Eddie Pearce – Outrageous Talent, Not Remembered
It is a commonly overlooked fact that the greatest talent in the room is not necessarily the winner. The overarching reality along those lines suggests that millions of the greatest potential champions in any sort of professional life are never seen, never famous, and never heralded for coming out on top of the pack. There are a million physical, emotional, and spiritual reasons why this is so. More often than not, some personal quality that enhances success is missing, or misdirected. As an example, give me a list of your choices for the greatest golfers in the history of the game, and tell me how confident you are in your choices. Then, tell me about Eddie Pearce. Yes, Eddie Pearce, the great Eddie Pearce…he’s a golfer. What? Never heard of him? Sit down – let’s talk about Eddie Pearce.
It’s not a trick question. He’s not from the 14th century, and he’s not from the South Pole. He’s from Florida, where the sunshine gives you a complete year for practicing. He’s from back in the 50s and 60s. Pearce was well known then, popular and amazing. He was the next Jack Nicklaus. Ben Crenshaw idolized the beauty of Pearce’s swing. Lanny Wadkins thought he had more talent than anyone in the world. Success was a foregone conclusion after he won numerous amateur tournaments by 10, 12, and 16 strokes. His pedigree was perfect, growing up on a course owned by George Zaharias, husband of Babe Didrikson. It was Didrikson, in fact, who put the first club in his hand, and Zaharias watched him shoot in the 60s by the age of twelve. Pearce considered him a father figure at the time, one who gave him a free environment for putting together his incredible game.
The wunderkind who would, in the minds of most, go on to win majors, may have taken one wrong turn – the one that leads to the Bardmoor Golf Club. Apparently a nice course, but a socially packed pro shop and banquet hall that housed some of the biggest gamblers in the golf world of that time. According to Pearce, bags of money were everywhere, and in many cases, the guns that protected them. He saw a lot of those, too, as he fell into the hawking business of wagers and match play. In time, he became the favorite ‘weapon’ of one of the biggest, and was sent out on a daily or twice-daily basis to play for anything between $100 to $1,000. Despite a few setbacks that didn’t bother or frighten Pearce like they should have, he was doing what many young men with money and prestige would do. He entered the local night life and never came out. Winning the Masters took a back seat to any kind of party that touched his imagination. He spent, he won again, and again. And, somehow, he got into the PGA Tour anyway, even managing four or five runner-up spots – and no wins.
Everyone has professional goals, and Eddie Pearce may have found his just as others do. His talent bordered on the absurd, and even without serious practice, it paid him with what he wanted most. Questioned much later in an interview, he was asked the regrets question, and could only hem and haw. He is noted for the remark, “I was retired until I was 32 – then I started working.”
Even if he won’t answer the regrets question, he does vow that he couldn’t have had a better time. I’m glad for that, fleeting as it might seem. The man who could put a one-iron on a postage stamp green from a mile away never got to set the record books on fire. That’s the kind of thing one can remember once he’s old. Considering what Eddie chose, the memory may grow foggy with nothing tangible serving as a reminder. Still, next time we have one of those “Who was the greatest?” debates at the 19th hole, don’t forget to think of the great Eddie Pearce, the next Jack Nicklaus.