the first Guru – Harry Obitz

I just spent several hours discussing the 1968 Canadian OPen at beloved St.George’s Golf Club.  It reminded me of a time before every pro had his own guru, or in some cases, teams of them.  I was working there that summer and my winter boss, HARRY OBITZ, showed up.  Harry was the first “merchant pro” and an editor of GOLF MAGAZINE and a super boss.  He also is the pro who rescued Jackie Gleason from a depression, taught him to play golf, and the rest is history (a long story).

I was on the putting green (lunch break Jerry) when I heard his distinct cough.  Within a few minutes he had attracted a crowd and I was very impressed when he walked over to Gary Player who was making his 100 putts from 2.5 feet (this really was his confidence drill).  Harry bent over, adjusted Gary’s putter shaft, said something and then returned to the side of the green.  I asked him how long he had been helping Player and his answer was so ahead of his time.

“Pal-O-Mine” he said, “Let me tell you something.  I’ve never taught Gary anything, he’s self taught.  What I was doing was a photo op for the paper guy, and myself.  The picture will be on my wall at Shawnee by next Monday.”       

 “What did you say to Player when you grabbed his putter?”

“Oh, I asked him if that was the same shaft he’s always had in his putter.”

Later when I was in the shop, Harry came in, tried on some hats, kept one on and as he exited said “Pal-o-mine, thank your boss for the skimmer.”  Jerry Magee was behind the counter and started to twitch, I had to explain who Harry was and that he always gave visiting pros a cap.  Jerry let me pay for that one, with a discount!   

Thirty years later, I was working at Scottsdale for the first Phoenix Open to be played on the TPC at Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.  We were scrambling to get the hotel set up and I was helping the concierge – when I heard the familar throut clearing of none other than Harry Obitz.  “Pal-o-mine, who do you have to know to get a room at this joint?”    Harry had played in the first Phoenix Open and been invited (sort of) to this, the 50th!

Getting back to gurus, Golf Digest has a feature interview with their top 4 teachers, Butch, Hank, Jim and Leadbeater.  It’s a good read but to me they are coaches, they have no idea how to help the average golfer.  They start with world beaters already, it’s the club pros who teach!  Look at that Top 100 Teachers list, it’s the ones at the other end who teach. And the best ones are not on the list, they don’t charge enough!

When Butch Harmon was opening our BH School in Freeport he brought a very athletic volley ball player with him.  He told me that in one year she woud be on the LPGA Tour.  I was impressed by her 150 yard 7-irons and her Playboy pictures, but after a year she was living in Hawaii and having kids.

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Gary Slatter

Venerable Canadian golf pro Gary Slatter discusses his opinions on the state of golf, golf course design and construction, teaching and more, based on a lifetime in the business.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Hi Gary !
    I enjoyed, very much reading your story about Mr. Obitz. I can never forget the way he approached people. I can’t forget his white hat, white trousers with the dark cardigan. A lot of Class. Old Class Generation. Regarding the hats for the pros, I have to tell you something. During the Italian Open 1976, Sam Snead was one of the invited players. I remember him coming into the shop and choosing a hat. He said thanks and that was all!
    I can’t get in touch with you anymore at Raffles. Where are you????

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