Doug Ford came to the Legends of Golf looking for a money putt

Doug Ford came to the Legends of Golf looking for a money putt

Ford, along with partner Billy Maxwell, finished last in the Demaret Division, but showed off his shot making.
David Walberg/SI

You should have seen the shot that Doug Ford hit last week in the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf at the Savannah Harbor Golf Resort. He was the second-oldest player in the geezer division (70 and over), and on his 35th of 36 holes, the 155-yard par-3 17th, the 86-year-old golfer hit what he called “a two-finger cut job.”

Maybe you don’t know the phrase. Don’t worry. Ford is an expert on a vanished world. He won the 1955 PGA Championship, the ’57 Masters and 17 other Tour events, and he knows the things you acquire not only during a lifetime in the game but also from his particular life and times in golf. He knows what Sam Snead liked to talk about every year at the Masters champions dinner. We’ll spare you the details, but take your most graphic guess and double it.

He knows how much Nicholas (Cockeyed Nick) Rattenni, reputed captain of the Genovese crime family, wanted to play a round of golf with Jack Nicklaus. This was in the early 1980s, when Nicklaus was planning an expensive redo of the St. Andrew’s Golf Club in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., accompanied by the construction of town houses.

“So Cockeyed Nick calls me, and he says, ‘You know Nicklaus, right? I’d like to play a round of golf with him. If we play, he’s not gonna have any trouble with his project,'” Ford recalled last week.

Ford was sitting in a lobby of the Savannah Westin, late for a cocktail party that he didn’t care about, and he was dressed beautifully, in the manner of the old pro: shiny loafers, charcoal-gray trousers straight from the dry cleaner, tailored lime-green sport coat, brand new striped golf shirt buttoned to the top. Pure class. His skin is smooth and he takes no medications and he drove to the tournament from his home in South Florida in his Eldorado. That’s a Cadillac, in case you don’t know.

His accent is pure New York. “So I call Jack,” Ford continued, “and Jack goes, ‘I don’t know if that’s something I should do.’ Cockeyed Nick calls me again, and he says, ‘Where’s my game with Jack?’ So I ask Jack again. Jack’s not gonna do it. Cockeyed Nick says, ‘All right.’ And Jack’s project comes to a stop. Cockeyed shut him down.” Rattenni died in April 1982. Six months later Nicklaus had his ground-breaking. (Nicklaus has no recollection of this conversation with Ford and says there were no abnormal delays in the St. Andrews project before the ground-breaking.)

Doug Ford’s father was a golf pro who, for a while, owned an indoor driving range in Manhattan. He changed the family name from Fortunato for golf reasons. “The Italians in New York at that time, they could work as caddies, but the club pros were all Scots and English and Irish,” Ford says. Ford’s father was in the same generation of New York golfers as Eugenio Saraceni, who won the ’35 Masters as Gene Sarazen.

Ford won his Masters by three shots over Snead, holing out from the bunker on the left side of the 18th green in the final round. Ford shot a lot of pool as a kid in New York, and he said he played the bunker shot off the green’s slope as if he were playing a bank shot.

He stayed amateur until he was 27 because there was more money to be made gambling at golf than playing tournament golf. The modern Tour, where guys spend their practice rounds practicing, would bore him. He needed action.

At the Legends event Ford’s partner was 79-year-old Billy Maxwell. They were already on their way to collecting last-place money when they arrived at 17; Ford pulled driver and made a cut swing with only two fingers of his right hand on the handle, to take something off the shot. A two-finger cut job.

It bored right through the wind, sailed over a pond and a sleeping alligator and hit the flagstick on the fly. Ford’s birdie putt was maybe 12 feet, and he wasted no time with it. Nothing but hole.

Somebody asked him, “Were you nervous over the putt?”

“S— no,” he said.

Of course not. No action.