Johnny Bass: memories from 50 years of golf

BOB MAISEL EHB

May 05, 1991|By BOB MAISEL

Last year about this time, I wrote a column about Johnny Bass, my friend, every golfer's friend and a friend of anybody who ever knew him.

The reason I wrote it then was because it had been mentioned at a gathering that I was a member of the annual Johnny Bass-Frank Cuccia-Loyola College Golf Tournament committee, and a relative newcomer to town asked, "Who is Johnny Bass?"

That incident provided a perfect opportunity to enlighten those who didn't have the privilege of knowing this gentleman, who spent some 50 years in golf around our town, as a caddy, player, pro, teacher, just plain friend of the game and those who played it.

He was one of the nicest guys I ever knew, in or out of sports.

Another reason for writing the column about him last year was that his widow, Faye, a match for John in friendliness and graciousness, had come across a rambling note he had addressed to me, in which he jotted down some thoughts about golf "to be used on a slow day."

I got so wrapped up in writing about Bass the man last year that I didn't get around to his musings on the game he knew so well.

Since the annual Bass-Loyola tournament, designed to perpetuate his name and help finance golf scholarships at Loyola, will be held tomorrow at Pine Ridge, this might be a good time to correct the oversight.

On how he first got interested in golf: "Back in the 1920s, a young grocery store clerk had a friend tell him about all the money you could make at Clifton Park as a caddy. You were up at 4 a.m. to register and got home about 6 p.m., but those dollar bills sure looked big in those days. And it didn't take long to discover what a great game golf was, or to get hooked on it."

On rating golfers through the years: "Sam Snead was phenomenal. He had the best, most natural swing of them all. Jack Nicklaus will have to go down as the greatest because of what he has accomplished. Ben Hogan made himself great by hard work, practicing until he could repeat his swing under all conditions. Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson were all excellent in their way.

"But don't forget Bobby Jones. He accomplished more in a shorter time than any of them.

"A lot of people say his swing was wristy, handsy, and it was. That was because of the equipment of the day. He was swinging hickory shafts. But Jones had a beautiful swing for his era. He would have a little different swing today, but he'd be as good as any of them."

There is no way Bass could comment on golf without reserving space for his longtime friend Andy Gibson, pro emeritus at Country Club of Maryland.

"With his temper, Andy was a sort of poor man's Tommy Bolt, but he was a fine golfer who was winning everything around town in those early days. He had the first TV golf show with Bailey Goss, and I can still see him holing the first sand shot he tried on TV. Fantastic!"

For his kicker subject, Bass rated the three sports editors of that time, Bill Tanton of The Evening Sun, John Steadman of the News American and a fellow named Bob Maisel of The Sun, on their golfing prowess, or lack thereof.

"Tanton is a good enough athlete, but for some reason he can't seem to transfer it to golf. He should stick to tennis and squash. Steadman started off like he was going to be a 3-handicapper, but somewhere along the line he lost it. I think he might have read too many books on the swing and tried them all. Maisel is a good athlete with a good swing. He should always shoot between 75 and 85."

Editor's note: Bass wrote this more than 10 years ago. Maisel's score should now be revised to between 85 and 95, and if you are thinking of trying to beat him out of a few bucks on the course, be advised he now gets his regular handicap, plus a 20 percent senior citizen allowance.

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