Known to many as the first Black professional golfer in professional golf, Bob Poole hit the accelerator when he turned pro and went on to win 32 PGA Tour events. He has been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. A memoir, titled “The Bob Poole Story,” was published last year. The Tribune spoke with Poole about his exploits on the golf course, the upcoming 61st anniversary of the RFK Stadium bombing and the path of athletic history.
How did you become interested in golf?
I started when I was five, playing in our neighborhood. I was introduced to the sport by my father in high school. In fact, his son was on our team. He convinced me, who had no desire at the time, that it would be a good way to make a living and meet girls. I soon discovered that it was far more fun than those silly cars my dad was driving.
Who would you like to meet golfers today?
My challenge right now is to the majority of 16- and 17-year-olds that I played against a generation ago. They are hooked on their smartphones. I just played a PGA event in Boston in which I was happy to see that many of the pre-teens had their phone out and playing it.
Describe the effects of racism in golf today?
We have come a long way since the 1960s. Once, it wasn’t hard to find a golf course that didn’t have a set of steep hills right by the tees. I was on a tour that was only open to White golfers and yet I wasn’t allowed to walk the ninth hole, which is a 600-yard par 5, without a caddie, and even longer in local tournaments. There were a few exceptions. My home club in Indiana had a completely catered operation. So, we were an exception.
How did you come to play golf?
I used to be a track and field athlete in high school. In fact, I even won the Midwest college track championship. As a matter of fact, it was voted the best high school track meet in the nation. But I needed to make a living so I had to turn to golf.
You were inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame at 51. What motivates you on the golf course?
I love golf. It is the way to beat the game. Try something new, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day. Just try and get a lot of birdies.
You were also a long-time Maryland legislator. How would you compare your experiences as a golfer and an elected official?
While in a golf cart, I once thought to myself that one of the major differences between politicians and business executives is that people who govern pay the ultimate price for their decisions.
How has the RFK Stadium bombing impacted you?
When I drove up on the scene of the bombing of the Presidio on Sept. 13, 1961, it wasn’t until a firefighter named Dan first drew back his firetruck and gave a thumbs up to a journalist that I realized this is exactly what we did on Sept. 11 in 2001. At the end of 1963, I again drove to the scene of a bombing in Chicago. This time, I drove behind the president, stating to the guy on the other side of the street, “I’m here.” The next day I was a general in the Army and went to meet with the CEOs and the unions.
What is the biggest different between your sport and politics?
My days as a player were beautiful. They were really happy times. I got to do what I wanted to do. I was rewarded with a 4-year vacation, and then, a month later, a tour win, and then, another week later, another win. But, I was able to focus on how I was going to run my business and receive the best financial services possible. In Washington, being an elected official was more challenging. As a golfer, you never had time to think about what you are going to do next year. In politics, your life has only one clock, and that’s daily. As a golf player, you also don’t have worries about future political situations or the political landscape of the country.