From its inception, golf has been a game filled with colorful names. * The Wall of Champions at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial features a Golden Bear, a Lefty, a King, a Hawk and Slammin’ Sam. Also prominent are historic nods to Mr. 59, Gentle Ben, Lumpy, Merry Mex and El Nino. * Ms. 59 is not listed but she, too, is part of tournament lore at Fort Worth’s annual PGA Tour stop. The same goes for Lord Byron, one of the sport’s few icons who made multiple trips to Colonial without collecting a plaid jacket during a Hall of Fame career. * Tiger played here once, but did not win. Fuzzy claimed the 1981 title, a decade after a victory by The Machine. The Bulldog won twice, including a record-setting performance in 1985.
Against that backdrop of tournament icons with notable nicknames or one-name identities to fans, Thomas Brent Weekley found it humbling to see his name etched in granite as the defending Colonial champ. But he was glad they used his nickname, not the one on his birth certificate.
“Boo is not a golf name. It’s a baseball name,” said Weekley, who enjoyed hearing a chorus of good-natured boos from fans throughout last year’s final round and trophy presentation. “But now, it’s finally up there on the Wall. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Weekley, 40, never is identified by his given name in golf circles. He’s always Boo, a nickname derived from the “Boo-Boo” character in Yogi Bear cartoons. And he is thrilled to be the latest colorful name to join Colonial’s list of champions at an event preparing for its 68th anniversary as a PGA Tour stop.
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“Any time you hear your name, especially when you are playing good, it’s fun,” Weekley said. “When you’re playing bad, you don’t want to hear it. You don’t know if they are booing because it’s who you are, or if you hit a bad shot.”
Regardless of the reason, Boo is a one-name identifier for the defending Colonial champ. It was the same way at the inaugural Colonial in 1946, when the Hawk — aka Ben Hogan — thrilled his hometown gallery with his first of five titles in Fort Worth.
Hogan, a man of many nicknames during a Hall of Fame career, also earned the handle “Bantam Ben” because of his diminutive size (5-foot-8, 145 pounds). During a victory at the 1953 British Open, the media in Scotland dubbed him the “Wee Iceman” because of Hogan’s prolific focus and ability to handle pressure.
But he’s best known as the Hawk because of his steely glare and silence during competition, which often intimidated opponents. With his 1946 triumph at the inaugural Colonial, Hogan became the first of more than a dozen golfers with notable nicknames to capture a tournament title in Fort Worth.
The most iconic handle belongs to Jack Nicklaus (Golden Bear), the 1982 Colonial champ who has turned his nickname into a global brand. Nicklaus’ familiar Golden Bear logo is used in multiple golf-related business ventures, from course design to production of equipment and clothing.
There is a two-fold reason for the nickname: Nicklaus attended Upper Arlington High School in suburban Columbus, Ohio. The school mascot is the Golden Bears. Golf writers built on that fact in 1962, when the large, strong and blond golfer joined the PGA Tour and experienced immediate success, including a victory at the 1962 U.S. Open. Writers began referring to the rookie as “the Golden Bear” and, by 1963, the nickname had stuck.
It became a staple reference in wire-service reports about Nicklaus’ exploits as a PGA Tour competitor, although the golfer showed initial reluctance about embracing it.
“Jack was embarrassed by that at first,” said Dan Jenkins, the longtime golf writer and author from Fort Worth who has covered professional golf since the 1950s. “But it became a commercial brand for him. The guys who used that term were always the wire-service guys from AP and UPI. Everybody that had a nickname, they went with it. The wire-service guys leaned on it.”
Fans, in turn, embraced the nicknames. Arnold Palmer, the tour’s most popular player during the infancy of golf telecasts, was dubbed the King because of his large galleries. Fans marched in “Arnie’s Army” at tournaments and Palmer, along with cronies Nicklaus and Gary Player, became iconic figures in the 1960s.
Nicklaus and Palmer (1962) won Colonial titles. Player, a nine-time major champion dubbed the “Black Knight” because of his preference for all-black golf attire, finished as the Colonial runner-up in 1963 and 1969. His website, garyplayer.com, offers Black Knight golf apparel.
Similar branding exists on the website for Greg Norman (shark.com), a Hall of Fame golfer whose best Colonial finish was second in 1993. Norman, like Nicklaus and Player, built a global brand around his nickname, the Great White Shark. A blond Aussie who likes to interact with sharks when he scuba dives, Norman received the handle when he emerged as a surprise contender at the 1981 Masters.
On his website, Norman wrote: “The media didn’t know who I was or anything about my background and started asking questions about the unknown blond-haired Aussie with an aggressive style of play who used to swim and dive with the sharks ... The Great White Shark logo came out in the late ’80s. I own the logo and the rights to it, and it has been a tremendous success story from Day One.”
Norman, a two-time major winner, collects shark-related gear. During practice rounds, he has approached fans in his gallery sporting shark-related gear about purchasing items from them. He’s also protective of his nickname, which became clear during the 1989 Colonial.
Ian Baker-Finch, a fellow Aussie, won that event in wire-to-wire fashion for his first PGA Tour title. After the first round, some reporters referred to the brown-haired leader as the “Dark Shark” in newspaper accounts.
The next day, Baker-Finch mentioned that Norman, who was not competing in Fort Worth, called him and offered some good-natured chiding about “trying to steal my name.” Baker-Finch urged writers to refer to him as “Bakes” or “Finchie” if they chose to use nicknames for him in future stories. With that, all references to the “Dark Shark” disappeared and Norman continued building his Shark-related brand.
Not all nicknames evolve into global brands, of course. Some are short-lived, depending on circumstances. Sergio Garcia, 21, became the youngest Colonial winner in 2001, shortly after joining the PGA Tour as a teenager and branding himself as “El Nino.” That’s Spanish for “the boy.” Garcia, now 34, no longer uses that nickname.
But two-time Colonial champ Lee Trevino, a Dallas native, has billed himself as the “Merry Mex,” or “Supermex,” since the 1960s in deference to his Mexican-American ancestry. Phil Mickelson, another two-time Colonial winner, remains “Lefty” to legions of golf fans.
Some nicknames stem from special circumstances. Al Geiberger, a two-time Colonial champ, has been known as “Mr. 59” since 1977, when he became the first player to post the score in PGA Tour competition. Geiberger’s historic 59 included six pars, 11 birdies and an eagle at the 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic.
Annika Sorenstam, a 2003 Colonial competitor, became the lone female to break 60 in a professional golf tournament when she posted a 59 in the second round of the 2001 Standard Register Ping event on the LPGA Tour. “Ms. 59” competed at Colonial using golf balls stamped with the digit “59” on them.
Some nicknames can be misleading. “Gentle” Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Colonial champ, is a soft-spoken gentleman with a friendly demeanor off the course. But inside the gallery ropes, he’s a fiery competitor who admits his temper can get the best of him. That’s why his nickname, lifted from a television show about a bear that ran from 1967-69, has always puzzled him.
“I always thought it was a little bit of a misnomer,” Crenshaw said. “That’s not the way I am on the course.”
But Hall of Fame golfer Sam Snead, the player known as “Slammin’ Sam,” was one of the longest hitters on tour during his prime (1940s and 1950s). Snead, who holds the PGA Tour career record for victories (82), won the 1950 Colonial title. Likewise, “Lord” Byron Nelson lorded over peers during the height of his career, setting PGA Tour single-season records for victories (18) and consecutive wins (11) in 1945.
The affable Nelson, who worked with Hogan as teenage caddies at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth, stood as a rarity among golfers when it came to nicknames.
“He loved being called Lord Byron,” Jenkins said. “He’s the only guy I ever knew who really liked his nickname.”
But most learn to accept them, even if they point out a less-than-flattering physical characteristic. Craig Stadler, with his upsized roundish body, jowls and bushy mustache, has long been called the “Walrus.” Louis Oosthuizen, with his large head and prominent ears, is known to peers as “Shrek.” Tim Clark, a runner-up at Colonial in consecutive seasons (2008, 2009), dubbed himself the “Penguin” years ago and sports a penguin head cover on his driver. Why?
“Because I look like a penguin,” Clark said.
Tim Herron, the 2006 Colonial champ, has gone by “Lumpy” since he was 15. Christened by co-workers at a golf course, Herron initially balked at the moniker but now readily embraces his jumbo-sized resemblance to a character from the TV show Leave it to Beaver.
“I’ve grown into it more as an adult,” Herron said in an interview with Golf.com. “When I was a kid, it was more about the baby fat … I think with nicknames, you can’t nickname yourself. Somebody else has to do it. And when you have a nickname, you’re kind of stuck with it. You just kind of have to get used to it.”
Nicknames based on traits can have positive connotations. That is the case for a pair of past Colonial champs: Gene Littler (1971), nicknamed “The Machine” because of his flawless, repetitive golf swing; and Corey Pavin (1985, 1996), dubbed “Bulldog” because of his gritty, tenacious playing style.
The same applies to Ernie Els, a four-time major champion dubbed the “Big Easy” because of his size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds), effortless swing and laid-back personality. Loren Roberts, 1999 champion at the Byron Nelson Classic, is known to peers as the “Boss of the Moss” because of his stellar putting stroke.
Tiger Woods, Fuzzy Zoeller and Chi-Chi Rodriguez join Weekley among a long list of professional golfers who do not use their given names but are identifiable solely by one-name nicknames.
While fans identify more with players’ nicknames, the best ones often are applied to their caddies. Harrison Frazar, a Dallas resident and longtime Colonial competitor, cited some classics for current caddies.
“Some of the great ones are ‘Whole Wheat’ and ‘Sour Dough,’ ” Frazar said. “Sour Dough’s a guy that always has a bad attitude about something.”
Frazar’s caddie Marc Labas said: “There was a caddie out here back in the day that we called ‘Complain-O.’ That one probably speaks for itself.”
Many of the best nicknames are self explanatory. Long-hitting Fred Couples is called “Boom Boom.” David Duval is “Double D” because of his initials. Glen “All” Day received his nickname from peers because of his methodical pace of play.
Scan the list of 2014 PGA Tour competitors and you’ll find “Duf Daddy” (Jason Dufner), the “Big Fijian” (Vijay Singh), “Aquaman” (Woody Austin), “Spiderman” (Camilo Villegas), “Chucky Three Sticks” (Charles Howell III) and “Goose” (Retief Goosen). But you won’t find any of those names on the Wall of Champions.
Instead, those spots belong to the Hawk, the Golden Bear, the King … and a guy named Boo, the latest colorful name to carve out his spot in Colonial history.