U.S. SENIOR OPEN
Walker Inman: A Life in Golf
August 14, 2016 | Columbus, Ohio
Walker Inman Jr. grew up in Augusta, Ga., where his father was a college friend of Bob Jones. Inman competed in nearly 20 major championships in a playing career that started with five seasons on the PGA Tour in the 1950s and continued through his more than four decades as a club professional. Inman started as an assistant for two-time major champion Henry Picard at Canterbury Golf Club in Shaker Heights, Ohio. His connection with Picard led him to take over for legendary professional Jack Grout at Scioto, where Inman, 86, worked for 37 years, helping groom professionals such as Ed Sneed, Rick Smith and Bob Ford.
When I was 8 years old, my father – who was a 3 handicap player – took me to the Masters. His interest in the game came from his friendship with Bob Jones. They went to school together at Georgia Tech. My Dad introduced me to him and Mr. Jones asked me, “Are you going to be a golfer like your daddy?” And I said, “No, Mr. Jones, I want to be a golfer like you.”
I played at Augusta Golf Club, right across Rae’s Creek from Augusta National. I thought I was a good player when I was 16 or 17 and I could break par almost every time I played at my home course. I watched the pros play in the Masters and I thought, all I’ve got to do is dress like them and I can play like them.
I went on the PGA Tour in 1955 and I finished in the top 15 in the U.S. Open [at The Olympic Club], which made me exempt for the following year on Tour. I played in the 1956 Masters and competed on Tour for five years, until I went in the Air Force. It was a real privilege to have had the experience of playing the Tour with the top 150 players in the world. I’m proud of my record – I didn’t win any tournaments, but I came close a few times and I managed to beat a few of them.
I went to work as an assistant for Henry Picard at Canterbury, because I wanted to teach the golf swing and diagnose the golf swing. I was very fortunate to work for that man; he was very smart and gave me a good foundation. Ben Hogan gave him credit for the success that he had when he wrote his book.
My introduction to Scioto was in 1950, when I watched Henry Picard play in the PGA Championship here. I was invited to stay and play the course the next day, and I have always thought that this was a special place. That is the same year that Jack Grout started at Scioto. He was recommended for the job by Mr. Picard, and when I heard that he had left here in 1961, I inquired about the job. Mr. Picard also recommended me, so they said, “He got Jack Grout for us and we were happy with that, so we want you to take the job.”
I started in March 1962, and although Jack Nicklaus had just started out on Tour, his dad [Charlie] was a great friend of mine. I had been here about three weeks, and he asked me to come over to his drugstore in Arlington, and he told me, “People here seem to really like you. I want you to know that I’m the pro’s man. If you ever have any trouble with anybody, you pick up the phone and call me, because I know them all and I can handle them.” He was a super guy and he wanted me to know that he was with me.
I spent 37 years here as the head professional, and I always loved teaching. Having played out on Tour, I felt like that not only made me a better player, it helped me understand the game and it meant that when I came back here I had something to give. With my assistants, my prerequisite was that they had to be decent players and they had to love the game. I ended up having a series of really nice guys who helped me along the way.
What makes Scioto special is that the members love their golf course and Jack Nicklaus, probably the best player who ever walked around, learned the game right here. Bob Jones won a U.S. Open here in 1926, and [1909 U.S. Open champion] George Sargent, who was the golf professional here, helped to start The PGA of America. All of these things make Scioto what it is, along with the great people, who accepted me and took me in just like Mr. Nicklaus did.
I have buddies who tell me stories about their tenure at a given club where they lasted six years or eight years, because things changed on them and people didn’t want the pro to do such and such… I think about how lucky I was that I didn’t have all that. I felt like me and my family were accepted here – in fact, they didn’t want me to leave. I said, look I’ve been here long enough, I’m going to Florida.
My birthday is three days after Arnold Palmer’s – we will both turn 87 in September. I played with him a lot of times, including some exhibitions here with him and Jack [Nicklaus]. I finished third to him in the PGA Senior Championship once; he beat me on the last hole. He told me he owed me one. He said, “It would have done your career a whole lot more good than it did mine to win.” I remember when I was on Tour and one night eight of us, including Arnie, were playing poker one night in a motel room in Mobile, Alabama. They put a blanket over the windows after the manager complained about the noise. I have a lot of stories like that.
I still love to play the game and compete. I play about three times a week, mostly at PGA National in Port St. Lucie [Fla.]. Most of the guys I play with are much younger than I am. My wife says you’re lucky to be out there walking around, don’t worry about what you shoot. They have an event at the end of the season here that they call the Walker Inman. I usually come up and play in it, and it’s a good time. Unfortunately, many of the members I knew are gone. Some of those who were in the junior programs when I was here have grown up and now they’re on the board and running this place. It’s fun being back and seeing what’s going on.
Golf is a lot like life – it has its ups and downs. There are great rewards if you’re successful, but even if you’re not successful, it’s enjoyable. It’s been great to have golf as a vocation, but it was also my avocation. I was able to do both, which a lot of club professionals don’t have the chance to do.