It is finally the summer solstice and my musings start turning towards more important things in life. If you didn’t watch Phil Mickelson’s march up the Ocean Course at Kiawah at the end of May, you really missed one of the greatest comebacks in sports, not just golf. With his two-stroke victory over Brooks Koepka, Mickelson — who hadn’t won a major since 2013 — sealed his spot as the oldest winner of a PGA biggie. He beat Julius Boros’s PGA record of 48 years old (and four months, 18 days) at the 1968 PGA Championship, which was about three years before Mickelson was born. So as I watched this final round, I thought a lot about Julius Boros.
He had the bad timing to be at his peak during the Arnold Palmer-Jack Nicklaus years, so Boros never hit the heights that he was really capable of. His book, Swing Easy, Hit Hard, influenced me as a golfer more than just about anything else. I grew up playing, and Julius Boros was one of my idols.
You’re probably thinking I was a one-trick pony with my love of surfing, but I’ve actually picked up golf again.
Boros fascinated me because he was definitely NOT a one-trick pony. He didn’t turn pro until he was almost 30, leaving behind a scintillating career as an accountant to try his luck on the PGA Tour. He was also one of pro golf’s first entrepreneurs, branching out of the fairway into other business ventures. At six feet and 200 pounds, he earned the nickname Moose but had the softest hands in the game. Also, he was good-looking as hell and was often compared to Dean Martin (go look him up, this was a big deal in the 50s and 60s) for both his easygoing demeanor and sense of humor — something I think all men aspire to.
Life Before Golf
Julius Boros pretty much lived the American dream. He was the son of Hungarian immigrants who’d settled in Fairfield, Connecticut, and he grew up right next to the 10th hole of the Fairfield Country Club. When he was a kid, Boros and his brothers hopped the fence to the golf course to get in a few under-the-radar holes.
Playing on the lam taught Boros to play fast, which led to his trademark easy swing tempo, which was the inspiration for his autobiography title. Like most fathers, Boros’s dad was not enthusiastic about young Julius trying to make a career out of golf.
That’s not a huge surprise since the tour wasn’t exactly the financial juggernaut it is today. So Julius went to work after high school, and he went into WWII as a medic in the Army Air Corps — where he spent his time in Biloxi, Mississippi, playing golf with the military brass.
Post-war, he had hit his full height of six feet and clocked in at 200 lbs — a moose of a man in the 1940s, hence his nickname. Moose Boros kept up the golf, but his day job was as an accountant for a trucking company in Hartford.
Pinehurst and Mid-Pines
All great golf makes at least one stop in Pinehurst, where Julius Boros really hit his stride in golf and in life. If you’ve been adding numbers in Connecticut and dreaming of fast greens, it’s heaven on earth.
Moose’s boss, Mike Sherman, was also a friend and golfing buddy. When Sherman bought the Southern Pines Country Club in 1946, he sent Moose down to Southern Pines to do the bookkeeping in 1948 and play all the golf he wanted. That’s not a bad perk for a kid from Connecticut who grew up jumping the fence in the freezing cold.
Back in the first half of the century, there was a tournament at Pinehurst #2, the North-South Open (it’s an amateur tournament today). To give you an idea of the stature of this little weekender, Sam Snead and Ben Hogan won their share of the tourney. But the Ross brothers, Alec and Donald, won nine between them. I guess designing the course gives you an advantage.
Anyway, Boros had the chance to play in the tournament as an amateur in 1948. Sherman was a sport and gave him the week off. So the accountant from Hartford got to test his game against the greats like Sam Snead. You’d think that playing in the tourney would have been it for Boros’s luck for the weekend, but he also met his first wife, Buttons, that day and won the warm-up with a 67. He came in second to Tony Penna in the tournament, tying Snead.
Julius Boros turned pro the following year, at the ripe old age of 29. Mickelson had won 16 tournaments by then, all within the first eight years of his pro career. Moose won 18 tournaments between 1952 and 1968. This included the US Open twice and a PGA for the ages in 1968. He was the PGA Player of the Year in 1952 and 1963. Also, he led in winnings in 1952 and 1955. He also played on four Ryder Cup teams.
1968 PGA Championship
For the fiftieth anniversary PGA Championship in San Antonio, the 48-year-old Moose sweltered along with everybody else in 100-degree heat. Arnold Palmer was already a legend in the making. But Julius Boros coolly (no small trick in San Antonio) shot a 69 in the final round to beat Palmer — younger by a decade — by one stroke. The prize?
$25,000 — less than the tenth place caddy probably brought home after Kiawah.
Boros referred to his win as “throwing junk in the air.” The late, great Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins summed it up as: “A middle-aged man struck a marvelous blow for tired, portly, beer-drinking, slow-moving fathers of seven.”
Boros’s last great stand was at the Open at Oakmont in 1973, when the 53-year-old Moose led going into Sunday. Johnny Miller, practically half his age, beat the course up for a 63 on Sunday. The Moose tied for seventh. Moose hung in there, tying for the lead on Sunday after 62 holes.
Good stuff just seemed to happen to Boros. At the PGS Seniors Championship, he popped an Amana baseball cap on his head to cool off. Next thing you know, Amana is offering golfers $50 to wear the hats. Boros won the tournament, and golfer advertising was born. Boros also backed into a deal with Wilson golf clubs when Doug Ford chose not to go with Wilson and gave the clubs to Boros.
Investing in Golf Courses
Boros and Buttons played mixed event tournaments throughout the southeast, marrying in 1950. Her parents put him on the Mid-Pines payroll to tide them over until Boros could play for money as a pro. Sadly, Buttons died in childbirth in 1951, but Boros and her parents stayed close. So close that in 1953, the Cosgroves and Boros partnered with Warren “Bullet” Bell and his wife, Button’s great friend and golfing buddy Peggy Kirk Bell, to buy the dilapidated Pine Needles course across the street from Mid-Pines.
They paid $50,000 for the course. A couple of years later, the Bells bought Pine Needles outright so the Cosgroves could buy Mid-Pines. Boros also liquidated his interest, which had doubled in just two years. He did regret the decision later when the Bells were noted for operating their legendary golf school at Pine Needles. Moose noted to his and Button’s son Nick that, “I never should have sold my share of Pine Needles.”
Boros met his second wife, Armen Boyle. They eloped to Aiken, South Carolina, and then honeymooned at Mid-Pines. Six kids later, the Boros brood of seven kids was established in Fort Lauderdale. There, the patriarch could fish as much as he golfed.
The 1963 Open
Boros was on a slide in the early 1960s; the triumvirate of Palmer, Gary Player, and the kid Jack Nicklaus didn’t leave much oxygen for anybody else. But Boros staged a mild comeback in the Colonial National when he beat Gary Player. Then a couple of weeks later, he won the Buick Open. Then, on a windy course at The Country Club in Brookline, Boros took that late confidence all the way to a second US Open win.
That win didn’t come easy; he tied Palmer and Jacky Culpit after 72 holes. Then he headed into the 18-hole playoff (sudden death is for wussies), high on his putting and his chances. The 43-year-old Boros sailed through the front nine with a 33, finishing the round with a 70. He was the oldest player to win the Open and won Player of the Year for the second time.
A Family Affair
Three of his sons, Nick, Guy, and Gary, played on the tour, and Guy even won the 1996 Vancouver Open.
Lee Trevino, not shy about off-color jokes in the locker room, pretended horror that Boros had a kid in there when he started the joke. Then he finished it anyway. Trevino said that Boros had “the greatest hands in the world. I always tried to copy him, to copy his mannerisms.” And, “He is a great striker of the ball.”
After he retired from competitive golf, Julius Boros still played with the likes of Bob Hope and Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, another son of Hungary.
When he was asked about retiring, Boros had a brilliant response that I love. “Retire to what? I already play golf and fish for a living.” Boros did like fishing as much as golf. He hosted Outdoors with Liberty Mutual for 28 episodes, fishing all over the globe.
So I’m a little bummed that Mickelson broke Boros’s record. But he’s a good guy, and you’ve got to respect that at 50, he’s still in the hunt. You can probably get Julius Boros’s book on Amazon. I would recommend it — it’s a great read about golf and life.