Also undoubtedly at play is the specter of mortality. Two
years ago, Toski lost his wife of 57 years, Lynn. This year
he’s seen the passing of Ken Venturi, Miller Barber, Frank
Stranahan and, last November, his close friend and teaching partner, Jim Flick.
“They keep leaving me,” he said during Stranahan’s
memorial service last month in Palm Beach, his eyes moist.
Later, on the ride home, he said, “If I’m going to do some-
thing, I’ve got to do it now.”
Urgency has always been his way. Toski was born the
eighth of nine children of Polish immigrants in Haydenville,
Mass. His father was a brass worker. His mother died when
he was 6. Raised primarily by his older sisters and brothers,
three of whom would work at the Northampton CC, young
Yanush, as he was called by his family, found refuge in golf,
laying out a nine-hole course across the neighborhood.
“We were poor,” says Toski’s sister, Dottie Kneeland, 91.
“We weren’t eating any steaks, mostly a lot of oatmeal. But
there must have been tomato soup, because Bobby used the
empty cans for the holes.
“He was good at everything. He worked hard because
we all worked hard. But he got to play more than the older
ones. And he was extra smart.”
In the summers Toski would live at the club so his broth-
ers could keep an eye on him, caddieing for 60 cents a round
and chipping and putting all day on the practice green
when he didn’t have a loop. Because he was small, he was
assigned ladies with carry bags and was soon giving them
chipping lessons to good reviews. After winning western
Massachusetts schoolboy championships, he was drafted in
1944 and went on to win an all-military tournament in India.
After the war he turned pro; he joined the tour in late 1949.
“The older guys like Demaret and Mangrum and Ted
Kroll, they adopted me like a kid from Boys Town,” says
Toski. “They liked that I could use my little body to hit as
far and as well as them. They liked that I was game for any-
thing. Can you sing? Yeah. Can you dance? Yeah. They could
tell stories, they could gamble, they could have fun. You had
to keep up. I just tried to be like them.”
Playing-wise, Toski was Hogan-obsessed. He’d watch
him practice, occasionally receiving a nod of recognition.
Then he would go out and try to copy him. “We were kind of
the same size, except Ben’s legs were twice as big as mine,”
Toski says. “I would try to make my swing flatter. One day
I was hitting duck hooks and shanks, but I thought I was
really onto something. Snead’s behind me and says, ‘Mouse,
what the hell are you doing?’ I told him I was trying to swing
like Hogan. He got mad and said, ‘Goddammit, you are Bob
Toski. Swing like Bob Toski. You have a helluva golf swing.
Quit screwing around with it.’ I listened to that.”
Toski improved, winning four times in 1954. The last
one was a bonanza, George S. May’s World Championship
of Golf at Tam O’Shanter in Chicago. First prize was the
unheard-of sum of $50,000, with another $50,000 available
if the winner chose to sign a contract with May to give 50
exhibitions the following year.