World Golf Hall of Fame Profile: Jimmy Demaret
The impact Jimmy Demaret had on the game of golf was measured by more than his three Masters victories, his impeccable Ryder Cup record and his 44 tournament victories around the world. Jimmy Demaret was golf's first show biz star. He was the reason, some said, that Bing Crosby invented the pro-am. He could sing, he could tell jokes, and for a while, it wasn't a party or a golf tournament unless Demaret was on the premises. He could outdress, outquip and outplay just about everybody in an era that included Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson.
In the same sentence, Grantland Rice called him the "singing Texan." Jackie Burke Jr. once said that Jimmy Demaret "was a jet-setter before there were jets." Herbert Warren Wind referred to him as "The Wardrobe" for fashion statements that singlehandedly put golf clothing on the cutting edge of garish. According to Dan Jenkins, Demaret wore lavender, gold, pink, orange, red and aqua slacks, and yellow, emerald, maroon, plaid, checked, striped and polka-dot sport coats. He gave shoe factories a swatch from his pants and had matching saddle oxfords made. As Demaret said, "If you're going to be in the limelight, you might as well dress like it."
He was a master of one liners. After a bumpy flight to Japan to play in the World Cup, Demaret got off the plane and said, "Hey, Lindbergh got eight days of confetti for less than this." When it snowed at Pebble Beach in the 1962 Crosby, Demaret piped, "Geez, I know I was drinking last night but how did I get to Squaw Valley?" And it was Demaret who first said, "Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at them." Bob Hope once called him the funniest amateur comedian in the world.
Demaret was one of the great professional golfers. A stoutly built man with thick arms, he used an elegant wristy swing that shot out low fades with minimal effort. "He was the most underrated golfer in history," said Hogan. "This man played shots I hadn't dreamed of. I learned them. But it was Jimmy who showed them to me first. He was the best wind player I've ever seen in my life."
Born in Houston in 1910, the fifth of nine children, Demaret grew up caddying on sand greens and playing barefoot until he was 15. His father was a carpenter-painter-the source, Demaret said of his lifelong passion for mixing and matching bright colors. At age 17, he was hired by Jackie Burke Sr. as an assistant pro at River Oaks in Houston. His first job was to babysit the toddler who would one day be his partner in forming Champions Golf Club, Jackie Burke Jr. After a brief stint on the pro circuit, Demaret alternated between competitive golf and night club singing before playing the tour full time in 1938. In 1940 he won six consecutive tournaments including the Masters. He won six more and the Masters again in 1947, his best year, when he also led the money list and won the Vardon Trophy. In 1950, he won his third Masters and at the presentation grabbed the microphone and began singing, "Do You Know How Lucky You Are."
In all, Demaret won 31 official events between 1938 and 1957, a year in which he won three events at age 47. He was one of the best players never to have won the U.S. Open, finishing two strokes back in 1946 and 1948, and only a stroke out of a playoff in 1957. In three Ryder Cups between 1947 and 1951, his record was 5-0. Along with Gene Sarazen, he was the host on one of the first television golf shows, "Shell's Wonderful World of Golf."
Demaret admitted he would have won more tournaments if he hadn't been so busy enjoying himself. When he died in 1983, golf lost more than just another great champion. It lost a great deal of its charm. "He loves golf," Henry Cotton once said of Demaret, "but no more than a good time."