With his fine golfing style and laid-back demeanour, ‘Rain Man’ Bing Crosby appeared an unlikely person to become one of the sport’s greats
For a man who at the height of his fame looked more like a bank manager than a golf superstar, Bing Crosby’s career defied expectations. The American entertainer was the world’s highest paid entertainer until his death in 1965, and the highest paid actor of the 20th century. He was a World War II paratrooper and worked as a pilot.
But the true star of the Crosby show was the golf course. The nimble swing and smooth golf ball response entertained even the most phlegmatic sportsmen who saw Crosby play. Most sports fans began the game to watch Crosby hit the ball.
The German chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, once said “the greatest present I received from this country was the chance to see Bing Crosby play golf.” The other stars of golf were still laughing when Crosby showed up at the Ritz-Carlton on the greens of the La Course de the French Open in Paris in 1966 to play in one of three major Opens – the Claret Jug (1959), the US Masters (1962) and the British Open (1967).
When asked what kind of shape he was in by the British journalist, Eddie Kenyon, Crosby said: “Arty.” As Kenyon queried his golfing friend’s jock status, Crosby would reply: “I’m not sure what sort of jock I am.”
In the 1950s, less than six months after Crosby’s mental health had made headlines in the New York Times, he excelled in the golf open at Pinehurst. He was one of only three men to hit more than one ace on the big course, along with Jack Nicklaus and Byron Nelson.
In a 1960 interview he confided that a shot at the Open that went in the hole, which now appears to be on Crosby’s club, must have “put a big smile on the face of the golf commissioner”. The interview prompted commentator Harry Carpenter to remark: “There are few things in American life that have taken more significance than what you have said. I did not think I had noticed that, but I must confess it, it’s true. That’s something.”
Crosby remained the golf fan’s favourite until the 1970s, when Tiger Woods began to take over the mantle. In 1978, the BBC film critic Brian Logan said the English golfer Gary Player had “brought everything he can bring to the game, but he lacks a human touch.”
The Golf Writers of America rated Crosby as the best golfer ever. According to its 1959 survey, the actor, the model and singer was named best golfer in “the 40s”, “the 50s” and “the 60s”, receiving 27 out of 33 possible votes.