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Observations of a 'Tin Cup' Pro - Part 2: The New Orleans Connection & A New Invention
In the first installment, Charlie Schaubel discusses his formative years in golf, playing alongside members of the mafia in Philadelphia and getting kicked out of college for protesting the Vietnam War. In Part 2, Charlie takes us into his new world, "The Big Easy."
I began teaching golf in 1971 at City Park Driving Range in New Orleans after some guy who was watching me practice asked if I gave lessons. He said he had five dollars and wanted a lesson. Without hesitating, I said, "Sure do give lessons, what's the problem?"
I had helped people with their swings before, but never took money for it. At the time I was working as a counselor for emotionally disturbed adolescents, so I figured dealing with golf nuts wouldn't be too hard.
The board of directors for Magnolia Children's Home decided to change the direction of their care to strictly custodial, and they fired all the treatment staff. So I started spending more time at the driving range trying to pick up those five-dollar bills.
Meanwhile, my wife was working at a Howard Johnson as a waitress/bartender. One night she brings these two guys, Bill and Rich, home with her, and they have two mattresses with them. Turns out they had passed checks that bounced and were thrown out of a hotel. So big-hearted Helen says, "Come on over. You can stay with Charlie and me for a few days." (At the time we owned a big house on Esplanade in New Orleans that was once the home of Louisiana's governor.)
Turns out these two guys owned crew boats that ran guys back and forth from oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans like a water taxi. Bill was an ex-Cadillac salesman from Detroit who knighted himself Captain Bill. He said he needed someone to crew on his boat, so I said sure, always up for a little adventure.
So here I am going down the Mississippi with Captain Bill, who's navigating the boat with a Texaco Road Map. Hmmm, what have you gotten yourself into, Charlie? Get me back to the driving range.
Helen and I later split up, with her getting the house and me the Karmann Ghia and golf clubs. So I headed to California. Drove to San Francisco, but couldn't stay because the city's steep hills and an early-model VW clutch didn't mix.
Ended up in Los Angeles, where I found a job teaching at a driving range in Northridge, which I later ended up managing. Gave lessons to Reggie Smith of the Dodgers, some lady who was a Miss America, actor Claude Akins, and "Fast Eddy" of ABC TV.
In fact, I was teaching a bunch of celebrities, so Fast Eddy decides to put me on TV for five nights a week with me teaching a different celebrity. Well, the first time we were scheduled to shoot, we had a flood in the middle of a drought. The next time the technicians went on strike and, by the time they came back, the Dodgers were in the pennant race.
Around this time somebody stole my Karmann Ghia, and when I got it returned, I sold it and headed back to New Orleans and City Park Driving Range. After all that stuff in L.A. happened I just figured it was a big freaking sign to get the heck out of there. A flood in the middle of a drought. Come on, that is nearly Biblical.
When I returned to New Orleans, the old driving range is shut down and they have a new one. It's big and has two levels. This, compared to the old one, which had 14 stalls and was made of wood. The new one had about 80 stalls and was concrete.
One thing led to another and I am off to Miami with some beautiful red-haired heiress who was getting a divorce and needed someone to hold her hand. First stop was a place called Aqua Range. The "fairway" was water and the balls floated. They kept saying golfers would be coming in for lessons, but they never did. I rented a trailer from the owners near the range for $300 a month. My daughter came to visit me when she was about seven. When she walked into the trailer and looked around, she said, "Where's the rest of it?"
We ended up living in Coconut Grove, where I played some golf around town and lived the good life. Lo and behold, who calls but Captain Bill, who now has a yacht he charters. He sends a limo to pick me up, and we catch up on old times. He's getting ready to charter his yacht to Pepsi Cola for the Super Bowl, where they're going to have a star from every big-time pro sport, including golf's Johnny Miller.
Well, Miller had to cancel, so the guy running the booking tells Captain Bill about his need for a golfer to fill in. Being quick, Captain Bill says, "Hey, I hear Charlie Schaubel is in town, I might be able to get him." The guy doing the booking knows nothing about golf, so figures Charlie Schaubel must be someone big or why would Captain Bill mention him with such enthusiasm.
So I get the job filling in for Johnny Miller as the golf celebrity. I'm in with a bunch of Hall of Famers from all the sports. This was a joke, but I did such a good job teaching and having fun with everyone, they invited me to do the Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. I could bring my red-headed girlfriend, who was a major hit with everyone. They set us up in a condo that had an indoor swimming pool. Living the good life and "Livin La Vida Loco."
Met all kinds of movie stars and TV people in California. Old Captain Bill came through on that one.
Headed back to New Orleans, where I run into golf pro Jimmy Self and Dudley Geigerman, the brother-in-law of Frank Costello, the Mafia's Godfather at the time. This guy wasn't like Captain Bill and the rest of his sort. This was THE Godfather, and Dudley was married to his sister, Anne.
Dudley had some kind of concession on the slot machines in the 1950's. But this was the '70s, and he was an old man with lots of stories and many interesting connections.
Introducing the Puttband
At the time I still had an inhibition about playing. I had a devil of time with my putting. I spent hours and hours practicing, but still ended up getting more confused and worse. Jimmy showed me something he'd invented. It involved a three-foot metal strip with pegs that held a long, specially-built rubber band at the ends. You stick a putter (or other club) head in the rubber band loop and deliberately swing along a line embedded in the metal strip 30 times. Be sure to plant the band with tees in the ground (holes provided). Take the club away from the band and swing normally.
Amazing how muscle-memory works, swinging the clubhead along the same straight line you'd been practicing. We later turned in a patent application and called it the Puttband.
We went on all the major pro tours with it and helped a lot of players with their putting. Our biggest star was Calvin Peete, who at one point in the mid-'80s won more tournaments and more money than anyone. He gave all the credit to the Puttband. In Golf Digest, he said the device made him the player he was.
Calvin was the straightest shooter who ever lived, but he could not putt. The Puttband was just what the doctor ordered for him. Peete said when he was at the top of the golf world that our Puttband made him the player he was. I talked to Calvin last week on the phone and he still holds that opinion.
We also had Fuzzy Zoeller, Chi Chi Rodriguez, and John Mahaffey endorsing it. A U.S. Open champion and a Masters champion along with John, who won the PGA Championship around this time.
I once helped Sally Little the night before the final round of the Dinah Shore. The next day she shot 64 and won it. Sally came off the green to thank me. She mentioned it in the press room after the tournament. But the reporters write what they want to write.
Bottom line: All the good players knew about the Puttband. It was a success in every way, except it didn't make money. The guy who started ESPN, Bill Rasmussen, tried to market it, as did some other heavy hitters.
Tomorrow in Part 3, Charlie discusses Seattle, another wife, a wacked-out job as a blackjack dealer, tough personal times and, perhaps, a resolution. To see Charlie's website, visit http://bestdarngolflessons.com .