My interest in golf began in the late 70′s. As I recall now, my weekly golf watching began with the 1978 Masters which was won by Gary Player after he shot a final round 64.
Naturally enough as my interest in following the golf tour grew, I wanted to read about it also. In 1979 shortly before I enlisted in the Navy I bought a book. It was titled Teed Off and it was written by Dave Hill. Hill, whose productive PGA career ran before I began following the sport, gave his opinions in Teed Off on everything from golf course design to some players think sex helps them play better golf. I loved the book and recently bought a new copy of it because the old one I had was falling apart.
Hill was a controversial player.(In Teed Off he claimed or joked that the PGA used to allow fan banners until ones were seen with the words ‘Hill’s Angels’ on them) He’ll never be forgotten for his 80 acres of corn and a few cows wisecrack about Hazeltine National Golf Club in 1970. Less remembered but more important, was Dave Hill filing an anti-trust lawsuit against the PGA Tour in 1971. He said there were two sets of rules, one for the stars and one for everyone else. It’s still true today. Tiger Woods defaces a green at a US Open and does he get fined or penalized? Of course not. Hill’s lawsuit I think did bring about changes but they are behind the scenes. The fines and suspensions handed down to players and why used to be public. Now the PGA Tour doesn’t discuss the matter as seen with their suspension of Jonathan Kaye a decade ago. Did he just attach a badge to his pants zipper or do much more? The Tour won’t talk about it.
Back to Hill. He was outspoken and controversial(Age didn’t seem to mellow him. He got in a fist fight with JC Snead when both of them were playing the Seniors Tour. 20 years prior to that Tour officials had to prevent Hill from having a go at Chi Chi Rodriguez too.) but he was also a talented golfer who won a Vardon Trophy and one of the best shotmakers of his day. RIP Dave.
Hill, recognized as one of the top shotmakers on the PGA Tour in the 1960s and ’70s, had suffered from emphysema for several years, according to his brother and fellow PGA Tour player Mike.
“He is Jackson golf, as far as I’m concerned,” said Ron Beurmann, golf professional at the Country Club of Jackson. “You go anywhere in my world and tell somebody you’re from Jackson, and nine of 10 people will ask you, ‘Isn’t that where Dave and Mike Hill are from?’ ”
Hill won 13 tournaments on the PGA Tour from 1961-76, played in three Ryder Cups, finished second in the U.S. Open in 1970 and won the Vardon Trophy for the tour’s lowest scoring average in 1969.
“Having the best stroke average was the thing that gave him the most satisfaction,” Mike Hill said. “His biggest disappointment was not winning the U.S. Open like he felt he should have.”
It was at that U.S. Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota where Hill made the most renowned of his many comments that stirred controversy on the tour. When asked by reporters about the course after the second round, Hill said it “lacked only 80 acres of corn and a few cows to be a good farm” and that architect Robert Trent Jones “had the blueprints upside down.”
That was the sort of straight talk for which Hill became known.
“What he said about Hazeltine was the absolute, honest to God truth,” his brother said. “Players like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player sat in the locker room and laughed. They knew it was true, but because of them not wanting to be involved, they would never say it.
“He was opinionated and stubborn. If he felt he was seeing things that weren’t right, he always spoke out. He used to say, if you don’t like the answer, you shouldn’t ask the question.”
Al Glick, president of Alro Steel in Jackson and a financial supporter of Hill on the tour, recalled the time Hill was fined $500 for some remarks and wrote a check for twice that amount.
“The commissioner said the check was too much,” Glick said, “and Dave said, ‘That’s OK, I’m getting ready to say something else.’ ”
Hill said plenty in his 1977 book “Teed Off,” in which he detailed his side of his disagreements with the PGA Tour and took shots at several fellow tour members.
“I firmly believe there is prejudice in applying the rules … and fining people,” he wrote. “The rules aren’t the same for Dave Hill or Ray Floyd as they are for Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer.”
Hill also had run-ins with the tour office over his withdrawals from tournaments, many of them in frustration at not being able to reach the high standard he set for himself.
“He wanted to be so perfect, and when it didn’t come about, it hit him hard,” said Andy Andrews, a longtime golf companion of Hill’s. “He was a perfectionist. I played with him at Arbor Hills one time and he shot 63, and he said he hit one good shot the whole round. That’s the way he felt.”
Mike Hill said his brother’s “dedication to hitting golf balls and wanting to never hit a bad shot” was behind his greatness. He said his desire for perfection was one of the reasons he left the PGA Senior Tour, where he won six times from 1987-89.
“He couldn’t hit the shots he was used to seeing,” Mike Hill said.
And those shots were exquisite.
Andrews said he was told by PGA Tour veteran Jay Haas that Hill was one of the tour’s top 10 shotmakers of all time.
“I don’t think people realize how good he was,” Andrews said. “He hit some awfully incredible shots.”
Glick recalled a round at the Country Club of Jackson when Hill hit a shot that sailed through a tiny opening in a tree on the wooded right side of the 12th hole, then hooked and landed five feet from the pin.
“I said, ‘Dave, I can’t believe there’s anybody in the world that good,’ ” Glick said.
Hill asked, “Do you want me to do it again?” and repeated the shot.
Those close to Hill say his confidence went a long way toward his success.
“His ability to call shots, all the stories you hear, are pretty much true,” Beurmann said. “He believed in what he was doing. If every golfer had that confidence, it would change their game. He had that certain something.”
Already one of the city’s top players as a student at St. Mary’s High School — he is the only player to win the City Championship, Jackson Masters, County Open and Public Links in the same year, doing that the year of his graduation in 1955 — Hill turned pro in 1958. He won the Michigan Open in 1959 and then began his PGA Tour career.
His first victory came at the Tucson Open in 1961, when he finished birdie-eagle to get in a playoff and won it with a 27-foot birdie putt on the third extra hole.
After finishing 25th and 26th on the money list his first two seasons, Hill slumped and was ready to give up the tour before Glick and others backed him and convinced him to stay at it. Rather than take a portion of his earnings, Glick had another idea.
“I told Dave, ‘We don’t want your money,’ ” Glick said. “We would like some of your time to play golf with our customers.”
Thus began Hill’s relationship with Alro that saw him regularly play with Alro customers right up to this year.
“If I looked in the dictionary and saw the word loyal, Dave Hill’s picture ought to be there,” Glick said. “He appreciated how we helped him.”
Hill, who presented much of his memorabilia — including the Vardon Trophy — to Glick to display at Alro Steel, was at his best after the round was finished.
“He was probably the best story teller you could hear,” Glick said. “People would love to sit around after we played and hear him tell golf stories.”
Beurmann saw that side of Hill in getting to know him during Beurmann’s 20 years at the Country Club of Jackson.
“If you asked Dave to do something, he wouldn’t hesitate,” Beurmann said. “He would watch you hit balls, help with your chipping, you could ask him questions about strategies, experiences, what his thought process was during tournaments. That was neat. He had all the stories. How many times are you going to talk to a Vardon Trophy winner like that?”
In 1969, Hill won three tournaments, finished second on the money list and earned his first Ryder Cup appearance in addition to taking the Vardon Trophy. His last PGA Tour victory came in 1976, the final year of his 17-year run among the top 60 on the money list.
Glick believes that Hill’s success on tour coupled with the coverage he received from the Citizen Patriot under sports editor Al Cotton, a golf fan, helped golf grow big in Jackson.
“When that happened, all the kids around town wanted to play golf,” Glick said.
Hill is survived by a son, David, and a daughter, Laura.
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