion. That’s pretty neat.

It really changed my life right after it happened. I was selected PGA Player of the Year. I’m certain that had a bearing on it. Actually, won the triple crown in golf that year. I won Player of the Year, was the leading money-winner and had the lowest scoring average, the Vardon Trophy.

Q: Did you ever challenge in the U.S. Open?

A: Not really. The best I’ve ever played in the U.S. Open was at Baltrousal in the 60s (1967) when Jack Nicklaus won. I finished seventh, my best finish.

Q: Open courses must really be difficult.

A: I was never able to cope with them, but I was able to cope with that one.

Q: Did you ever play the British Open?

A: No. I had the opportunity to go over there, all expenses paid. But in my best years, even though was Masters champion, I would have to go over there and try to qualify. That’s not the case now, but back then it was.

I decided I didn’t want to go all the way across the Atlantic and do that. I wish I had, but I was fortunate to play on three Ryder Cup teams, and two of them were overseas, so I wasn’t completely shut out.


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