Hagen won 11 U.S. and international championships, a record second only to Bobby Jones’ in the early 20th century. Hagen won the U.S. Open twice, the British Open four times and the PGA Championship five times. In the 1920s, “the matchplay king” won 34 of 36 matches against the world’s greatest golfers.
A sampling of his virtuoso performances:
- He never offered excuses, even when he messed up. In England early in his career, he flubbed a round but posted his score as though he were leading the pack. Turning to the crowd, he said, “There it is! But I’ll be back!”
- He mastered the comeback. After enduring a drubbing in a 72-hole exhibition match, Hagen buckled down at a secluded course nearby, practiced like crazy and a week later won the British Open.
- He had supreme self-confidence. Once Hagen bet a thousand bucks that he could beat a course record, and he won on the last putt, his hand outstretched for the money even as the ball was rolling toward the hole.
- He knew what he had to do. Following the social protocol of the day, the charming and dapper Hagen always seemed to have a fresh drink in his hand. But the next day, the host would find the champion’s scarcely touched drinks behind bookcases and potted plants.
- He knew what was important. Catching up with a worried novice one day on the first fairway, he said: “Freddie, relax. Don’t worry. Don’t hurry.You’re here on a short visit. Be sure to smell the flowers.”
- He was a leader. “The crowd remembers only the winner,” Hagen once said. “I’d as soon finish tenth as second.”