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August 5, 2008
BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, MICHIGAN
KELLY ELBIN: On July 20, 1958, ladies and gentlemen, Dow Finsterwald became the first PGA Champion in the stroke-play era. When he won the PGA Championship Llanerch Country Club in Havertown, Pennsylvania. Dow is being honored this week beginning tonight at the Champions Dinner here at Oakland Hills Country Club. Dow has been a wonderful friend to the PGA of America down through the years having played in 23 PGA Championships, and proudly serving as the Ryder Cup Captain in 1977. Dow also will be recognized CBS, which will have attribute for him during their coverage this weekend.
Dow, welcome to Oakland Hills, congratulations on this anniversary, and perhaps offer some insight as to what it was like 50 years ago.
DOW FINSTERWALD: Well, it's a long time ago, folks. But it certainly made a big impact on my life and certain things were made available because of winning that championship. But as important as it was to me, and believe me, it has been very important; it was a major step for the PGA of America to go from match play to stroke play.
It was a time when television was just coming on the scene. Match play did not lend itself to television because the cameras at that time were not sophisticated enough to be stationed all around the course. Well, naturally, you all realize a match could end 5 & 4, and you had no cameras to see the finish. So it was a logical thing to happen in '58.
Also, galleries were getting so much larger. Golf was getting more attention, on the Saturday and Sunday the semifinal and the final rounds, if you get 25,000 people out there trying to watch four, two matches, four players, spectators could not see very much. It would have been very difficult, and almost impossible for 20,000 people to follow one match.
We saw a little of that at Torrey Pines this year; although it was stroke play, it was two guys out there, and that was the only match on the course. And it was, I was not there, but just watching on TV, we all could see that the gallery was having a tough time getting in position to see.
So as I say, as much as it was in my life a major thing, it certainly was a great step on the part of the officers of the PGA, Harold Sargent was president at that time as I recall, and I think the Association got some criticism from the old diehards that thought that match play was the finest form of golf. And it is a very fine form. But it just didn't lend itself, and I think it was; it has proven to be a very affirmative, very positive move on the part of the PGA to change at that point.
It certainly was a little extra there in that I had been the runner-up in the finals of the last match play. So I guess I'm a little prejudiced about stroke play. But it was the logical thing to do and the time to do it.
KELLY ELBIN: Thank you. You defeated Billy Casper by two shots on that Sunday. Do you recall a particular moment in that final round or over the four days?
DOW FINSTERWALD: Well, I'm glad you mentioned Billy. There was another thing that took place in that championship.
Prior to that, I think only one player am I aware of that had ever played in the PGA Championship who was not a member of the PGA, and at that point you had to be a pro five years before you would be eligible for membership.
Well, in 1958 I looked it up the other day, there were five players that I'm aware of who were none members of the PGA who were invited to compete: Ken Venturi, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Frank Stranahan and Billy Maxwell. Those were five none members who participated.
And again, that was a step to correct something that many felt was not or should not be, if you're going to have a Major Championship such as a PGA; you should have all professionals who at least have attained some status in professional golf.
So as far as playing with Billy, I did not play with him any of the four rounds. And he had posted his score, 278, I believe, some time before I got in there. And so the last three holes, I knew that I had a two-shot lead and it wasn't a great feat, but I didn't step on my big toe and make any bogeys. I parred the last three, and nothing heroic, but I was, as I say, I didn't step on my putter, so to speak.
Sam gave me a kind of a little boost out there. He and I are tied or maybe I was one ahead at this point, going to the 12th hole, which was a par 3, some 170, 175 yards, and I believe I had bogeyed the 11th and played a very poor shot to the 12th hole.
Sam played one of his many fine iron shots in his lifetime, but he put it in there 10 or 12 feet. And my recovery over a tree, and maybe a 12- or 15-foot putt for par, I got off that green with three and Sam, after having been on in one, walked off with five. He 4-putted the hole and that kind of gave me some breathing room and I was able to get in from there.
So as I say, Sam gave me -- not intentionally -- but he gave me some encouragement there after that 12th hole.
KELLY ELBIN: For the record, the great Sam Snead was third in that PGA Championship. Let's open it up for questions, please.
Q. With the Ryder Cup coming up and what it's evolved into recently, could you imagine in your day what it would become in terms of the spectacle, and also could you have imagined that it would get to the point where the Americans would be so much the underdogs?
DOW FINSTERWALD: Well, if I can go back to 1977, the year I was captain, was the last year that it was strictly Great Britain and Ireland, and I was not aware that it was seriously being considered to include the Europeans.
Well, later on in the week, I was told and I was asked my opinion. And I said, well, this just shows you how wrong a guy can be. I said: Well, it's such a great event the way it is, as much tradition and history, I'm not sure they should be included. In fact, though, if you're trying to make them closer, you could take our players and put them against the world and we would still kick their something or other.
Well, that just shows how wrong I was. And actually, though, I do think in '79 and '81. The U.S. still dominated the Ryder Cup.
But kind of answering the question, no, I was not clairvoyant enough to realize just what a wonderful event it has become, and how we just need to get our act together. And we have had a couple meetings of past captains, and everybody kind of kicks in, what do you think we should do.
Well, one story I tell, and I will repeat it here, about the fighter, and this particular fighter would cross himself before each round. And after the round he was being interviewed, he had won, and they said, oh, now, Joe, does crossing yourself before each round help? And he says, "Oh, it certainly does. If you can fight."
So now you get to the Ryder Cup Matches and they talk about all the camaraderie that the Europeans have. They travel together. They do a lot of traveling, because their TOUR is all over the world now. But our players just need to play a little better. I don't know about this camaraderie stuff. Sure, it helps, but the fact is our guys just need to play better. It's very simple; or oversimplified, I'm not sure which.
Q. In your opinion, what would be the biggest change or how has golf evolved in the last 50 years that we might not think about that's so obvious, like distance off the tee or technology, what would be the biggest change you've seen in golf in the last 50 years?
DOW FINSTERWALD: Well, definitely the technology has been a change. But if you take a look at the guys that are out there now, and if you could take the average size, the average weight; they're bigger, they're stronger, they have had better instruction throughout their lives. You can't discount the equipment. But still, I think that there's been more improvement in the players than there has in the equipment. These guys are good.
Q. Do you have any mementos that you kept from when you won in '58 that you still have today?
DOW FINSTERWALD: I didn't get it then, but I did get a replica of the Wanamaker Trophy, which I prize very much, and have at home.
And the people in Athens, Ohio where I grew up had a day for me and they blew up a picture of my receiving the trophy there and it's proudly displayed in our den. In fact, I got a replica of the Ryder Cup Trophy, also, there that the team gave me.
So I've got some mementos around that mean a great deal to me. Thank you.
Q. You've been able to see golfers for a long time; who are the top three players you've ever seen?
DOW FINSTERWALD: Well, certainly we have got a guy on the ailing list right now that certainly would be right there. But there are five or six guys, and I probably will exclude some but not intentionally; but you have a Jones, a Snead, a Nelson, Hogan, Arnold, Jack. These guys, I think, would be winners whenever they would have played.
Whether they would be out there now, there's just something that those guys had up here and in their heart that made them winners. And it didn't matter, in my mind, when they were playing or who they were playing or competing against; they were going to be winners.
Granted, if they were all out there at the same time along with Tiger, none of them would probably would have won as many championships as they did. I think Sam, I think he has 83 championships he won on the TOUR. I don't know how many of those he would have won if all those guys had been competing at the same time, but he would have been right there winning with them.
And a wonderful couple of years of golf if we could resurrect those guys and get them all out there playing at their prime; it would be something really to see, I think. Billy Casper won 52 times, two U.S. Opens, Masters. You know, there's some guys that just kind of had a little something more than the rest of us did, and they really did produce. And they did it with style and with class.
KELLY ELBIN: Dow, has there perhaps been a player in your opinion who has been underrated down through the years in terms of his accomplishments?
DOW FINSTERWALD: Well, I don't think we hear as much about Casper, and I don't think we hear as much or enough about Gene Littler. Gene won one major and an Amateur; he won the U.S. Open I believe right here at Oakland Hills in '61, but he won 35 or 38 other championships. And I think he probably played on seven or eight Ryder Cups. But Littler was just a marvelous player. And they didn't call him "Gene the Machine" just for something to say. He was literally a machine there for awhile.
Q. A few years ago you were honored by the Mid-American Conference as part of their 50th anniversary. Can you talk about that honor a little bit?
DOW FINSTERWALD: Well, I think that 50th anniversary was down here in Toledo. And we played Toledo Country Club.
But I didn't feel that it was as much an honor for me as it was for the Mid-American Conference, because it had become a pretty strong conference; not just golf, we had a gentleman that coached me, Kermit Blosser, won 18 Mid-American Championships, and had been, if not the finest athlete that went to Ohio University; he was a NCAA light/heavy wrestling champion. He was all-Ohio football and basketball, and there was the Buckeye Conference then.
But Kermit Blosser was an outstanding athlete and he was quite a guy. He talked to the team at one time and he said: Now, you've got to remember -- he took over the team or you wouldn't remember -- but he took over the golf team as an added assignment at Ohio University by Don Peden, who was then the athletic director, and Kermit had never played golf. Well, I don't think he tried to teach us golf, but he sure had us work hard.
And as an example, he said: Now, guys, when you go out there today, if your opponent hits it in there 12 feet, you hit it in there 10 feet. Just like that. That's all there is to it. You make the putt, whether he does or not.
But he brought about some things that he actually had us running laps if we were ever late for practice, and he was bringing other sports into the game of golf, and conditioning at that point was not part of it as I heard, anyway. Nor did I know.
Of course, just down the road here from Detroit, Toledo, Frank Stranahan used to travel with 200 or 300 pounds of weights and they would bring his luggage in the lobby and the bellman would reach down and start trying to pick it up and it just wouldn't come off the floor.
So he's the first person that I knew that really did work out. And of course, Gary Player came along later and was a fitness fanatic, and may still be. But that's another phase of golf that has changed, certainly.
Q. Given what the money was or rather wasn't in your day, how much did you guys love the game to do it week after week?
DOW FINSTERWALD: Well, I think definitely it was love of the game. Even though we didn't win as much money and endorsements were fewer and far between, the buck went a lot further then; but it won't catch up with what the prize money has done.
But I do hear people say, gosh, can you believe a golfer making that much money? And I kind of think to myself, well, I can look at some of these other sports guys are getting 12, 15, 18 million, and they get paid if they don't produce.
That's one of the things about golf that is very special to me and I think maybe had a great affect on making our country the great country that it is, that the golfer, the professional golfer gets paid as he produces. If he builds a better mousetrap than the next guy, he's going to make more money. Not just on the course, his endorsements will increase, and a lot of what you said about, we did it for the love, my father told me early on that if a person were able to make a living doing something he likes, the chances of his having a happy life are greatly enhanced.
If you're going to the office and doing something you don't enjoy doing, the chances of your being totally, well, relatively happy, isn't going to happen. I bet you guys out there, if you weren't writing, you wouldn't be enjoying life as much as you do.
Q. You've had such a great, long-time friendship with Arnold, I was just curious in your words why you think the two of you hit it off so well .
DOW FINSTERWALD: Why, or -- I'm not sure what you said.
Q. Your thoughts on why the two of you hit it off so well.
DOW FINSTERWALD: Well, we started playing against one another quite early. Our freshman year or sophomore year in college, and he did 29 the first round we played together, so I didn't have much luck there.
But we both liked to watch the Cowboys. We both liked to practice. We both enjoyed the game very much. Our wives became good friends. I just think it's probably we had common interests and golf being the main one, of course. But we still get together quite a bit in the winter. I stay at Bay Hill. We have a small condo there and he has a condo in the same building; and I generally add that he's on the high-rent floor.
In fact, I just talked with him yesterday and he's doing fine. He went to Mayo a couple weeks ago and he got a good bill of health there. So that's good news for all of us. We were talking in the hall before we came in here, how fortunate golf was in 1960, '59, '60, '61, where we had a man that came along that pulled out so many championships with some fabulous golf; a man that had that ability, but also had the ability to be cordial to people. And I don't think in all the years I've known him, I've ever seen him be rude to anybody or be short in any form.
And I've always had the greatest admiration for him and still do, and golf as I say was very fortunate to have him come along at the time he did.
KELLY ELBIN: 1958 PGA Champion Dow Finsterwald, thank you very much.
DOW FINSTERWALD: Thank you for the opportunity to visit with y'all. Hope y'all have an enjoyable week.
End of FastScripts