Had the ball bounced differently, Hale Irwin might have had a shorter, infinitely more painful career dragging down wide receivers in the NFL instead of swinging his way to the top of the PGA leader board.
In 1967, the two-time All-Big Eight
safety at the University of Colorado had to choose
between busting heads and breaking par for a living.
Rather than flip a coin, Irwin made himself a
wager: If he could win a national amateur golf
tournament, he'd chase the white ball. If not,
his Sundays would soon be far worse than "a
good walk spoiled."
That spring, he won the NCAA Championship,
turned in his helmet and never looked back. Three
years later, he won the Heritage Classic at Sea
Pines. It was the first of 65 career tournament
championships that included three U.S. Opens,
the first (1974) and last (1990) a remarkable
16 years apart, both on one of golf's most intimidating
courses, Winged Foot. He was inducted into the
World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992.
Sixth on golf's all-time career
money list with earnings exceeding $30 million,
Irwin is the only one of the six not still active
on the PGA Tour. Instead, at a fit 62, he currently
ranks second behind Jay Haas on the Champions
Tour, where his 45 career titles leave everyone
else in the dust (Lee Trevino is second with 15).
In fact, Irwin seems to defy nature by getting
better -- he won 19 of those 45 titles
since he turned 55.
The Joplin, Mo., native now lives
in Phoenix, where he oversees Hale
Irwin International, a golf course design
Not surprisingly for a former Academic All-American, Irwin is a student of the financial game. In money as in golf, he invests the same way he plays: smartly, but with a keen eye for opportunity.
You are one of those rare guys on the tour who
could have played another professional sport.
Well, that's being pretty generous with the facts
because the other sport you're referring to is
a pretty violent and short-lived way to make a
Bankrate: Was pro football ever a serious consideration?
I suppose it was. I had made a goal for myself:
If I was going to turn pro (golfing), I wanted
to win a major amateur event: not an in-state
event like the Colorado state amateur but something
that had some national recognition. I never got
to play in the U.S. Amateur because it was always
football season. So, as a football scholarship
player, certainly that was part of my future,
perhaps. I didn't want it to be but I had to prove
to myself that I could make it on the tour, or
at least think I could make it, by competing with
my contemporaries at their level. So, when I won
the NCAA golf tournament, I felt that was goal
enough. It was a sign that you are going to live
longer than a couple years; you're not going to
have to go through all that stuff to try to make