William (Bill) Earl Mehlhorn

Click on image to go the WebsiteBen Hogan was also duly impressed. "He was a fantastic hitter of the ball,"

Tommy Armour called Mehlhorn the greatest player from tee to green he had ever seen.

William Earl Mehlhorn (December 2, 1898 – April 5, 1989) was an American golfer who played on the PGA Tour in its early days, and was at his best in the 1920s.

http://youtu.be/hg7Gr-93IRo Bill Mehlhorn was an accomplished professional golfer in the 1920s, but he became a notoriously inept putter in the following decade. After retiring from competition he taught a swing technique based on muscle relaxation.

When complaints are heard about the lack of color in modem golf, the complainers are no doubt talking about the type of excitement provided by Wild Bill Mehlhorn .

Mehlhorn could always be recognized on the course because of his booming voice, his square-shouldered build, and his unique sense of dress. He had a fondness for gigantic Stetson hats and often wore combinations of dark shirts and white ties.

Bill Richardson of the New York Times, covering the 1936 PGA Championship, referred to Mehlhorn as "the man with the sombrero and the freaky putter."

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It was that aspect of Mehlhorn's game that gained him the most notoriety. While Mehlhorn was a wonderful shotmaker, he was a colorfully inept putter--which more than contributed to his eccentric personality.

Tommy Armour called Mehlhorn the greatest player from tee to green he had ever seen. "Put him on the greens," Armour said, "and he went haywire."

Ben Hogan was also duly impressed. "He was a fantastic hitter of the ball," Hogan told Charles Price. "I played with him once when he hit his second shot two feet from the hole. He then played his fourth shot out of a bunker.

Bill Mehlhorn play in the 1927 British Open, St Andrews

 William (Bill) Mehlhorn

"It was inspiring to see this man hit a ball. But it was pathetic to watch him putt. I've always said there are two different games--hitting the ball and putting. Well, he showed me."

Mehlhorn was born in 1898 in Elgin, Illinois, and grew up in Glencoe, a suburb north of Chicago, where he began his career caddying at Skokie Country Club.

Mehlhorn wasn't always a bad putter. He was an accomplished player during the prime of his career. He made his mark on the national golf scene in 1922, when he finished fourth at the U.S. Open behind winner Gene Sarazen. Mehlhorn won 20 tournaments in his career, 16 of which came between 1926 and 1929.

He won the 1924 Western Open, considered by many to be a major championship of that era. He finished in the top five of the U.S. Open five times and lost to Walter Hagen in the final of the 1925 PGA Championship.

Mehlhorn won his last tournament in 1930, the LaGorce Open. He didn't find the golf Tour financially lucrative enough, so he took the $5,000 first prize--huge money for that time--and turned to his second love, contract bridge.

Mehlhorn was one of the country's best bridge players. When he put away his clubs, he opened a bridge club, which he operated for several years.

He returned to the Tour in 1934 as a representative for Hillerich and Bradsby, a manufacturer of clubs. He played a few tournaments, but by then had completely lost his putting.

The stories about his putting were legendary even before his last attempt at the Tour. Like most yippers, Mehlhorn could go through spells of reasonable putting, then suddenly be struck helpless. It was said that he sometimes hit three-foot putts so hard, competitors had to jump out of the way as the ball shot past them off the green.

In a pro-pro event in Miami in the 1920s, Mehlhorn once six-putted from 10 feet. But as bad a putter as he was, he was that much better as a shotmaker.

Paul Runyan often tells of playing with Mehlhorn in the Glens Falls Open when Mehlhorn hit all 18 greens, hit all the par-fives in two, and drove a par-four. Runyan shot 69 with 29 putts, while Mehlhorn only managed 71.

Runyan figured afterward that Mehlhorn's second shot was inside Runyan's third shot six times.  

In a 1922 practice round with Leo Diegel, Al Watrous, and two amateurs, Mehlhorn hit full-iron shots within six inches of the cup on four straight holes. On the fifth, he holed out with a 2-iron.

Like most bad putters, Mehlhorn tried everything. It was said he once used an implement that looked like a rake. The ball was played outside his right foot and his hands were separated on the shaft--the left hand below and the right hand above.

"He tried some pretty screwball ideas to overcome his putting," said Sam Parks, 1935 U.S. Open champion. "You had to be careful not to start laughing."

Although you couldn't help but laugh at Mehlhorn's other antics. At the 1926 Texas Open, Mehlhorn climbed a tree by the 18th hole as Bobby Cruickshank was about to tie him for the championship.

However, knowing that Mehlhorn was watching from above, Cruickshank muffed his chip and three-putted to lose. Cruickshank wag accusatory finger toward Mehlhorn as he left the green.

To young pros coming out in the 1930s who didn't really know him. Mehlhorn was a forbidding figure: His immense physical stature, his willfulness, his tendency to make himself into the unofficial Rules committee of each group he was in--all had their effect.

"I was intimidated by him," Parks said.

But others who knew Mehlhorn found a different person.

"Bill was one of the two biggest-hearted guys I met during my time on Tour," Runyan once said. "The other was my great friend Harry Cooper. The two of them suffered from the same disease--they couldn't stand to see anybody in trouble."

Mehlhorn's putting finally drove him from the Tour, after which he began a long career as a swing guru. Until his death in 1989, he preached his swing technique, based on muscle relaxation. 

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