BY DAN RALEY, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
PUBLISHED JUNE 10, 2003
Down Memory Lane
"His career was like mine, and they said my career was short," Nelson pointed out. "He wanted to do some other things. We didn't make any money playing golf. You start finding other ways to make money.. " Farrell had left the PGA Tour, but socialites sought him out for lessons, as did presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Ford. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were running mates. The Duke of Windsor was still a close friend.
People not only respected his golf knowledge, they enjoyed his company.
Down Memory Lane
Dan Raley, Seattle Post Intelligencer
The black stretch limousine idles quietly on the bottom floor of Sea-Tac Airport's spiral-shaped parking garage. Inside the sleek vehicle are two leather bench seats facing each other, champagne glasses hanging within reach, and the keeper of cherished golf memories.
Johnny Farrell Jr., 70, a pleasant, silver-haired man, is the driver, a guy with an impenetrable link to the game's glorious past.
He's dapper in a dark blue suit, white handkerchief peeking out of his coat pocket, pink polka dots on his tie, all stylish touches. It's a family thing.
Farrell is the son of the most immaculately dressed golfer to walk down a PGA Tour fairway, the namesake of the winner of the 1928 U.S. Open at Chicago's Olympia Fields Country Club.
As the grand-slam event returns to the suburban Midwest course this week for the first time since the Great Depression, the golf world will stand and pay tribute to the late Johnny Farrell, who gamely traded swings with the great Bobby Jones in a rainy, 36-hole playoff and beat him by a stroke -- pulling off one of the most unlikely upsets in Open history.
Across the country, Johnny Farrell Jr. will go about business as usual for Green Classic Limo. Regular runs between the airport and downtown Seattle begin at 4 a.m. He takes his early-morning break and is usually home in Des Moines by early afternoon.
Farrell was invited by club officials to visit Olympia Fields but is content to observe the Open from two time zones away, perhaps grabbing the occasional update as he negotiates his way through this region's traffic. He toured the classic course a few years back, even took a rusty swing on the 153-yard 16th hole, where his father took a better one to pull away from Jones for good in '28.
"He never glamorized it, but he said it was the biggest thrill of his life," Johnny Farrell Jr. says of his dad's Open victory. "He had been to the top."
Since we have the limo all to ourselves for the afternoon, here's a breezy drive through the Farrell family tree, connecting son and father, and the Pacific Northwest with their East Coast roots, with the help of family members and a few noteworthy friends:
While his son drives a limo, Johnny Farrell preferred Packards. Top down, running boards, shiny finish. It took him a while to get his first one.
Farrell, who died in 1988 and would be 102 today, was a native New Yorker and the son of Irish immigrants, mostly raised by his mother after his father died when he was 4.
Granddaughter Mary Kay McGuire-Willson, a Florida golf marketer, shares that his record is still incredible - he was regularly contending but failing to win majors until his '28 breakthrough. He was the winner of 22 recognized tour events, including seven in 1927, and six in a row, a record broken by Byron Nelson.
Farrell, however, remains best known as golf's ultimate fashion plate, no apologies to Walter Hagen or Payne Stewart whatsoever. Checked sweaters, crisp shirts, sharply creased slacks, always a tie and tie clasp.
In their dispatches, sportswriters felt compelled to describe the golfer's snappy attire as much as his rhythmic swing. Grantland Rice tagged him "Handsome Johnny." The golfer even changed clothes between rounds of his 36-hole playoff against Jones.
"Johnny, I'd say, was a stylist," remembers the legendary Byron Nelson, 91, an occasional playing partner. "Hagen wore a lot of colors, was flamboyant, a showy guy. Farrell was a classic look. He was the best-dressed man on tour. He looked great."
Farrell's widowed mother instilled this reliance on fancy threads. She raised three children alone on modest means, and was convinced sartorial splendor could mask family limitations. It didn't hurt that her golfing son looked good in just about anything.
"Hagen was a splashy dresser, but Johnny looked more like a model than Hagen ever looked," said former tour player Johnny Bulla, 89.
Mom was right. Celebrities of all kinds, people such as Babe Ruth, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and the Duke of Windsor, were counted among Farrell's friends. They were drawn to him for his classy, easygoing ways as much as his golf knowledge.
"It was the golden age of sports," Johnny Farrell Jr. said, "and father always dressed well."
His smart ensembles paid well, too. For six rounds of work at the '28 Open, Farrell received a first-place check for $500. On the eve of the tournament, he was named America's best-dressed golfer -- an honor that brought him $1,500, an ample sum for shaky economic times.
"That paid for his Packards," McGuire-Willson said.
At Olympia Fields, Jones was a big favorite, Farrell one of four players given the best chance of beating him. Farrell opened with rounds of 77 and 74, stuff that wouldn't make the cut today. He was paired with Jones and unnerved by the huge galleries that followed his partner around.
Inclement Chicago weather kept everyone's scores high. Farrell closed with even-par 71 and 72 to get back into contention, finally playing in a group without Jones. The Chicago Tribune reported that 12 people witnessed Farrell's morning round, and just three saw his afternoon outing. Seclusion was bliss. He still needed help to force a playoff. It came from little-known Roland Hancock, who blew a two-shot lead with two holes remaining in the final round.
People expected a Farrell fold-up in Sunday's 36-hole playoff as well. Nerves and the crowds would do him in, it was reasoned. But the New Yorker was solid in the spotlight. He took the lead for good by sinking a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th and rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th to seal the victory. Excited fans carried Farrell and his caddy off the green.
"He had a look of determination that I saw in the newsreel clips, and that said it all to me," said Farrell Jr., born five years after his father's Open title. "This was going to be his moment. He knew it was now or never, and he rose to the occasion."
The family man
Two years after winning the U.S. Open, Farrell, who had dated actress Fay Wray of "King Kong" fame, was giving an exhibition when a young woman caught his eye. He rolled a chip shot to her feet.
She was Catherine "Kay" Marie Theresa Alice Hush, the socialite daughter of a wealthy engineer. She had been dating Robert Wagner, a future New York City mayor and the son of a U.S. senator. Farrell married her in 1931. He quit playing tour golf full-time in '33, accepting a club pro job at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., cutting back after a dozen years in the limelight and ready to raise a family.
"His career was like mine, and they said my career was short," Nelson pointed out. "He wanted to do some other things. We didn't make any money playing golf. You start finding other ways to make money, and you lose interest."
Said Bulla, "He was a family man, like Jack Nicklaus. But Jack would go out and play tournaments, make lots of money and fly home. You couldn't do that in our day. I'd go to the West Coast and be gone six weeks."
The Farrell family started expanding right away. Johnny Jr. was born in '33, the first of five golf-minded siblings. He became a top amateur player, winning the Baltusrol club championship four times. Brother Billy, 69, spent eight years on the PGA Tour and retired as a Connecticut club pro; Jimmy, now deceased, also was a club pro; sister Peggy, 63, remains a Baltusrol member, and Cathy, 60, was a nun, often playing in full habit, before becoming a New Jersey school superintendent.
In 1967, the Farrells were so involved in the game, they were christened the Metropolitan Golf Writers' "golf family of the year," and the seven of them were pictured marching up a fairway together.
Farrell had left the PGA Tour, but Eastern socialites sought him out for lessons, as did presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Ford. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope were running mates. The Duke of Windsor was still a close friend. People not only respected his golf knowledge, they enjoyed his company.
"Dad gave lessons to kings, princesses, actresses," Farrell Jr. said. "Golf reduced everyone to one common interest. People came to see my father -- Babe Ruth, everyone -- because he was a humble man."
The Northwest son
Three years ago, Farrell Jr. moved west, his life in constant change. He was a Georgetown University alumnus, the only college grad in the family, who spent most of his professional life on Wall Street and playing golf, up to 300 rounds per year. He figured that cost him his first marriage.
He drifted from the securities industry to selling shirts to driving a limo. Behind the wheel, he used to stop in at a Manhattan donut shop at 2 a.m. and talk to the Ukrainian woman behind the counter. He married her. They took a trip to see the Space Needle and never left the area.
Along the way, he found religion and quit playing golf. Left his clubs at the curb one day. Hasn't played a round since.
Family members don't understand this, Johnny living so far away and denying himself the family pleasure.
"He's given up golf and we haven't," said Cathy Rock, his youngest sister. "He's different than us."
Farrell Jr. says he hasn't turned his back on the game completely. He remains the president and founder of his National Putting Association, stressing what he considers the finer points of the sport to anyone who will listen. He has letterhead stationary and business cards, advice for everyone on this subject.
With the U.S. Open returning to Olympia Fields, his father has been in his thoughts a lot lately. He says he idolized his father too much. But he's proud of him, and pleased the spotlight is falling back on Johnny Farrell, if only so briefly.
He can picture the elder Farrell hanging in there against Jones, with a battalion of newsreel cameras whirring in the background, and sinking that final 8-foot putt.
"He always said it's how you finish that counts," Farrell Jr. says during the early morning quiet at Sea-Tac, a regular slow spell in which riders are sparse. "He finished life gracefully."
With that, it's time to climb back in the front seat, turn on the ignition and point the limo toward Seattle. He has half a shift to finish.