The Legend of Golfball

October 25, 2018

A true Jackson legend, Dolphus “Golfball” Hull, was for years one of the best and most sought after caddies on the PGA tour.

 

Photos by Josh Hailey

 

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“and with a faithfulness that some might label foolishness…” – Rob Lutes, Canadian blues rocker, from his song “Jackson” about Golfball and “Rabbit” Dyer

 

The rich, successful PGA tour pro stands over his shot scratching his head. It’s the par-5 11th in the final round of the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield. Jack’s tourney. He’s trailing by two shots, there’s a sneaky little creek running in front of the green and the one thing he does not want to do is blow the tournament with one misguided shot right here.

 

No man’s land. Two hundred-plus just to the front of the green...bunkers, creek…too many…not enough.

 

He reaches for an iron.

 

Suddenly a feisty man wearing a bib walks up, slaps his hand away, snatches the cover off the pro’s three-wood and snarls, “Lay up? You didn’t come here to lay up.”

 

In front of hundreds of fans, he yanks the club out of the pro’s bag and hands it to him.

 

“Now, knock it on the green!” he barks.

 

“You sure?” asks the pro.

 

“Ain’t I seen you play enough golf?” 

 

The chastened pro does as he is told. He squares himself, checks the wind, cranks it back and lets it fly.

 

“Get up…get up!” he pleads.

 

“Hush! You let the ball alone.”

 

The ball sails toward the hole, starts to drift… then catches the green just over the lip.

 

It rolls… and stops eighteen inches from the cup.

 

The gallery, as golf fans have been known to do, goes berserk.

 

Raymond Floyd birdies three of the next four holes and wins the 1982 Memorial Tournament by three shots.

 

The strangest part of this whole episode is that the PGA pro actually pays this man for all this timely abuse. And pays him well.

 

Meet Golfball, a.k.a. Dolphus Hull, of Jackson, Mississippi, one of the most successful and well-known caddies in the history of the professional game.

 

But don’t use his real name around other golfers and caddies. They’re likely to look at you with a blank expression and say, “Who?... Oh, you mean Golfball!”

 

It’s a name he wears proudly, a name he earned while paying his dues, traveling the country caddying for some of the game’s top players, most notably Raymond Floyd and former PGA pro Calvin Peete.

 

It’s a name that has been immortalized in Canadian blues rocker Rob Lutes’ song about Dolphus Hull and Alfred “Rabbit” Dyer entitled “Jackson.”

 

Golfball first caddied for Raymond Floyd in the mid-1960s, when things were a bit more…casual.

 

“I was caddying for Frank Wharton, and he had seen what I did for Frank. He asked to see me after the final round in St. Pete, asked if I wanted to caddy for him. I told him I was making $100 a week plus 3% (of the player’s winnings). He offered $150 a week and 10%. So the next week in Pensacola, we started. We shot 65 and finished second to Arnold Palmer. My first check with Floyd was $550, big money back then! He became my main man.”

 

We?

 

"Oh yeah, we made a great team! I see him grabbing the wrong club, I just tap him on the hand.”

 

“I’d drive the car with the clubs to the next tournament, too,” Golfball recalls. “Floyd, he’d say, ‘You carry the money-makers,’ and he’d fly on ahead.”

 

“You see, Ray was sort of a playboy back then,” he admits with a grin. “He owned nightclubs in Chicago, Frisco, Miami…. Sometimes, he’d pull up two, three minutes before tee time. No warm-up, he’d hit it straight down the middle. Two minutes later, and he’d a been hit with a two-stroke penalty!” 

 

For various reasons – one being sometimes golfers just like a change – they parted company in 1969. It was no coincidence that Raymond didn’t win a golf tournament for over five years, the longest victory drought of his career.

 

Raymond sought Golfball out and hired him back. He won 13 times in the next 10 years.

 

“We made a good team, that’s for sure,” says Raymond.

 

“Won the PGA, a major, with Floyd,” Golfball recalls. “Would have won the Masters with him, too, but they use their own caddies at Augusta.”

 

“Won the TPC (Tournament Players’ Championship) with Floyd. Won the TPC in ’85 with Calvin, too. Won 27 times.”

 

Golfball was one of the major reasons both Floyd and Peete finished second on the PGA Money List two years in a row.

 

When he retired from the game in 1991 due to injury, he had become one of the most sought-after caddies in America.

 

“If there was a Caddy Hall of Fame,” declares former PGA tour pro Randy Watkins, “Golfball would be a first-ballot inductee.”

 

Randy should know. Long before he became the owner of Whisper Lake Country Club and Patrick Farms, as well as serving as the Tournament Director of the Viking Classic PGA golf tournament in Madison, Watkins was a struggling young pro trying to qualify for his PGA tour card at the annual Q-School, just like hundreds of other rookies and veteran pros.

 

“There were tree top caddies on the tour when I was trying to qualify in 1983,” says Randy. “Nicklaus had Angelo, Gary Player had Rabbit, and Floyd had Golfball. He was famous! He was like a rock star to me.”

 

Randy had met Golfball at the Country Club of Jackson in the 1970s, where Golfball would caddy for some of the bigger names at the club.

 

“A man’s gotta eat!” says Golfball. “Wasn’t like it is now, back then,” he recalls. “Floyd played 22, maybe 24 tournaments a year; but if he wanted to take two or three weeks off, he’d just take off! Say ‘I’ll see ya in a couple of weeks!’ I’d come back to Jackson, carry some bags, make a little money.”

 

A “little money” could sometimes be as much as two or three hundred dollars a day, even when Golfball started hustling bags at the original Jackson Country Club on West Capitol Street, which later became Shady Oaks.

 

“I graduated from Lanier High School in 1961,” he recalls. “I was a pretty good player myself, a scratch player,” he says. “I had a golf scholarship to Jackson State, if I’d wanted it. Me and Tommy Brown, we were beating pros at (ages) 17 and 18. We caddied a while, then went to Dallas, Texas. We caddied at the country club out there and met up with a gambler name Raydell. He thought we could win some money, so he set up a game between me and the #1 golfer from Prairie View. Perry Nell from Jackson, we called him “Shine,” he ended up playing. They gave him a shot a side. He won $900 for 18 holes, and we won over $3,000 the next couple of days. Couldn’t get no more games after that!”

 

Still, 3,000 bucks bought a lot of steak and beer and $5 hotel rooms in 1961.

 

“We stayed in Dallas for about a month,” Dolphus recalls. “There was a caddy master givin’ out bags at the PGA tournament, so I caddied for Jackie Burke, Jr. Dave Ragan blew the lead, and Nicklaus caught him on the last hole. That’s the same year I met Floyd.” 

 

Long before Tiger Woods was even a twinkle in his daddy’s eye, Pete Brown, also of Jackson, had become the first African-American golfer to win a PGA tournament, and black players like Lee Elder and Calvin Peete were starting to make their presence felt. Most of the blacks on the tour, however, were still carrying bags, often for very little money. It was common for seven or eight to share a $10-a-night hotel room. “When Golfball caddied for me,” recalls Randy, “those were some hot times! Sometimes I’d have to go into the bowels of a city, some real awful places, to pick him up.” 

 

"I learned a lot from Golfball,” Randy says. “A lot about golf, and a lot about human nature. Golfball was smart. He knew who had money, and who didn’t; who was a big tipper, and who wasn’t. He also knew who the best golfers were, and the most aggressive gamblers.” 

 

Gambling? On a golf course?

 

Randy just smiles. 

 

“I was the beneficiary of his experience,” he says, still smiling. “There was Bill Tripp, Scottie (Arlandus Scott), who took me through my first Q-school, and Golfball. At one time, he was a helluva player! He had skills above all the others.” 

 

“There’s an old saying in golf: ‘What makes a good caddy is being able to show up, keep up, and shut up!’ But Golfball understood the psyche of a golfer,” says Randy. “He understood what to say, when to say it and how to say it. A golfer has to think well under pressure. Golfball knew when to pat you on the back, and when to jump on you and get your chin off your chest. He knew when to go for it, or when to not go for it. Golfball always knew what button to push.’ 

 

“But his greatest gift was his ability to read greens,” Randy remembers. “You see, a golfer never blames himself for anything. I was at Q-school, it was late in the round, and I had this 8-footer that was the difference in making the tour or not. We talked about it, and I called it a ‘right lip’ putt, one that was going to break a hair to the left, so you aim for the right lip. Golfball says, ‘NO, it’s a left lip, it’s gonna break a hair to the right!’ We’re about four inches apart…might as well be the Grand Canyon.” 

 

“I trusted Golfball, but 99 times out of 100, a golfer’s going to go with his gut. He knew it, and it was painfully obvious he was right when the putt broke about four inches to the right. That was one of the reasons I didn’t make it through Q-school that year,” says Randy. “Golfball read me the riot act, too. And made me look him in the eye while he was doing it!” 

 

Raymond Floyd just laughs when asked to recall some of the “old days” on tour with Golfball.

 

“Listen,” he says, “I’ve got hundreds of Golfball stories. The only problem is, you can’t print ‘em!” 

 

These days, Golfball has a hard time getting around. 

 

He still hears from Raymond and Calvin regularly, and gets a card from each at the end of every year, with a “Christmas bonus.” He also still gives Floyd the occasional lesson. 

 

“He’ll call me up and say, ‘Ray, I saw you on TV, and I noticed you were keeping your elbow up.’ I’ll send him a little bit.” 

 

And, adds Raymond, “Funny thing is…he’s usually right!” 

 

 

“and he swears, by God to be back next year…” –Rob Lutes 

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121 North State Street

Jackson, MS 39201

769.572.7770

P. O. Box 1183

Jackson, MS 39215

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