Recently inducted into the PGA's Golf Professional Hall of Fame, Paul Harney '52 reflects on a life rich with family and friends.
By John Gearan '65
He starts most days on bended knee, at St. Patrick's Church, down on Cape Cod. There are few who attend early morning Mass there. But Paul Harney '52, newly beatified on this temporal earth as a golfing Hall of Famer, goes to thank God for all his blessings.
He ponders his"good luck," which has nothing to do with his seven PGA tour victories. The fortunes he counts are not in any bank account.
At age 76, R. Paul Harney, who rose to the top echelon of the golf world, looks back and sees not the glitter of his silver and golden trophies. He thinks of his wife, Patricia, his six children and 14 grandchildren and asks the Good Lord what he did to deserve such riches.
“Morning Mass gives me time to reflect," Harney says."An old habit but a good one. I think of my wonderful wife, who always has been the backbone of the family. She has incredible energy. She raised six kids and still finds time to volunteer at the hospital, something she has done for 30 years. And, as always, she takes care of me."
Harney has struggled with his health in recent years. In addition to a debilitating stomach ailment, he is recovering from back surgery performed in February. No longer does he play golf even though he still operates the Paul Harney executive golf course in East Falmouth, which he developed in 1972 on 65 acres of woodland off Route 151.
Harney is not a born-again family man. His devotion to his family has been the simple pattern of his life. His passion for golf has always come second to his responsibilities at home. Amazing as it may seem in hindsight, Harney amassed nearly half of his Hall of Fame credentials as a part-time player.
At the top of his game, at age 33—having finished in the Top 10 in earnings in four of the previous eight years—Harney got off the PGA merry-go-round. By then, he and Patti had three of their six children.
“When Patti and I got married I vowed to quit playing full time when our first child started school,'' Harney recalls."In 1963, I got a club job, and I have no regrets.'' His days of playing 45 tournaments a year came to an end, but the best was yet to come.
That very June, Harney was inducted into the Holy Cross Varsity Club Hall of Fame. That honor was posited on his splendid college record of 52-4 while serving as the Crusaders' captain and on his professional accomplishments.
That same month, his 12-foot putt stopped two inches short of the 18th cup at The Country Club in Brookline. By a single stroke Harney missed entry into the historic 1963 U.S. Open playoff—a showdown won by Julius Boros over Arnie Palmer and Jackie Cupit.
Part-time Paul, a willowy 5-foot-10-inch athlete with premature streaks of graying hair, won the L.A. Open back-to-back in 1964-65, until then a feat accomplished only by Ben Hogan. In 1964, he finished fifth in the Masters, marking the fourth time he cracked the top eight in that major.
After serving as club pro at California's Sunset Oak, Harney headed home to Pleasant Valley Country Club, which became a tour stop in Sutton in the outskirts of Worcester. He enticed his pal Hogan, still a top-drawing card at 52, to grace Pleasant Valley's first PGA tournament, the 1965 Carling Open.
He would sharpen his skills hitting golf balls into a net in his garage, then squeeze in a few months on tour before PV would open in the late spring.
“The family station wagon was dad's office. We'd all jump in the car and go to work with him,'' recalls his son Mike, the head pro at his dad's course and still regionally competitive at 38. Daughter Erin Abbott is the club's general manager.
Harney would put 10,000 miles on his car driving to events with his family. In 1971 he finished in the money in 14 of the 15 PGA tournaments he entered, earning a total of $40,316.
In 1972, he capped his playing career winning the San Diego Open, his seventh PGA tour victory—the best record among golfers hailing from Massachusetts. In San Diego, Harney had his largest payday—$30,000. For his PGA career he earned $361,884, and on the senior tour, he won another $436,063.
Truly, Harney walked fairways with the kings of the game. In 1960, on the final day of the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, he played the final 36 holes with Palmer. Under enormous pressure, Hogan, at age 47, hit 35 of 36 greens in regulation only to see his second shot of the last hole backspin off the green. Palmer's afternoon 65 won that Open and Jack Nicklaus finished second.
“Ben Hogan was my hero. And, I suppose, every golfer's hero'' Harney would later remark.
In 1974, Harney was heralded as"PGA Golf Professional of the Year." In 1996, he became the first inductee into the New England Hall of Fame (he won all five Massachusetts Opens he entered).
This past Sept. 8, Harney was enshrined into the PGA Golf Professional Hall of Fame. He chose not to attend.
“That's the highlight of my career. I'm flabbergasted," he told Bill Doyle, who wrote a wonderful profile on Harney in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Sometimes defeats lend insight into greatness. Harney lost all four playoffs of his PGA career—three to the legendary Palmer and a fourth to"Champagne Tony" Lema.
Harney spends most of his time at his Cape Cod home and some time hibernating in Florida. Typically, he shows up at his pro shop six days a week at 7:30 a.m., after Mass. He enjoys chatting with dear old friends who stop by, folks like Steve Kelleher, a retired judge who is Harney's Worcester Classical High and Holy Cross classmate.
He talks some golf but isn't mired in the past. His San Diego Open silver bowl trophy sits on his pro-shop counter, filled with tees for sale. He'd rather talk about his kids—Chris '80, Tim, Mike, Anne Marie, Erin and Helene '88—and his grandchildren. Or how his wife, Patti, can hit a golf ball from either the left or right side.
He returns on rare occasions to Worcester and Holy Cross, where he was a four-year dayhop on academic scholarship. He comes back to visit relatives or his old golfing buddies, Frs. John Brooks, Francis Miller and Earle Markey—the Holy Trinity of the Links.
Memories of great shots fade, he says. But he doesn't forget people who were kind to him. Guys like Walter Cosgrove, who would let him play the Green Hill Municipal Golf Course for free. Or his College coach, Charles Donnelly. Or his Holy Cross Hall of Fame golfing mentor, Gerry Anderson '38. Or his newspaper pal, Paul Johnson. Or friend, Bob Nanoff, who would always pick him up at the airport.
“I've been lucky," Harney says."Holy Cross gave me a tremendous education and the Jesuits gave me a good perspective. Patti gave me six terrific children, and now we have 14 grandkids."
What Harney has given us is a shining example of what is a fading virtue—true humility embodied in athletic immortality.
John W. Gearan '65, was an award-winning reporter and columnist at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 36 years. He resides in Woonsocket, R.I., with his wife, Karen Maguire, and their daughter, Molly.