What’s in a Nickname?

Lots of Tour Players Have a Nickname, But Some Change

A nickname can exert a powerful force on one’ s life, and some are pretty serious. I don’t think that Typhoid Mary or Vlad the Impaler will ever live those monikers down, no matter how many incarnations they get. Golfers go through the same thing. Some get their nickname for their physical appearance or a distinctive swing, an event that is indelible in the memory, or the region of their birth.

We are familiar with most of the famous ones, but occasionally, there’s a little something lurking behind. Never mind his first name. Tiger’s middle name is Tont, too close to Tonto. To some, there’s a racist twinge there, and besides, Tiger never intends to follow anyone, masked or not. He likes to lead. Ernie Els is the Big Easy simply because he’s big and makes it look easy. Gary Player’s affection for black clothing and winning  earned him The Black Knight – absolutely one of the coolest nicknames out there. Fred Couples got Boom Boom for his distance off the tee, and Fuzzy Zoeller was nicknamed for his initials – Frank Urban Zoeller. Pink Panther Paula Creamer made a good choice with all that pink  gear. It just suits her. What else can I say?

Slammin’ Sammy Snead isn’t really all that accurate, as he was a ball stroker, not a clobberer, but well, ok. Maybe it should have been “Smoothy Snead.” John Daley got the dibs on Wild Thing, and if you don’t know why, you know nothing about golf. We all know about the Golden Bear (genuflect at this point, please). However, when he was the villain interfering with Arnold Palmer’s win/loss record, Arnie’s Army had another name for him – Ohio Fats. Sorry, but I’m never going to say a thing like that to a man who has accomplished that much. Besides, body shaming someone who can do things with their body that no other golfer could do – well, it just makes no sense.

There are others less familiar, for all kinds of reasons. Woody Austin fell into a lake, and has been known as Aquaman ever since. Billy Casper, who had an issue with his weight throughout his career, was known as Buffalo Bill, because he ate buffalo meat to take a few pounds off. Henry Picard, a Masters winner of yore, was a pro in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and therefore called The Chocolate Soldier. Gill Morgan, who won seven times on the PGA and twenty-five times as a senior, was dubbed simply Doc. Off course, he was a qualified optometrist.  They called Eduardo Romero El Gato, or The Cat, for the way he seemed to stalk every shot before he hit it. Before Tom Watson won most of his tournaments, fellow pros already knew he was good. Infamous for suddenly coming to life and ambushing fourth round leaders, he was first known as Huckleberry Dillinger. The name of the gangster, sure, but Huckleberry often signifies a rube, a rustic. I’d never talk to Tom Watson like that, and I’ve met him.  Finally, there is the great Gene Sarazen, of the “shot heard round the world” fame. He was known as The Squire due to his ever-present gentlemanly way of being. He epitomized the grace of the game.

i tend to be a little sensitive to nicknames that can set a dangerous precedent against future success. My high school class prediction was “Most Likely To.” To what? Anything at all – anything at all. A side prediction for my 120 pound self on the golf course (are those days ever gone) was “Makes ‘before’ photos for body-building programs.” That alone got me out on the driving range stretching to get every yard I could. Another 80 pounds later, and it worked.

There are a lot of pretty nice people in this game, and I notice with satisfaction that in time, nicknames come to symbolize some general affection for a touring member. May it ever be so.

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