Hill’s straight talk was matched
by his love of shotmaking
AugustA NAtioNAl/getty imAges
outspoken. Cantankerous. Opinionated. Those adjectives jumped out of recent obituaries on Dave Hill, who passed away Sept. 27 at 74. He earned them with unfiltered
commentary on everything in golf from course architecture
to his spoiled fellow vagabonds. An interviewer’s sweetest
dream, he answered questions with witty candor. Off the
record? Where’s that?
The feisty Hill won 13 tournaments and a Vardon Trophy
on the PGA Tour from 1961-76, played on three U.S. Ryder
Cup teams and had six victories on the Senior PGA Tour.
He was usually among the tour leaders in fines, often
expressing views shared but not voiced by the superstars.
He was a rebel who had no trouble finding a cause.
His most quoted criticism came at Minnesota’s Hazeltine
National during the 1970 U.S. Open. Asked what the course
lacked, he quipped, “Only 80 acres of corn and a few cows to be
a good farm.” He arranged with a local farmer to drive a tractor
to the presentation ceremony if he won. (Hill’s father was a
farmer in Michigan, where he grew up and later returned.)
Expected to perform poorly on a course he mocked, Hill
finished second to Tony Jacklin. Dave’s brother Mike, also a
successful tour pro, said not winning the Open was Dave’s
biggest disappointment, winning the Vardon for low stroke
average his most satisfying achievement.
I wrote a book, Teed Off, about the tour with Dave that came
out in 1977 and quickly came to appreciate a straight talker who
looked you aggressively in the eye and, as one writer put it,
had a superhighway from his brain to his mouth.
More striking to me than his quotability even was his edgy
obsession with making perfect golf swings. He once brought
a golf club into a restaurant so he could check the pressure
points on his grip.
Shotmaking was becoming virtually a lost art. When it’s
acknowledged today, it usually means hitting solid shots
consistently. Hill, a slightly built 145-pounder, could do that, but
found it boring. (Frank Thomas, the USGA’s technical chief at
the time, told me Hill hit more shots on the sweet spot of the
clubface than anybody else.)
Hill’s idea of shotmaking, shared by his hero Tommy Bolt,
was a more demanding one. He believed true golf was being
able to move the ball from left to right or right to left, low or
high, a lot or a little, with part swings or full swings. He
experimented on the range for hours, hitting artfully
shaped shots on call, adding and subtracting lead tape to
subtly change the feel of his clubs. He said
it kept his interest up.