• Alistair Tait

What’s in a golf name? Everything


Would Tiger Woods have won 15 majors if he’d gone by his real name of Eldrick? Maybe not. Bet the late Dan Jenkins would have subscribed to that theory.

What’s in a golf name? Everything.

Jenkins probably wrote more about Ben Hogan than any other golf writer. No surprise: Hogan was a personal friend. The journalist was born in Hogan’s home town of Fort Worth.

The man who wrote such classics as Dead Solid Perfect, Semi Tough and The Dogged Victims of Inexorable Fate had an interesting theory about arguably the greatest swinger of a golf club that ever lived. In The Hogan Mystique, Jenkins writes:

“It behooves me to point out that if I was so intelligent in choosing a hometown, Ben was equally intelligent in choosing the right name. His full name is William Ben Hogan – not Benjamin, by the way. And what could William Hogan, or Bill Hogan, or Billy Hogan, have ever won?
“Zip, is what I say.
“No, it had to be Ben Hogan, a name that couldn’t miss. Just as Babe Ruth could slam home runs, but Herman Ruth would fix your plumbing. … Just as Ty Cobb could hit .400, but Ray Cobb would sell you insurance. … Just as Byron Nelson, who also had the good sense to come from Fort Worth, could win golf tournaments by the truckload, but John Nelson would be the kid you can’t quite remember from high school.”

Maybe the reason Garrick Porteous, who I wrote about yesterday, is still waiting for his first European Tour victory is because of his name. Perhaps anyone called Garrick Porteous should be penning plays, writing poetry, painting in oils, as Porteous does in his spare time, instead of trying to win golf tournaments.

Would Eldrick Woods strike the same fear into opponents as Tiger’s name does when it crops up on the leaderboard? Would Eldrick be like Garrick and still be waiting for his first PGA Tour win if his dad hadn’t insisted on nicknaming him after his army buddy?

Would William Nicklaus have won 18 majors as Jack did? Would Rory be seeking his fifth major if mum Rosie and dad Gerry have opted for Ruairí or Ruaidhrí or Ruaidhrígh or Raidhrígh or Ruaraidh and young Rory had to spend his life spelling a Gaelic version of his name?

Rory’s in name heaven. First name heaven. That’s when players know they’ve made their mark. You can bet when players were told "Ben’s on the charge" during Hogan’s day, they knew it wasn’t Ben Applecart from Anywhere, Arkansas. Ditto for Jack in his heyday, Arnie in his. Seve and Tiger and Rory.

Garrick Porteous isn’t the only great name in golf. How about Ky Lafoon, Julius Boros, Jimmy Demaret, Leo Diegel, Flory Van Donck, Victor Dubuisson, Arnaud Massy, Dow Finsterwald, Johnny Goodman, Ralph Guldahl, Chandler Harper, Dutch Harrison, Herman Keiser, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Marie Laure de Lorenzi, Matteo Manassero, Wild Bill Melhorn, Orville Moody, Moe Norman, Francis Ouimet, Jesper Parnevik, Billy Joe Patton, Johnny Revolta, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Gene Sarazen, Roberto de Vicenzo, Norman Von Nida, Babe Zaharias, Kermit Zarley and my all-time favourite, Sewsunker “Pappa Doc” Sewgolum? How can you not help but want such players to win? These are names that Hemingway, or Raymond Chandler, or numerous other creative writers could have created.

Just as names might maketh a player, they might even hold players back. You can bet Rod Bastard got fed up having to explain and spell his name during his fleeting appearances on the European Tour.

It's perhaps no coincidence that David Slicer, L.J. Hooker and Duff Lawrence didn’t make much of an impression in the professional game. Talk about starting with a handicap. Indeed, it remains to be seen how India’s Shankar Das turns out.

England’s Tom Lewis got his name from five-time Open champion Tom Watson. Dad Brian was a big fan of the links specialist. Big shoes to fill, but at least Tom has two European Tour wins to repay dad’s insistence on his Christian name. Perhaps we’re still waiting for Seve Benson to win on the European Tour because his father gave him too much to live up to in naming him after the Spanish maestro. Benson’s only 33; hopefully he can still make his mark in European golf.

Aside from Porteous, the name I hope makes it on the European Tour belongs to young Irishman Thomas Mulligan. Clearly if anyone deserves at least two chances it’s the Dubliner. Mulligan’s got a long way to go. He’s currently 1,498th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

We’ve all got our favourites. The late Douglas Lowe, the excellent golf correspondent for The Herald – back when that newspaper took golf seriously – got a big kick out of Spain’s Ivo Giner.

I’ll leave you to figure why Dougie enjoyed that particular moniker....

#JustSaying: “Your name is the most important thing you own. Don’t ever do anything to disgrace or cheapen it.” Ben Hogan

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