“Hard Luck” Tony Sheehan


A good post from a friend of mine, David Owen. “My Usual Game” makes interesting reading, enjoy and follow David

Eighth green, Augusta National, 1930. Photo by Tony Sheehan.

Eighth green, Augusta National, 1930s. Photo by Tony Sheehan.

My Golf Digest colleague Ron Whitten and I recently spent a couple of days in Orlando with the video-game designers at Electronic Arts, the creators of Tiger Woods PGA TOUR. The game’s next edition will include a recreation of the Augusta National course as it was in 1934, the year of the first Masters, and Ron and I had been asked to help the game’s “environment modelers” make the virtual course as historically accurate as possible. We offered suggestions about everything from green contours to mowing patterns to the size and placement of individual trees—an experience we’ll both be writing about for the April issue of Golf Digest.

Among the many historical resources the game’s designers consulted were photographs of the course taken in the 1930s by Tony Sheehan, who was Augusta National’s unofficial official photographer. (The picture at the top of this post, which also appears in my book The Making of the Masters, is one of his.) Sheehan’s nickname was “Hard Luck.” Clifford Roberts, the club’s co-founder and first chairman, wrote about Sheehan in his book The Story of Augusta National Golf Club, which was published in 1976:

Tony was an oddball in appearance and dress, and he made comments at times that were just as unusual and unexpected. Neither he nor his battered old camera looked to be qualified to make even a passport photo, but he was a remarkably capable photographer . . . .

Many of us experience accidents as we go through life, but I doubt that any man endured bad luck so often and so continuously for so many years as Tony Sheehan. Every time an epidemic of any kind came to town, Tony was the first to catch it.

Tony tripped over something and broke one or more bones so often that it almost appeared to be a habit. On one occasion, while he was waving to friends, his car plowed into a large stone marker on Walton Way in Augusta, which cost him a number of teeth but gave him some distinctive battle scars on his face. . . .

Tony survived a half-dozen major operations, plus numerous patching-up jobs. His one lucky day was when he was married to the nurse, Eva Smith, who had looked after him in the hospital so many times that she felt lonesome between his visits.

Tony finally got himself into really serious trouble—his car was hit by a train. Over a year’s period the hospital lost track of the number of jobs that had to be done on Tony. Finally, the great day arrived when he could leave. His wife picked him up in her car and headed for home. When they arrived at the railroad track, the same one where Tony was wrecked, he asked her to stop the car. He then walked ahead and looked in both directions to make sure no train was approaching. As he was about to signal her that all was clear, her foot slipped off the clutch and she knocked Tony down. Whereupon she picked him up and took him back to the hospital for another stay.

Believe it or not, our friend Tony Sheehan lived to be eighty years of age, and died in 1974 of natural causes.

In 1931,Sheehan took this photograph of Ty Cobb receiving a golf lesson from Glenna Collett Vare, who won the U.S. Women's Amateur six times. Cobb was from Augusta, and this photograph was taken there--possibly at Augusta National.

In 1931,”Hard Luck” Tony Sheehan took this photograph of Ty Cobb receiving a golf lesson from Glenna Collett Vare, who won the U.S. Women’s Amateur six times. Cobb was from Augusta, and this photograph was taken there, possibly at Augusta National, although more likely at Augusta Country Club, next door, where Cobb was a member.

Roberts himself knew something about hard luck. He grew up poor in a succession of small towns, accidentally burned down his family’s house when he was sixteen, lost his mother to suicide when he was nineteen, earned a modest fortune and then lost it in the stock-market crash of 1929, and presided over Augusta National’s bankruptcy in 1935, a few months after the second Masters. Like Tony Sheehan, though, he persevered, and because he did we have the Masters, now just over three months away.

Augusta, Darla Moore & Hootie Johnson.

Darla Moore/bottomline.nbcnews.com

Hootie Johnson, the  former Augusta National chairman, the same man who famously declared in 2002 that he wouldn’t admit women to the club;

“At the point of a bayonet.”

Hootie Johnson/usatoday.com

In 2003 Hootie followed that statement with another politically incorrect statement, some people actually hoped the drop dead part of the admission would come true quickly;

” I do want to make one point, though. If I drop dead, right now, our position will not change on this issue.”

Bobby Jones & Cliff Roberts

Some pretty strong stuff, and lots of the guys in the locker room admired his unbending attitude, seems though that the old boy himself has softened in old age. I bet Cliff Roberts and Bobby Jones are spinning in their respective graves at the latest goings on at Augusta. Turns out it was Hootie Johnson who was personally responsible for nominating a woman for membership to the club, that woman was none other than Darla Moore. Here is Hootie’s latest  reported comments;

“She has a long connection with me, I’ve had her as a guest at the club a number of times along with her husband. She’s a sweet lady.”

Lets all drink to progress, if you don’t place one foot forward, you will always be standing in the same place. Remember Cliff Roberts statement;

“As long as I’m alive, all the golfers will be white and all the caddies will be black.”

Well, Lee Elder became the first black golfer to play in the Masters Tournament in 1975, Lee said at the time;

“I don’t want anything special. I will make it on my own.”


Lee Elder/legendsrevealed.com       Lee congratulates Tiger on his Masters win/bleacherreport.com

Cliff Roberts died two years later in 1977, no one knows if being alive when a black golfer played in The Masters had hastened him into committing suicide, but he had been ill some months.

You have to wonder what he would have made of  Tiger winning in 1997, with a total of -18 under par, and aided by a white caddie, Fluff Cowan. Tiger said of Fluff, after their Masters win;

” I think Fluff’s the best caddie in the world, he’s a great caddie and a great friend.”

    Michael Thomas Cowan/ caddybytes.com

Seems like even Tiger has some statements he regretted making, Fluff may not  be the best caddie in the world, but you don’t fire a great friend.

The last word goes to someone who is absolutely delighted with the Augusta change of heart, she is Martha Burk, the lady who started the crusade against Augusta, Martha said;

Martha Burk ” We won, absolutely, that’s how I feel.”

” It’s important symbolically. In an absolute sense, two women playing golf is not important, but two women  being allowed into one of the enclaves of power for, basically, Fortune 500 members is a very important symbolic statement about the place of women in society. Had we not started this 10 years ago, and kept at it and kept at it, it wouldn’t have happened now, and it might not have happened ever. We did not give up. There were several confluences that came together: IBM naming a woman as a CEO was one factor. I think we were another one. We succeeded in changing public opinion pretty well.I got a lot of death threats, I had to hire bodyguards, and I did wear a bulletproof vest. It was not fun. I believed in what I was doing. I don’t want to take personal credit. Yes, I was a spokesperson, but there were a lot of women standing behind me as well. That was very important, but I do feel personally vindicated.”