Friday, August 7, 2015

The Story of the Hustle

One of the reasons I think that golf participation is down (among other reasons) is that there is a lack of golf course gambling going on these days. When I got into the game, golf course gambling and hustling was quite common to see. We used to have some classic bets and hustlers going on for bigger money than you see today. Now, gambling and hustlers have become almost extinct. You will see the occasional $5 Nassau or more likely a group of 20 players getting together and throwing $20 in the pot and playing as teams. Hell, you really don’t see any skins games going on anymore. When I was a junior golfer, there was usually at least 1 skins game a week going on at every course.

I tend to blame fantasy sports for the decline in golf course gambling. Data shows that fantasy sports has really cut into gambling on any sport in general. The premise is similar, but it’s completely legal. The other part is that it is possible to gamble online these days and with online poker so readily available, gamblers go where the money is.

There’s not much the golf industry can do about the lack of gamblers, but they should take note that it was a solid revenue stream for them and that doesn’t exist anymore. Many of the gamblers where good at gambling at the golf course and would use it as a way to make a little extra money each year on the side. And it’s hard to hustle people on the course unless you have an outgoing personality which would always draw more people to the game.

One of my favorite gambling stories was a friend of mine who was about 12 years older than me. He had the classic hustler’s life story…started playing golf when he was very young despite growing up in a poor family. His parents were vagabonds and he started skipping school to play golf. He also had a severe drug problem.

I sweat to you that for 1 year he struck the golf ball better than anybody I have ever seen. Recently, I went on Google Earth to measure some distances of shots he hit, like driving a 350 yard par-4 with a metal driver and balata ball. Or the time that he hit his 5-iron 250 yards on a cool September day with a balata ball. And he was incredibly straight and consistent. He could also power down his wedges wonderfully. He was shooting in the mid 60’s almost every round that year. The problem was that he went to jail almost every year and as he kept coming back and getting older, his ballstriking tailed off. He could still hit it far, but not as straight or consistent. However, for that one year his ballstriking was the best I have ever seen and I’ve seen Faldo, Greg Norman, Tiger, Rory and Spieth all in their primes.

We had a new assistant pro who I thought was a bit misunderstood when you got to know him, but was well….a bit of a dick. He had played the Florida mini-tours and had some success. He could also bomb it out there quite a ways. But, in his dickhead-ish thought process, he thought there was NO WAY a local guy from upstate New York could beat him much less strike the ball as well as my friend was striking it. My friend got a backer because this backer was confident in my friend and disliked the assistant pro. But, my friend was smart enough to egg the assistant pro on and they played for $2,500 (a lot of money for upstate NY back in the late 80’s), but my friend got 10 strokes!

And my friend beat him like a drum, shooting 62.


He tied the course record, gross…and shot 52 (-20) net.


We also used to have the classic hustler at the course who had three great things going for him.

1) He was rock, solid consistent. He almost never shot over 80.
2) He could get up and down from the ballwasher
3) He was great at convincing total strangers to play for money and give him strokes.

It’s hard to hustle if you can’t keep your scores consistent. And it’s hard to hustle if you flag every approach shot. You have to be able to make it look like you got completely lucky and your luck will eventually run out so you can continue to shear the sheep over and over again.

He would convince a total stranger to play for a little bit of money and shoot 75 and get up and down from No Man’s Land a few times and act completely surprised that he shot 75. Then when the stranger wanted to play again, usually for more money, he would convince them to give him 6 strokes, he would shoot 80 gross (74 net) and just beat the total stranger.

It was beautiful to watch.

Of course, there are other hustlers that are not so subtle. Like when I went to visit my friend who was living in Orlando playing mini-tours during the winter. He would play at Timacuan Golf Club in Lake Mary and we got to the practice green and some big money stick came up to the green and laid down a wad of cash and said:

(pointing at one guy) I’ll take you for $100

(pointing at another guy) You…I’m taking for $200

(pointing at my friend) I’m taking your for $200

(pointing at another guy) I’m taking you on Fatty for $500

And so it went.


The art of the golf hustle starts and ends with appearance. You have to make the mark think that YOU THINK you are better than you really are. But what the mark doesn’t understand is that you are actually better than he thinks you are. And the appearance always seems to get the marks.

There’s an old saying my friend once said, “never bet with a guy that carries a 2-iron and a tan.”

The very last thing the golf hustler wants to do is look the part of a player. You don’t want to be bringing a bag like mine ( and expect to go far in the world of the hustle.

Instead, here’s what I’ve come up with as an appearance for the hustle.

1. Shoes – Sneakers may work out best for you. Although some cheap shoes that are worn by the masses can work just fine if you worried about slipping.

2. Shorts/Pants – Cargo shorts or basketball shorts (if you can) in the summer, jeans (if you can) in the colder months.

3. Shirt – t-shirts or jerseys in the summer (if you can). Shirt should be cheap, faded and untucked.

4. Bag – Find the biggest piece of crap you can find. But, I wouldn’t make it too obvious such as something like this:

Instead, think cheesy instead of old:

5. Headcovers – Preferably none. Just let those woods smack the crap out of each other. If you don’t want to go with none, just very bland will do.

6. Hat – none if you can. Stay away from anything expensive or anything that looks expensive like a Tour visor.

7. Glove – Preferably none if possible. At the least, something very worn and sweaty

8. Irons – The best practice would be to do what legendary hustler, the late Jeff Thomas did:

GOLF Magazine on Jeff Thomas

He carried around old Northwestern irons with grips that looked like they were never changed and beat the pants off everybody.

That’s going to the extreme, but one could grab some old sticks that were good in their heyday. I would stay away from blades because that may tip people off. And they really can’t tell if you have custom fitted an old set, like changing the lies and lofts, MOI matching (although I would stay away from lead tape and use tip weights instead). My pick?

It’s old and they are forged so they can be easily bent. It’s cavity back to help throw off unsuspecting marks.

For shafts, it’s best to find shafts that have shaft labels so you can find the shaft you want and just remove the shaft label. Tough to carry around Nippon shafts and make a mark not suspect that you are setting them up.

9. Driver – The good news is that one can probably get away with a semi-modern driver. Everybody carries them and it’s not out of the ordinary. I could probably carry my Wishon Driver since most people have never heard of Wishon and my think it is a ‘generic brand.’ But, something like the TaylorMade R7 may work.

Again, the shaft is likely to cause a larger problem. I carry the Fujikura Motore Speeder 661 (x-stiff). That’s a newer shaft model and the mark may wonder why I got an aftermarket shaft of such high quality. Luckily, you can seek out similar shaft bend profiles on Wishon’s Shaft Bend Profile. Seek out a shaft that looks more ambiguous like an Aldila NV shaft.

Or anything that looks like it was a ‘stock shaft’ at one point.

10. Fairways and hybrids – Again, older models work. Like the old Callaway Steelhead 3-wood:

Hybrids work, like the older Adams models

Some would say to go with the Ping Eye 2 1-iron.

But that may blow your cover as again “Never bet with a guy that carries a 2-iron and a tan.” With a 1-iron, no tan is even required.

11. Putter – most would say go with the old Bullseye putter

I’m skeptical of using that style of putter because if you start putting well with that and people know how difficult that putter is to putt with, they may know they are being had. The good news is that since most of the putters come from Ping’s original designs, you can go with a variety of different putters like the Wilson Staff Infinite Windy City putter

Just make sure to kick the crap out of it here and there.

12. Golf Ball – I would probably stay away from the Pro V1x although I don’t think it’s a killer because so many golfers use them. Instead, I would prefer to go with the Nicklaus black which performs similarly, but is relatively unknown and doesn’t look like a ‘player’s ball.’

Even if the mark has heard of the ball, just say “yeah, I found these online for only $32 and that’s what Jack hits, so you know they MUST be good!

And remember to say things like:

Boy, I got lucky there.”

I was reading this golf tip in one of the magazines and started to suddenly hit 300 yard drives.”

Y’know, I think the wedges is what separates the pros from the rest of us.”

I started to stand further away from the ball and that’s when I started hitting it better.

(after a purposely hit poor shot) ”MOVED MY DAMN HEAD!!!”

Y’know, I went to Dicks Sporting Goods to buy this putter and I think it’s just as good as your Scotty Cameron.


(a loving tribute to the Jeff Thomas’, Eddie Pearce’s, Carl Patterson’s, Grant Rodgers’, Martin Stanovich’s and Alvin Thomas’ of the world)


JON B said...

Really cool. I remember a post you had about your friend (Grant?) from several years ago that I really enjoyed reading. Everybody that hangs around golf long enough has met someone that just fell out of the bed one day and could hit it pure.

Anonymous said...

Good site.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the memory if Jeff Thomas.

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