I STOPPED BY THE World Golf Hall of Fame today. Not in St. Augustine, Florida, but at the website. I was looking up something and stumbled onto the page of Hall of Famer Cary Middlecoff. I know a fair amount about Middlecoff, nicknamed “Doc” because he was an actual dentist who ventured out on the PGA Tour. Fred Hawkins has told me stories about Middlecoff; they were pals on tour and socialized off the golf course.
Today I ran across a couple of stories I hadn’t heard or simply forgotten. I’ll get to them momentarily, but let me start with a bit of background. The first thing you need to know about Cary Middlecoff is that he was a great player. He never took a lesson and had a swing that made Bobby Jones swoon. “I’d give the world to have a swing like that,” Jones once said. Middlecoff won 36 tournaments on the PGA Tour, plus three majors (two U.S. Opens and a Masters). Those are Phil Mickelson numbers. Doc had six-win seasons in 1949, 1951 and 1955.
The second thing you need to know about Middlecoff is that he was a slow player. How slow? “Glacial” is the adjective the World Golf Hall of Fame uses. It fits.
When Doug Ford played Middlecoff in the 36-hole final of the 1955 PGA Championship, Doc lit a cigarette when he got to the green and didn’t putt until the entire cigarette was gone. “The gallery really got on him,” Ford said, “but you couldn’t rush Doc. I didn’t care.” The reason Ford didn’t care was because he sat in a chair while he waited. His son brought it along for the final against Middlecoff. Ford won.
At the 1957 U.S. Open, defending champion Middlecoff closed with a pair of 68s at Inverness to make up eight shots on Dick Mayer and force an 18-hole playoff. Guess what Mayer did. He brought a camping stool to the playoff. Maybe it didn’t bother Doc, but something did. He shot 79 to Mayer’s 72 and missed his opportunity to be one of only a handful of players to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.
Golf writer Dan Jenkins once joked that Doc had to quit the dentistry because no one could hold his mouth open that long. Middlecoff was even known to stop at the top of his backswing.
So I’m tagging Cary Middlecoff as golf’s greatest slow player. I know there have been other slow pokes. Jack Nicklaus could be a tortoise. But I feel comfortable with Middlecoff as my pick. In fact, Doc is probably holding up play in the afterlife as I write this.
−The Armchair Golfer