Nearly every player on Tour has the talent to win any given week. What separates great players from good ones?
There are two types of swings: a competitive swing and a noncompetitive swing. That's why these guys on the practice tee all look good. That's also why these guys get up on the first tee and hit it O.B. There's a lack of understanding of self-control. I learned to win and compete under the tutelage of the best players in the world. Byron Nelson and Sam Snead tutored me. They helped me every day on the first tee and practice range.
You don't see that same camaraderie much on Tour today.
We couldn't afford teachers. [Tour pro] Ted Kroll was my mentor. We traveled together and he taught me the swing that I have today. Now, other guys helped hone it, but he spent hours with me every day. He would call over other guys like Hogan and Nelson to take a look. They would say, "Yeah, that looks good, even better than it did two weeks ago." That's the way it would go. We were a little fraternity. We were close-knit, because we didn't have teachers and gurus or psychologists. We had to become our own best teachers. Hogan was the best at teaching himself how to become a great player.
Would guys gather around Hogan while he practiced?
I used to watch him practice by the hour. He never said a word to me. He just hit balls. You couldn't talk to him. He didn't go out there to talk to people. He went out to work on his mind and body. If you wanted to watch, fine. I would stand behind him down the line. I would study his grip, body position, body turn. The tendency is to stand closer and closer when you're watching someone. Once I stood too close to him and he gave me this glare [Toski's eyes narrow]. I immediately stepped back.
Did Hogan ever let down his guard? Could you ever just relax with him?
We weren't that friendly. He knew who I was -- a rookie or whatever. He finished practicing at Riviera once and his locker was close to mine. He was taking off his shoes and he said to me, "Bob, you were out there a long time today." Now, you don't talk to Hogan like this, but I pointed at him and said, "I was out there as long as you were." And he said, "Yes, you were. Did you learn anything?" I said, "Ben, every time you made a swing, I learned something." He said, "Good." He closed his locker and walked out. We became closer because he knew I had balls. After that he would come talk to me.
What are your memories from the first of your five Tour wins, in Hartford in 1953?
Winning got you into the fraternity, to be one of the boys in the inner circle. It wasn't about money for us. It was about winning. Suddenly people were asking me to go to dinner.
After just seven years on Tour, you quit to teach full-time. Do you regret not playing long enough to win a major?
If I hadn't been so successful in my marriage and as a teacher, I would have regretted not playing longer to try and win majors. My marriage to a woman that I still love and miss very much -- we were married from 1953 to 2010 [when Lynn died] -- was something that I can't replace. I don't need another woman. My spirit and life is with her every day. I'm closer to her two years after her death than I ever have been. As for teaching, I never thought I would become the teacher that I have become. Playing is a skill; teaching is an art. I learned to become an artful teacher because I studied the swing from an anatomical and psychological standpoint.
Did teaching come naturally to you?
No. Early on, I was giving people their money back. I thought I could teach because I was the top money earner [on Tour], but I couldn't. I had to learn it. I was a doctor trying to learn about cancer. Bad thoughts and bad swings are cancer in golf. I initially wasn't a good communicator. I could only teach me. By breaking down the swing, I learned how to teach.
Eventually you went back to playing competitively. In 1986, you voluntarily left the Senior PGA Tour for six months after two of your fellow players alleged that you improperly marked your ball. Were those allegations correct?
If I marked my ball incorrectly, then a lot of other people have marked the ball incorrectly and haven't been called on it. It wasn't that I cheated, it's that I may have been a little negligent in putting the ball down exactly behind the mark. I may have moved it a little right or left, but I never cheated to move the coin forward, or took advantage of where I was placing the coin. There were two players that called me on that. You know who they were?
Gay Brewer was one of them.
The other was Billy Casper. They confronted me in Tokyo, when I beat Brewer in the tournament. Brewer and I didn't get along for a number of reasons: I had the better swing, I was getting accolades because I was a teacher. There was a lot of animosity. He confronted me after the round and said, "Bob, you were mismarking your ball." And I said, "If I mismarked a ball, I apologize. I'm not aware of the fact that I mismarked a ball to the point that there was an advantage, like I was trying to move it ahead."
But placing your ball to the left or right of your marker can also be an advantage if it helps you avoid spike marks.
I'm intuitive, instinctive. I do things quickly. And I said if I marked a ball incorrectly, I apologize. I said to Deane Beman [then the PGA Tour commissioner], "You either believe me, or you believe Billy and Gay. You're the judge." So he says, "Well, we're gonna have to ban you from the Tour for six months." I said, "If that's your decision, that's fine with me. You gotta live with that decision...I'm not worried about it. I don't care what the public thinks. You guys wanted to do a number on me, you got even, you did a number on me." For me to have done this as a senior player, and I won all my tournaments on the regular tour and never cheated, and now they accuse me of cheating? Are you gonna think I'm a worse person because of it?
What did that experience teach you about yourself?
It told me that the Tour pros who I thought were my friends were not my friends. I can live with my own heart, my own mind. I've done so much good for golf. Just think about what I did as a player, and as a teacher what I've done for the masses. Now I'm 87, and I'm still doing great things. God put me on this earth for a reason: to succeed as a player and a teacher.
How have you remained so motivated?
I'm not happy just sitting here and saying I did this or that. I'm going to test my body and swing and see how well I can play at 88 or 89. When I'm 90, I want to shoot 70. I'm not going to sit on my ass and just talk to you about how good I am. I'm going to go out and prove it. Every day when I wake up and go out and play golf, I look up and say, "Hey, Lord, how long is this going to last?" And he says, "As long as you want it to."
And how long is that?
As long as I can still whip ass. Aw, I'll tell ya, I just love to whip ass!
So, in other words, as long as the game's still fun, right?
Fun? Now, there's another subject. Fun is playing good golf. You don't have fun playing bad golf. When I go out and shoot 75 at 87, I have fun. But if I went out and shot 87 at 87, that's not fun, because I know I'm unique, I'm different. I don't have to compare myself to anybody. The only thing I compare myself to is myself and the guy upstairs. That's it.
How's that comparison with the big man working out?
[Laughs] Listen, I just try to do the right thing. I try to be a Good Samaritan. I've been a good father, a good husband, a good teacher, a good player. What else do I have to prove? I've got to prove to myself that I can still teach, still produce winners, still shoot low numbers, all while making friends through teaching and playing. That's my life. I don't need anything else.