Every year about this time when I hear the word Masters, it takes me back to one of the most cherished memories of my childhood.

This is an experience that I have written about several years ago and, because it was so special, I would like to do it again.

It was in the late 30s, I don’t remember exactly when, but my cousin, Jesse, and I were hitchhiking to the river on a hot day in the summer. We were standing in front of the Madison Country Club with our thumbs up in the air, when approaching us was an imposing-looking car with a hood that looked 10 feet long.

Jesse exclaimed, “Don’t stop for those urchins, James.” But the car did stop and the smiling gentleman at the wheel introduced himself and invited us in to the car. Well, I can’t tell you how I felt, but to ride in a car like that back then was somewhat akin to taking a ride in a space shuttle now.

As we entered the car, I noticed there was a set of golf clubs on the back seat. On the way to the river, the gentleman did not talk about golf but mostly about Notre Dame and mentioned Hillerich and Bradsby, which is a sporting goods company in Louisville. It was a very enjoyable ride and he dropped us off at the river and bade us good-bye.

I forgot his name, but several years later someone mentioned the name Horton Smith and it rang a bell — that was the man who gave us the best ride of our young lives.

Horton Smith, a.k.a. the Joplin Ghost, was the winner of the first Masters Tournament in 1934 and its first double winner (1936). He also won the U.S. Open three times. He was the “Tiger Woods” of his day with seven wins in 1929 at the tender age of 20. He won a total of $15,000 for those seven wins which is a wee bit less than Tiger won for his first seven wins, about $4 million less.

Horton went on to win five more times at the age of 21 in 1929 and 1930. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1958 and served as president and honorary president of the PGA. Smith participated in the Ryder Cup matches in 1929 in Leeds, England, defeating Fred Robson four and two. British fans dubbed him “Happy Face” because he was always smiling and that is also the way I remember him.

Smith was the last person to defeat Bobby Jones in early 1930 and the first to defeat Jones when he returned to competition at the Masters in 1934.

In my quest to find out more about Horton Smith and to confirm my story, I made many telephone calls. After calling country clubs in Joplin and Springfield, Mo., I found out very little except Horton had moved to Detroit after he left the Twin Oaks Country Club in Springfield.

I put my research on the back burner for a couple of years until just recently. I found out a neighbor of mine in Florida, who lived on the same street at Harbor Hills, had caddied for Horton Smith back in the 50s.

Wow! What a small world.

My neighbor, Donald Perry, caddied for Horton Smith in the Michigan Open in 1954, which Horton won. Don again caddied for Horton in 1956 in the same Michigan Open. Don did shed a little light on my childhood experience when he said that Horton had a penchant for big cars and loved Lincolns and Cadilllacs. He drove a big car when he was head professional at the Detroit Golf Club in the 50s.

Mahalo, Don!

I don’t know exactly when Horton left for that great course in the sky, but he will always be my favorite champion for stopping and “picking up those urchins.”

God bless you, and thanks for the memory. Aloha!

Upcoming events

Friday, April 18 at Gibson Bay — The Kappa Delta “Shamrock Golf Scramble.” Entry fee is $50 per player and includes lunch. Shotgun start at 1 p.m. All proceeds benefit Prevent Child Abuse America. For info, call Jessica Williams at 200-3707.

Final thought

Cherish Your Yesterdays: Dream Your Tomorrows: But Live Your Todays — Anonymous.

Until next time … live, love, laugh and learn, Glenmore.

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