Catching up with ... Mac Divot
Remember Mac Divot? If you picked up a newspaper sometime between 1955 and 1977 and went straight to the funnies -- and, let's be honest, who didn't? -- you might recall the golf-themed comic strip that chronicled the life and times of fictional Tour pro Sandy Mac Divot.
The strip was syndicated in more than 200 newspapers across the U.S., and also in Scotland, Ireland, Australia and Japan. It was written by Jordan Lansky and illustrated by Mel Keefer, who is now 87 years old and still slipping out for the occasional 9-hole round near his home in Los Angeles. Keefer had quite a career as an illustrator -- he drew for Johnny Quest and He-Man, and in 2007 he received a lifetime achievement award from Comic Con for his work as an illustrator, animator and comic strip artist. We caught up with Keefer to discuss his old comic strip and reveal what Mac Divot might be up to today.
How did you come up with the idea for Mac Divot?
Timing and good luck was part of my career. I had always played golf and became interested when Jordan suggested we might work together to develop a comic strip about golf. There was a new interest in the sport since this new golfer named Arnold Palmer had just won his first tournament! Jordan had some background in writing, and I had the ability to copy golf swings. I developed the character and Jordan wrote the premise. We originally called the strip "Links Ryder." Links was a young pro just starting his career. He had a regular caddie who was a wisecracking type who always had a stump of a cigar in the corner of his mouth.
So how did "Links Ryder" become "Mac Divot?"
The president of the Chicago Tribune Syndicate wanted the caddie to become Links' father, who was a revered pro of a private country club named Rolling Knolls. His name would be Malcolm Mac Divot. He would be born in Musselbury, Scotland. His son's name would be Sandy Mac Divot. We patterned Sandy's playing career after Gene Littler and Billy Casper, and then after whoever was the hot golfer of the day. Malcolm was based very loosely on the old Scotsman, Tommy Armour.
You did more than follow a character through life on the Tour. You also depicted instruction, the media and business. How did you become so versed on those issues?
We tried to get just about every aspect of golf that was becoming popular, and we were beginning to get involved in business ourselves. Twice a year we would get the latest offerings of golf clothes, which we were always wearing. We also promoted our golf equipment. I was on the Dunlop staff, and I got golf balls and equipment. We'd use Maxfli in our scripts, and the syndicate was really aggravated. They would white them out -- but they didn't white them all out [laughs]. It wasn't what the syndicate had in mind, but we always tried. It was great fun -- and slightly profitable.
The art is extremely detailed. How long did it typically take to complete one strip?
About five hours. Then I'd send it off to New York. We'd have to be about six to eight weeks ahead of publication date. It was a struggle, but we always managed to do it. I was working 18-hour days as an illustrator. Work became the most prevalent thing in my life, but I loved it.
You depicted Arnie, Jack, Gary and other popular players of the time. Did they ever contact you about how they were portrayed?
In today's world, I would never use anybody's likeness, but these guys would tell me how much they enjoyed it. There were a good number of golfers I got fairly friendly with. Art Wall liked our strip. I was friendly with the Herbert brothers, Lionell and Jay. Also, Gay Brewer said he enjoyed seeing himself in our strips. I once presented a picture I drew to Jack Nicklaus (shown at right), which was a huge thrill.
The strip's titular character, Sandy Mac Divot, went toe-to-toe with the legends of the game. What would he be doing today?
I kind of envision him becoming the pro at Rolling Knolls [his fictional club]. He might be playing the Champions Tour. And he and his wife, Marla, produced twins, a boy and a girl named Graeme and Megan, and they're now players on the men's and women's tours.
Sounds like you've given this some thought.
Well, we had great experience with Mac Divot. Golf has been a big part of my life.
Here are some of Mel's favorite Mac Divot strips, and one special panel that shows how Sandy and the gang might look today...