It has often been said that every time a PGA tour player receives a check they should pause and give a moment of silent thanks to Walter Hagen, the golfing legend who forged the trail for their financial good fortune.
The same thanks should also be given by the tour players’ caddies, who now can earn well into six figures and even beyond. As Hagen was the first golf professional to have a caddie who traveled with him from event to event.
But after what Hagen’s first full-time caddie did to him after two seasons on his bag must have given other golfers considering the idea pause. As the move turned out costing Hagen something very dear to him, his wardrobe!
Among professional golfers, only Jack Nicklaus with 18 and Tiger Woods with 14 have won more major championships than Hagen, who is believed to be the first athlete to go over the million dollar mark in earnings.
In the prime of Hagen’s career, the leading money winner on tour earned less than $10,000 a year. So to make his first million, he took to the road, playing countless one-day exhibition matches across the country.
In an interview years after Walter’s touring days had ended, his former business manager said, since same day laundry service wasn’t available at most of their stops, the duration of each trip out on the road was determined by the amount of silk under wear Walter could pack in his suit case.
In his early days on the circuit, Walter had this great fear he would be perceived as a hick, due to his humble background. So he was always dressed to a tee before he set foot on a course.
Some said Walter was over doing it with his silk shirts, silk bandanas, snappy knickers and flashy shoes. But Walter was undeterred, the more money he earned, the more lavish his wardrobe became. The press dubbed him as “The Best Dressed Linksman in the World.”
In early 1925, Walter made big news when he hired a young lad named James MacDonald to be the first full-time caddie of a touring golf professional.
In late March of 1927, while they were wintering in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Hagen and MacDonald team again made the papers in a big way, but it wasn’t good news. MacDonald had skipped town, but not before almost totally cleaning out his employer’ apartment. Gone was Walter’s wardrobe, jewelry and a chunk of cash.
Walter had a warrant issued for MacDonald’s arrest but there is no record of his ever being found and brought to justice.
Walter, who spent his money almost as fast as he earned it, seemed to take the betrayal and loss in stride. He cancelled a deal he had going to buy a half dozen racing greyhounds and re-wardrobed and re-caddied.
With a suitcase full of new silk underwear, he took to the road on a playing tour that would take him up to Georgia, through the Carolinas and into West Virginia.