He rubbed elbows with 20th century icons
A young Frank Harned eagerly bought a copy of the Erie News-Times, anxious to read the latest story about the great golfer Ben Hogan. As a little boy growing up during the Great Depression, that newspaper was his only connection to the outside world, and to his hero. Hogan was dominating the U.S. Open during those years and thrilled spectators with his astonishingly accurate short game.
Harned obsessed over Hogan, and even cut out a large picture of the golfer to tape to his bedroom wall. In time, Harned’s life journey eventually led him onto the PGA Tour. He would cross paths with icons of the 20th century like Jack Nicklaus, Joe DiMaggio, Tony Bennett, Joe Louis, Arnold Palmer… and even Ben Hogan himself.
Now at 84, Harned resides at The Creekside retirement community in Woodinville. At 6 feet tall and burly, Harned still looks strong. But old age has taken its toll on his legs, robbing him of the mobility needed to play golf. As he gingerly takes a seat and begins recalling his early playing days, his eyes are alight with the same fire and determination that sparked him in his youth.
“My father gave me my first set of golf clubs when I was twelve. I would walk about five miles to the Glenwood Golf Course. I would caddy for golfers for 65 cents a round. And then I began playing. I knew I was going to be good, because I had five or six close friends of mine, and we pushed each other in competition. We met every day at the corner field next to the reservoir. We played tackle football, baseball, basketball against the garage, and that’s why I got good when I took up golf, because I had gotten good at the other sports. I always tell people that when you play several sports it helps you become a good golfer.”
The future seemed bright for Harned, because by his mid-teens he was already one of the best players in Erie. People took note of his exceptional play around the greens; the chipping, putting, pitching and sand shots. He seemed destined for golf, but life had other plans for him.
As Harned came of age, World War II still raged on. He went to Mississippi to train as a pilot, but before his training was complete he was shipped to the Philippines. For the next few years, he served as a sergeant and saw friends killed in action. But finally Japan folded, and Harned returned to Pennsylvania to spend three years at Gannon College, with an education sponsored by the U.S. Military.
While dominating on the Gannon golf team, people recognized his skill level as being on par with that of the world’s best golfers. When someone told him how great a place Miami was to live and play golf, Harned transferred to the University of Miami. The kid from Pennsylvania climbed aboard a bus and two days later found himself in the warm Florida sunshine.
“Oh, I had a ball,” Harned recalls. “They had no idea how good I was, but they quickly found out. We went undefeated that year and won our conference championship. It was such fun. Miami had everything. Sunshine and beautiful girls. I was so involved in sports though that girls came a little lower on the priority list.”
When his time at Miami came to an end, Harned began teaching and playing sectional tournaments. For several years he won with regularity throughout Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio. He took club pro jobs at a few country clubs. He made a name for himself. And finally, the opportunity to play on the PGA Tour arrived. At the age of 27, Harned was invited to play in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Calif., with another surprise in store.
“I saw that I was paired with Ben Hogan [for the opening round],” Harned says. “I couldn’t believe it. He had been my childhood hero. I had his picture on my wall above my bed all those years. And now I was going to get the chance to play with him.”
But as Harned nervously approached the first tee to begin that day’s round, he quickly saw the experience would be bittersweet.
“Hogan never said one word to me, not hello or goodbye. Not one damn word. I was trying to talk to him and he wouldn’t say anything. His mind was strictly on Hogan, nothing else. I was terribly disappointed. But I was a stranger to him. To me he was the number one man. He was the best. It was such a disillusion to be with him on the course and yet be ignored. But he was such an exceptional golfer. His short game around the green was as good as anybody’s.”
Harned made the cut and played all four days, shooting a 311 and finishing 43rd. For his efforts, they awarded him a check for $180, a far cry from today’s PGA winnings. On the other hand, Hogan ended up in an epic 18-hole playoff for the title, finishing second to little-known Jack Fleck in one of the biggest surprise wins in golf history.
Over the next decade, Harned played in many more tournaments and was considered one of the top 100 golfers in the world. He played in The Masters and finished 55th in the 1960 PGA Championship. It was rarefied enough air that he got to rub elbows with some of the most famous people of the 20th century. He became friends with golfing icon Arnold Palmer, and got to play with such legends as Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.
“Sam Snead said a few words to me,” Harned recalls. “He made me feel better than Hogan did. You just played along and maybe have a drink with him after and have a few words then. I played with Nicklaus. I was paired with him. That’s when he was ‘Fat Jack’. He was powerful. He outdrove me by 30-40 yards. He wasn’t much of a talker either. Now Lee Trevino, he was known as ‘The Merry Mex’. Now he was a talker! That guy loved to joke around while he played golf.”
The galleries in those days were smaller and the crowds would walk down the fairway right behind the golfers. Sometimes famous dignitaries would accompany them or schmooze at the club house afterwards. Harned met the likes of singer Tony Bennett, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, and the iconic boxer Joe Louis, The Brown Bomber.
“Joe Louis was a very nice man,” Harned says. “Tony Bennett was my favorite singer and it was great to meet him. And Joe DiMaggio, he was married at the time to Marilyn Monroe. He was very gracious.”
Once Harned’s PGA days were over, he became a club pro and taught lessons for the next two decades at $50 an hour.
“I loved playing golf any time of day. Early morning or into the dark. It’s a wonderful game.”
Harned moved to Woodinville recently to be closer to his daughters on the west coast.
Sometimes when golfers ask him for advice to help their game, Harned offers up an unconventional gem.
“I tell people if you really want to be a good golfer, get some clubs, but don’t hit a ball for a month,” he says. “With a ball in front of them their mind is completely on that ball.
“But if they practice without a ball, their focus will be on the follow through. There is no ball to distract them from focusing on what’s important. A good golf swing is no different than life in general; you need to have proper follow-through.”
Derek Johnson is the author of Husky Football in the Don James Era, Bow Down to Willingham and The Dawgs of War, which tells the story of the Rose Bowl season of Woodinville’s Marques Tuiasosopo. These books are available at www.derekjohnsonbooks.com.
His latest book, Bow Down to Willingham, is now available for Kindle at Amazon.com for $9.99.