BETHLEHEM, PA. -- Golf life has changed dramatically for Dick Hendrickson, who personally epitomizes how rewarding the PGA Senior Tour can be in profit and prestige. He has created a reputation as an excellent player, and the scoring/earnings chart graphically proves it.
Hendrickson first wrapped his hands around a golf club while growing up in Baltimore, and then, after becoming a country club professional, dominated the strong Philadelphia area in awards and championships.
He could still be what's referred to as a "home pro," which means an agenda of giving lessons, selling equipment, handling the pairings for the weekly intra-club handicaps, settling rules disputes and keeping the membership happy by being a good listener. That's the nature of the business.
Instead of continuing to handle such methodical routines, Hendrickson, when he reached the age of 50, resigned as head professional at the Radley Run C.C., in West Chester, Pa., to try to conquer the senior world of professional golf. Comfort and security were virtually guaranteed had he wanted to maintain the status quo.
Taking on the tour was a long-shot gamble. Now, seven years later, he's well on his way to making his first million in prize money. Career earnings, while playing a country-wide schedule of over 30 annual events, add up to $809,216 since 1985. Meanwhile, he has assembled a set of statistics that indicate he's going to continue to shoot impressive numbers. Today, he'll tee off in the opening round of the U.S. Senior Open at Saucon Valley, and with him will be his wife, Jessica, who caddies for him.
Hendrickson, at 6 feet 7, 270 pounds, is an imposing figure -- the tallest regular on tour. He's the fifth-best driver of the ball, averaging 265.2 yards on those holes where length of shots are measured. Because of his size, he uses a 45 1/2 -inch shaft (two longer than the norm) in a Tour Precision Driver that complements the rest of his clubs, which are Spalding-made.
Baltimore's Herring Run Park is where Hendrickson was drawn to golf. It was a modest setting, an area where public golfers took a bag of shag balls and found amusement -- and hopefully a sound swing -- via hours of repetitive practice.
"I met some man who was kind of a hero around Baltimore," he said. "He once had consecutive holes-in-one at Mount Pleasant Golf Course and made 'Ripley's Believe It Or Not'. Gee, I wish I could think of his name, but this goes back to the early 1950s.
'He showed me how to grip the club and I hit a lot of balls. I went to Mount Pleasant and the first time I played, I shot 87 with Jesse Greenbaum, Pat Webb, Bill Goss and Dick Smith's dad [father of the present PGA president]."
It was at Mount Pleasant where the head pro, John O'Donnell, gave Dick at job in the shop and then let him run the concession stand on the course. "I sold a lot of hot dogs and played more golf than when I was working inside for John," he remembers. "Actually, as I think about it, I originally was hired by Irv Schloss. I was caddying for him at Rolling Road the day he had a heart attack."
So Hendrickson, a graduate of Mergenthaler High School who had a position at Lord Baltimore Press, decided he wanted to apply himself to golf and had O'Donnell's encouragement. He got an assistant's opportunity in Philadelphia, where he was an apprentice under Skee Riegel, and quickly forgot about being a printer or pressman.
Eventually, he became the head pro at Scranton (Pa.) C.C. and Cherry Hill (N.J.) C.C. The rust-haired Hendrickson, before he was introduced to golf, was a pitcher and played amateur baseball with and against Al Kaline, who was signed by the Detroit Tigers and went on his way to the Hall of Fame.
"I was wild and threw hard," he said. "They called me the 'Red Menace.' My, I wish I could think of some of those other men who were around Mount Pleasant. I do remember Bob Lumsden and a guy who ran an Esso Station on Northern Parkway. I can't believe we're talking 40 years ago."
Hendrickson wants to see Baltimore have a place on the Senior Tour. News that Bill Clarke, the retired professional at Hillendale C.C., in Phoenix, Md., wants to organize such an event brought exciting reaction. "He would be the man capable of doing it because of the fine reputation he has among all the pros. Baltimore deserves this kind of a tournament."
So here he is winning money, playing on outstanding courses in front of crowds cheering his name, and traveling the country with his wife.
Senior golf has an appeal Dick Hendrickson never would have known had he not taken a "ticket" on himself and accepted the challenge.