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From Golf Hustler to PGA Pro

Charlie Schroeder

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Pro golfer Alton Duhon
(Charlie Schroeder)
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Al Duhon shows how it's done...
(Charlie Schroeder)

One weekend back in 1950, Al Duhon decided he'd go play golf, so he went to his local public golf course. "This guy jumped on my back," he remembers. "He said, 'Come on, let's bet.' I didn't know what betting was. I said 'OK ' -- I thought you had to say 'OK.'"

Duhon was 25 at the time and hadn't played the game very much. Furthermore, he didn't really "get" golf -- especially the people who played, no matter what the weather. "I thought they were crazy!" he says.

Duhon wasn't much competition for his opponent. When the round was over, he owed his playing partner $25. "I said 'Twenty-five dollars? You gotta be kidding me!'"

Duhon paid up -- it was his last money -- and as he did so he had an epiphany: There was money to be made in golf.

For the next six months, Duhon practiced in his South Los Angeles yard. He'd hit chip shots back and forth over his car and launch balls over his neighbor's homes onto a schoolyard more than 200 yards away. Then, once his game was in shape, he went back out to the golf course. "And beat that guy out of my $25."

The game Duhon once labeled crazy had bit him. Hard.

"Golf is just like taking dope," he says. "A guy falls in love with it so much it's something you can't get away from."

That Al ever started playing golf might surprise most people. He grew up in Depression-era, segregated Beaumont, Texas. "My family was so poor we used to put cardboard in our shoes," he says. "People gave them to use so they were always too big. I had to walk on my heels from my house to the paved street just not to walk in the water."

When his father was blackballed from the local oil refinery for unionizing, Duhon started hustling to help his family. He was just 7-years-old. One day, after the local Baptist church refused to give him bread (Duhon's family was Catholic) he enlisted his dog, Black Beauty, for help. "My dog came in with me (to the church) and they tried to take that bread away from me," he says. "That dog raised all kind of hell. So I took the bread and went home with it."

In 1960, 10 years after Al placed his first bet on a golf course, there weren't any African Americans on the PGA Tour. In fact, there wouldn't be for another year, when Charlie Sifford finally broke the color barrier. In 1960, Duhon was making $105 a week working at a plastics factory. But he was making nearly that much in one day on the golf course.

Later that year, the plastics company was sold. Rather than getting another job, Duhon turned to hustling golf full-time. "I just said 'I'll play golf,'" he says. "I knew I could win at least $150-200 a week."

The idea that golfers hustle might seem a bit strange. Hustling, after all, is usually associated with pool halls. But on any given day, Duhon could play in games where $1,000 was on the line -- games that mostly took place at Chester Washington, a golf course in South Los Angeles known as a hustling hotbed. "You didn't have to worry about getting your bags out of the car," he says, "They'd help you get your bags out of the car."

Duhon became such a savvy hustler that he developed a pre-match betting strategy. "My method was, if I shook a guy's hand and he had calluses he was dead. I knew I was going to beat him."

Golfers who don't hold the club properly often struggle with their game, Duhon says. "In one position he had the wrong grip, in the next position he had the club in his hand too weak, because it's rubbing up and down -- or either had it too tight and it gets away from him." Hence the calluses.

Despite making his living on the golf course, Duhon desperately wanted to be taken seriously. It finally happened for him in 1982, when he was 52- years-old. That year, he was the only black golfer competing in the U.S. Senior Amateur in Tucson, Ariz. During his practice round, a reporter approached him and asked him what he was doing there. "I said 'I'm here to kick somebody's ass.' So the guy wrote it up in the paper and everybody quit speaking to me."

Turns out, nobody had to speak to him -- Duhon won the tournament, to become only the second African-American to win a USGA title. "When I got done playing 36 holes that day, I drove all the way back to L.A. without even getting sleepy thinking about what happened in my lifetime. That was the greatest moment of my life."

At the age of 65, Duhon finally turned pro. He played a few years on the senior tour, continued to hustle and in his spare time taught kids in South Los Angeles about the game. At 83, he still teaches things like how to hold the club, respect on the course and how to dress. "If you dress like a fool," he says. "They're going to treat you like a fool."

Duhon doesn't hustle any more. But that doesn't mean he's totally hung up his hat: "If a guy wants to bet me, I'll bet him."

My money's on Al.

Comments

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  • By z z

    01/06/2014

    Alton was as much philosopher as he was golfer. Love the man. Played a lot of golf with him and never met a finer man.

    By Dennis Jackson

    From Los Angeles, CA, 09/29/2013

    I played with Mr. Duhon in a tournament about a month ago, and he still keeps the ball in the middle of the fairway, he can still putt. He scored in the low seventy. Mr Duhon thanks for the wonderful round.

    By Ed Carlock

    From Memphis, TN, 08/19/2013

    Mr. Duhon's story is truely an inspiration to me. I am 65 years old. I hit the ball pretty well but not as consistently as I need to. Im playing in the Southern heritage Classic Golf Tournament on the 13th of September at Harrah's Casino in Tunica MS. Mr Duhon plays well still at 85. That is all the inspiration I need to play this September. Thank you MR. Duhon

    P.S. This Tournament is sponsored by Ed Too Tall Jones. Formally of the Dallas Cowboys. Come on down and lets meet

    Ed

    By Sengum Gankhuyag

    From Los Angeles, CA, 04/18/2012

    You are gold.God bless you

    By Paul Andersen

    From Yorba Linda, CA, 04/12/2012

    I played a lot of tournament golf with Alton in the mid 70s. He had a great swing and you had to be on your game if you had a chance against him. Outstanding personality...A real credit to the game!!

    By Sylvester Sion

    From Seattle, WA, 02/16/2012

    Mr. Duhon took me in under his wing for about 10 years as a kid. He is hands down te best teacher I have ever had. I remember he woul always get on my case about tucking in my shirt. I had the privilege of playing golf with him everyday after school. Mr Duhon taught me how to play the greatest game ever and I thank him for that.

    By GUS SANCHEZ

    From los angeles, CA, 10/13/2011

    I had the plesure of playing with Mr, Duhon.And all can say about this fine man is that he is a real gentlement.And i could never even remotly tought that he will be playing at age 86. It Was an amazing experience and he still kicked all of our butts.Keep it it sr,And thank you.

    By Catherine Duhon

    From Las Vegas, NV, 10/12/2011

    Your, Daughter wishing you lots of Luck. I did not see you this year at the Vegas PGA. Blessings go with you

    By r p

    From LA, CA, 02/18/2011

    Played a lot of golf with this fine man and can say I never met a better one and is quite a philosopher.

    By r p

    From LA, CA, 02/18/2011

    Played a lot of golf with this fine man and can say I never met a better one and is quite a philosopher.

    By Ernest Russell

    From Atlanta, GA, 01/04/2011

    Hey! That's my uncle. I always knew he played Golf, but never knew how good he was. He taught me how to golf, and how to hold a club at an early age. Thanks, "Uncle Charles" love ya -- Ernie

    By Ted Johnson

    From Valley Village, CA, 11/17/2008

    Al is a long time member of our club (Griffith Park Golf Club) and besides still shooting his age on a regular basis, is one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.

    By Phil Margala

    From Chino, CA, 07/13/2008

    Weekend America bleeped the word "ass" on the broadcast when Al Duhon was quoted, "I'm here to kick somebody's (bleep)." However, when Mr Duhon swore saying, "J---- C-----!, . . .", it was not bleeped . (I don't see it in the transcript.) I don't understand why "ass" was bleeped, but the swearing was not. Apparently its politically correct to swear on the radio. I find it offensive.

    By Conrad Stoll

    From Wheaton, IL, 04/12/2008

    Being a public course golfer, I think the Al Duhon story is great. I wish I could have him give a golf lesson.

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