The Tale of Henry Picard
The classy star of the Great Depression who helped shape the modern game
By Lee Pace
Henry Picard was 25 years old and one year into his position as head golf professional at the Country Club of Charleston in 1931 when the Great Depression choked the club and forced it to tell Picard it could no longer afford his salary. Picard had five dollars cash in his pocket one day when he went to his bank to make a withdrawal and found a sign on the door: “Closed Indefinitely.”
Picard, a Massachusetts native who learned golf as a caddie at Plymouth Country Club, was tall at 6-foot-3, impeccably dressed and well-mannered. He patterned his golf swing after Bobby Jones and was known as a particularly adept long-iron player. He and his wife, Annie, were expecting their first child in the fall of ’31, and some kindhearted benefactors at the club stepped up to say they’d pay him based on his golf scores — $5 for even-par, $10 for one-under and so on. So “Pic,” as he was known to the members and his fellow golf pros, at a young age learned the pressure of parlaying good golf scores into food for his family.
He responded with aplomb and his game blossomed in 1932. He won the Charlotte Open at Charlotte Country Club in September and beat Walter Hagen by 10 shots in a playoff for the Carolinas Open in Greensboro in October.
“Pic is the pick of the pack,” the always quotable Hagen said after getting whipped in Greensboro.
He told Picard privately, “Nice work, kid. You can be one of the greatest golfers in the world if you work hard on your game.”
Picard then tied Al Watrous and Al Houghton in the Mid-South Open, played in mid-November at Pinehurst No. 2. It was a one-day, 36-hole affair, and Picard seemed well on his way to victory until he double-bogeyed the 11th and three-putted 17 in the afternoon round. He hung on for the first-place tie and made an impression on Donald Ross, the golf architect and manager of the Pinehurst golf operation.
“He has everything,” Ross said, “the strength of youth, the temperament, a sound swing, and above all a beautiful putting stroke that is as good in practice as it is in theory.”
Several days later, Picard returned home to Charleston for an exhibition with Hagen on his home course. He shot a 73 to beat the wily veteran by three strokes.
“That boy is a beautiful golfer,” Hagen said. “He is going to go somewhere.”
Indeed he did, and he did so in the most curious of times — during the Depression and into the early years of World War II. Picard essentially retired from regular travel on the pro tour in 1942 to spend time with his wife and four children and settle into club pro jobs, the most noteworthy of which were at Canterbury in Cleveland in the summer, and Seminole in Palm Beach in the winter.
“Money and fame, they never meant a damn to me,” he said.
To say Picard’s timing was off is to put it mildly. He won the fifth Masters in 1938 — but before they gave green jackets to the champions. He had 26 career wins on the PGA Tour — more than Johnny Miller, Gary Player, Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Greg Norman and Ben Crenshaw. But few recognize the name, and one national wire service account of his win in Augusta in 1938 added a “k” to his last name, spelling it “Pickard.”
“A lot of people told me, ‘He was the Tiger Woods of his day,’” son Larry Picard said in 2007. “I pooh-poohed that away. But he really was. He didn’t play full-time until ’35, and won that many tour events during that time. That’s a stretch like Woods had.”
Picard won the North and South Open at Pinehurst in 1934 and ‘36 and during one sizzling stretch from 1934-35, broke or matched par in 51 of 54 tournaments. He beat Bryon Nelson in the final of the 1939 PGA Championship, played then at match play, and qualified for four Ryder Cups and was the leading money winner in 1939.
“At that time, he was probably the best of them all,” Sam Snead said.
“Henry has the best swing in golf,” golf writer Herb Wind offered.
Picard, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2006, had a major influence on three young golfers who would also go on to Hall of Fame careers.
Sam Snead was his first mentoring project.
Snead was in his early 20s when he asked Picard if he should give pro golf a try. Picard said that Snead was in fact good enough and arranged for Dunlop to sign Snead to its playing staff, giving him a set of clubs, a dozen balls a month and $500 a year. In early 1937, Snead was haunted by a whippy-shafted driver, and on the practice range at the Los Angeles Open, Picard gave him a stiff-shafted Dunlop driver.
“God, this thing is good,” Snead said.
“Keep it, it’s yours,” Picard responded.
One week later, Snead won his first tournament, the Oakland Open. He used the club for 20 years.
“See, one trouble I was having was with my driving,” Snead told author Al Barkow in Getting to the Dance Floor. “I had a whippy-shafted driver I couldn’t control. The driver I got from Picard had a stiff shaft, and my driving improved 40 percent right there.”
Another protégé was Ben Hogan — first with a financial endorsement and second with a grip change.
Picard was traveling to the West Coast in early 1938 when he ran into Hogan and his wife, Valerie, having lunch in a Fort Worth hotel. The Hogans were lamenting their financial strife — this before Hogan’s powder keg of talent had exploded — and Hogan was not sure he was going to make the West Coast swing. Picard told Hogan he was good enough to win and that if he got stranded in California with no money, he’d help Hogan out. The Hogans made the trip and, buoyed by the safety net of Picard’s offer, Ben played well enough to collect good checks at Oakland and Sacramento and continued grinding his way from town to town.
Two years later, Hogan approached Picard on the practice tee at the Miami-Biltmore and lamented the hook that appeared at the worst times. Picard said he could fix that “in five minutes” and adjusted Hogan’s grip to a slightly weaker position, helping take the left woods and water out of play. Later that spring, Hogan won his first pro tournament, the North and South at Pinehurst, then went to Greensboro and Asheville and won those two tournaments.
He was off and running and, years later, dedicated his instruction book to Picard.
“Henry is a very fine man, and I was fortunate to have enjoyed his company and friendship,” Hogan said. “That offer from Pic meant more to me than all the money in the world, because he told me I could play golf and win, and I needed encouragement at that point.”
Picard retired from Canterbury in 1973 and returned to Charleston, where he played golf at the Country Club of Charleston and gave occasional lessons there and at a public facility nearby. One golfer of interest was a teenager named Beth Daniel, who had taken formal lessons from Charleston pros Al Esposito and then from Derek Hardy, whom Daniel credits for turning her swing from a flattish plane to a more upright move suitable for the 5-foot-11 inch frame she sprouted into early in high school.
But when Picard arrived on the scene, Daniel was 17 years old and her mechanics were pretty well set. Picard helped her with the nuances. Once he surreptitiously replaced her rock-hard and long-running Top-Flite balls in her bag with softer Titleists and told her, “If you’re going to be a good player, you’ve got to play a good ball.” Picard might see Daniel one afternoon on the course and ask a question about shaping a shot or visualizing a greenside recovery, then ask for the answer 24 hours later.
“If I was wrong, he’d give me the correct answer,” she says. “If I was right, he’d nod and say ‘Thank you’ and keep walking. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what he was doing was helping me become a shotmaker.”
Daniel won two U.S. Women’s Amateurs, 33 LPGA Tour events and was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 2000. Henry Picard was among those she acknowledged for a helping hand back in her formative days.
“I don’t feel like he ever gets enough credit, but he was the kind of guy that didn’t promote himself,” she says. “He gave it up for his family. But I remember him well. He was quite the figure at the Country Club of Charleston, tall and handsome, always wearing his cotton dress shirt and tie, even in the 100-degree heat.”
The PGA Championship returns to North Carolina this summer, Quail Hollow in Charlotte the venue. What a shame that most of the players competing for a first prize in the neighborhood of $2 million would look at Henry Picard in his white shirt and tie and say, “Waiter, bring me another drink.” PS
Chapel Hill writer Lee Pace is working on a book about the Country Club of Charleston and its well-known progeny like Picard and Daniel. The book will be published in early 2019.