Fort Worth 1941: ‘What in tarnation is the U.S. Open?’

Craig Wood, the 1941 Masters and U.S. Open champion. Credit: Courtesy

John Henry

The PGA Tour returns from quarantine this week, choosing the venerable Colonial Country Club in our backyard as the site.

It’s quite the opportunity for Hogan’s Alley with all five of the world’s top-ranked players — Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson — coming together for a much-anticipated tee off on Thursday at the Charles Schwab Challenge.
There will be no galleries of spectators to see them, the COVID restrictions creating that buzz kill.
Nonetheless, this should be a marvelous PGA festival with a field unseen in Fort Worth since June 1941 when Colonial hosted the men’s U.S. Open golf championship. Craig Wood won by three strokes over Denny Shute, shooting a 4-over par over four rounds. Ben Hogan finished third.

Amon Carter, that “six-shootin,’ gusty, husky go-getter whose rise in the world has run such interesting gamuts as selling the newspaper he now publishes,” was put in charge of promoting it, and everybody, literally everybody, was invited.
This was the guy who, when asked to help with this ambitious goal to bring this holy grail of golf to Fort Worth, responded, “What the tarnation is the U.S. Open?”
Though golf was Greek to him, publicity and energy were his games, and he was a scratch player.

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“I have received a copy of the official program of the forty-fifth Open Championship of the United States Golf Association at Colonial Country Club and also the medal commemorating the occasion which was engraved to me personally,” FBI director J. Edgar

Hoover wrote Carter. “You may be sure that I deeply appreciate your thoughtfulness in sending these to me.”
Carter’s guest list, found among his papers at the TCU library, included Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Franklin Roosevelt, who had bigger things to attend to as the world was coming apart at the seams, Henry Stimson, the secretary of defense, and Henry Morganthau.

“We realize the difficulties confronting the country in connection with national defense at this time. However, Fort Worth was selected last year and the [Fort Worth Golf Association] committee [tasked with putting on the event] feels they should proceed with business as usual,” Carter wrote to the president. “Therefore, on behalf of the Association, I take pleasure in extending to you a cordial invitation.
“Naturally, I realize this this may be asking a good deal. However, we do want you to know that we will be tickled to death to have you with us as we expect to put the big pot in the little one and see that all of our visitors not only have the opportunity to attend an interesting tournaments, see the best golfers in the country play, but in addition are provided with the usual Texas hospitality.”

He closed with a nudge, reminding the president, who had heard it a hundred times before, that Fort Worth was “Where the West Begins.”
The tournament, Carter declared, would be done “bigger and better than it’s ever been done.”

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That hospitality featured a barbecue for 500 golfers and guests at Carter’s Shady Oak ranch. It set the record for bigness, one wrote, “by having 16 men in the quartet,” which entertained during dinner.
When it rained during one round, Carter fingered his notorious bogeyman as the culprit, blaming Dallas.

As expected, the president was indeed a no-show. His son Elliott, then a Fort Worth resident, was likely there.
Bobby Jones, the southern gentleman golfer from Georgia, was there, too. So was Grantland Rice.

“Everything seems much too quiet at home after our experience with your wonderful Texas hospitality. It is quite a strain to find myself back where I have to look after my own entertainment.”
The tournament, the first U.S. Open in the south, went off without a hitch, Jones said.
“Now that you know how to run a golf tournament, I think you should try playing the game.”
Signed, “Bob Jones.”

John Henry is a 19th century-type guy with a William Howard Taft-sized appetite for sports, history, religion, culture, and, yes, food. John has 25 years in the Dallas-Fort Worth market as a writer and editor, his fingerprints having touched just about everything as a reporter and featured columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, PressBox DFW, among many others. He has also covered politics. So, he knows bloodsport. He shares experiences on The Life and Times of Leonard Goodman.