You won’t find his name in any golf record book, but Fred Corcoran was one of golf’s pioneers. In the years following World War II, Corcoran helped found the Ladies Professional Golf Association, the World Cup and Golf Writers Association of America. His ideas helped spawn the World Golf Hall of Fame, and he was one of the sport’s first agents, managing the careers of Babe Zaharias, Tony Lema and Sam Snead. But perhaps the biggest imprint Corcoran left on the game was that, for a decade, he guided tournament golf in this country into its Golden Age.
Part idea man, part hustler, part mover-and-shaker, part publicist, all-around good guy, Corcoran was as much a fixture in golf during his heyday than any of the players. He had a sharp mind, a great sense of timing and all the connections. If golf writers wanted an anecdote, a quote or a stat, they went to Corcoran. If tournaments wanted a player, they went to Corcoran. If players wanted representation, they went to Corcoran. For a while, it seemed like he was the center of golf’s universe.
"I have three-putted in 40 countries."
Corcoran was nine when he got his first job in golf, caddying at Belmont C.C. near Boston. He advanced to caddy master at age 12 and kept moving up. As a teenager, he served as Belmont’s assistant golf secretary for the Massachusetts Golf Association. It was in this role that Corcoran turned tournament scoring into an art form. By using an elaborate, multicolored crayon system, Corcoran was able to keep spectators and the media up to date on the tournament’s progress. The United States Golf Association took notice and made Corcoran the official scorer for its events.
From there, Corcoran went to Pinehurst, where he worked as an assistant golf secretary in the office of Donald Ross, the golf course architect. His career took off in 1936, when the PGA of America hired him to replace Bob Harlow as tournament manager of the professional tour. The only problem the PGA had with Harlow was that he was wearing too many hats. With Corcoran, who was then only 28, the stipulation was that he would concentrate solely on running and promoting the tour. He was paid $5,000 a year, plus $5 a day in expense money.
Fred Corcoran helped found the Golf Writers Association of America, though he was never a professional writer.
But Corcoran’s timing was always incredible. Shortly after he was hired, a young Virginian named Sam Snead won the Oakland Open and became a hot commodity. Tempted by a series of lucrative exhibitions, Snead was ready to skip the Phoenix Open and collect the guaranteed money. Corcoran went to PGA President George Jacobus, who told Corcoran to sign Snead to a manager’s contract and advise him to play Phoenix. For the next 40 years, he handled the career of Snead and others, including baseball’s Ted Williams and Stan Musial.
As golf’s P.T. Barnum, Corcoran sold golf to America. He raised the men’s annual purses from $150,000 to $750,000 within 10 years, then moved on. In 1948, he put together the struggling Women’s Professional Golf Association with Wilson Sporting Goods, and this led to the formation of the LPGA. Three years later, Corcoran and John Jay Hopkins put together the International Golf Association, which led to an event called the Canada Cup, which later became the World Cup. His inclusion in the World Golf Hall of Fame needs no further explaining. Fred Corcoran was golf.