Remembering Henry Picard: Charleston golfer captured 1939 PGA Championship
COUNTDOWN TO PGA: This is part of an occasional series leading up to the PGA Championship next month on Kiawah Island.
BY TOMMY BRASWELL
The 1991 Ryder Cup matches introduced the golf world to Charleston and the instantly famous Ocean Course on Kiawah Island. In less than six weeks, the eyes of the world will again be on the Ocean Course as the top golfers on the planet compete in the 2012 PGA Championship.
Charleston has never hosted a golf event as prestigious as the PGA Championship, one of golf’s four majors, but the Lowcountry has had its own PGA champion.
Henry Picard, who got his start in the golf profession at the Country Club of Charleston, won the 1939 PGA Championship. It took Picard, who had won the Masters a year earlier, one extra hole to defeat Byron Nelson for the title at Pomonok Country Club in New York.
Picard took home the princely sum of $1,100 from a total purse of $10,160. By contrast, Keegan Bradley collected $1.5 million last year for winning the PGA Championship. The total purse was $8 million.
The PGA Championship was the highlight of an outstanding year in which Picard won five other tournaments and pocketed $10,303, making him the top money winner on the PGA Tour that year.
Hogan and Snead
The 2012 PGA Champ-ionship will receive 154 hours of live television coverage and be seen in 200 countries, a sharp contrast to 1939. Tim Street, 87 and a member of the Country Club of Charleston, remembers keeping up with Picard’s progress on the radio.
“A friend, Charlie Baker, and I turned on his radio. He had a pretty good set you could go some distance with,” Street said. “It was a real nail-biter. I’m 87 years old and I’ll never forget it.”
Picard moved in 1925 from Plymouth, Mass., to be an assistant to Donald Vinton at the Country Club of Charleston. That same year he won the Charleston Open and the Carolinas Open. When Vinton left five years later, Picard was elevated to head professional and remained at the club until 1935.
He went on to hold some of the most prestigious jobs in golf, leaving Charleston for Hershey (Pa.) Country Club where he was known on tour as the “Hershey Hurricane.” Picard also served as the head pro at Canterbury in Cleveland during the summer months and Seminole in Florida during the winter. When he retired in 1973, he moved back to Charleston and lived here until his death in 1997 at the age of 90.
“He had all kinds of famous jobs,” Street said. “I was honored when he would ask me to go visit him in the West Ashley area where he lived. I stayed close to him.”
Because of Picard’s reputation, many of the most famous golfers of that era would make their way to the Country Club of Charleston to either play in the Charleston Open (the forerunner of the Azalea Invitational) or to take lessons from Picard.
He had a unique friendship with lengendary golfer Ben Hogan and recommended Hogan as his replacement when he left Hershey. He made an offer of financial assistance to Hogan at a time when Hogan was struggling and considering quitting the tour. And he gave Hogan a lesson that enabled him to win three straight tournaments.
Picard also gave lessons to Sam Snead, instruction Picard later joked cost him a lot of money as Snead went on to become one of the game’s best.
“Going out with the Country Club of Charleston attached to his name helped put Charleston on the map a little bit. People knew about Charleston and what type of golfing town it was because of him,” said Beth Daniel, who grew up at the Country Club of Charleston and went on to star on the LPGA Tour.
Always the teacher
Even after retiring, Picard continued to teach.
Daniel, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame,
remembers the instruction and encouragement she
received from Picard as she was growing up.
“I was playing Top-Flite golf balls because they didn’t cut and you could play them forever,” Daniel said. “He asked me why I was playing them, and the next day I had brand new Titleists in my golf bag. Somebody later told me he had done it.”
Daniel said Picard’s instruction came in the form of asking questions. If she couldn’t answer the question, it was expected that she would come back later with the answer.
“If I was wrong, he’d say ‘Wrong, this is how you do it.’ And if I was right, he’d say ‘Thank you’ and walk away. That was his way of motivating me. I never took lessons from him but he would always give me tips,” Daniel said.
Picard did not offer formal lessons at the Country Club of Charleston in his later years, not wanting to take business from the club’s professionals. For those who sought his instruction, he would take them out to Johns Island to the now defunct Plantation Pines, a par-3 course with a driving range.
A quiet Hall of Famer
At the Country Club, Picard was always known as “Pick” or Mr. “Pick-erd.” But that was not the proper pronunciation of his name.
In 1994, the South Carolina Golf Association began a junior tournament to honor Picard and his close friend Frank Ford, an amateur golf legend in South Carolina. During the awards ceremony, SCGA executive director Happ Lathrop asked for the correct pronunciation.
“It’s ‘Puh-CARD’,” he answered quietly.
Ford was stunned to learn he had been mis-pronouncing his friend’s name for more than half a century.
Daniel, who was instrumental in getting Picard on the World Golf Hall of Fame ballot and was his inductee, said she didn’t learn the proper pronunciation until she was working on her Hall of Fame speech and asked the family.
She said she wrote letters on Picard’s behalf, saying it was a disgrace that someone with Picard’s credentials was not in the Hall of Fame.
“He played Ryder Cups. He won the PGA. He won the Masters. His record was unbelievable,” Daniel said.
Lathrop called Picard a gentleman of the game, and said he was an important reason South Carolina is so well respected in golf annals.
“He brought so much history and tradition,” Lathrop said. “He was a gentleman of the game and we can say we had a part of that man in our lives.”