The 18-hole Hustle

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Today word occasionally filters out of a big-money match. The basketball superstar Michael Jordan once admitted to writing a $57,000 check to pay off a golf gambling debt, and the poker champion Doyle Brunson not long ago got involved in a game with an $80,000 Nassau (see sidebar). After all, gambling in golf will be a constant. But the days of the big-time hustlers are gone. “I’m sure there’s someone out there doing it,” says Ivan Smith, a former touring pro. “But the whole scene is long past. Ninety-five percent of the high-stakes gambling going on in this country is strictly millionaire to millionaire.”

The fact is most good golfers can now earn a living playing professionally. “The hustlers were bigger back then because there was more money in hustling than playing pro golf,” Smith says. Today a player on one of the satellite tours can earn more than most players on the main tour did 30 years ago. Golf, says Smith, has lost its edge. The game has become safe and predictable. It is, Smith says, all “briefcases and cell phones.”