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High-Stakes Golf And Why Doyle Brunson Is The Man

by Mike Sexton |  Published: Oct 21, 2020


Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from Mike Sexton’s Inside Professional Poker column, originally published Sept. 4, 1998 in Vol. 11, Issue No. 18 of Card Player Magazine.

Most high-stakes poker players love to play golf. Golf is the kind of game that provides those who are inclined an opportunity to gamble, something that most high-stakes players love to do. By spotting someone strokes or yardage, limiting the number of clubs that one player may use, or playing some type of scramble (hitting two balls and playing the best one), handicapping in golf can equalize any gap in skill level.

Poker players certainly are not golf purists. They don’t play golf for fun, and most of the time, they don’t care about golf rules. They prefer “gamblers’ rules” (which means that you can never touch your ball until you reach the green, otherwise it’s a one-stroke penalty). Gamblers’ rules are simple and eliminate any arguments that might come up about rulings (such as casual water, where to drop from a cart path, and so on).

You would be amazed at the amount of money wagered by poker players on golf, and the unusual bets that are made (mostly during a poker game). For example, former world champion Huck Seed recently bet $25,000 that he could shoot an 18-hole golf score of less than 100 four times in one day, but he had to do it with a 5-iron, wedge, and a putter, and he had to do it on foot in Las Vegas, where the temperature was higher than 110 degrees every day. He could play as many rounds as he wanted, but if he started a round, he had to finish 18 holes.

He shot 100 in his first round, but bounced back with scores of 97, 96, 93, and 92 to win the bet. He started at 6 a.m. and finished in near darkness, sprinting around the course like a young antelope.

Golf stories abound in the poker world. My all-time favorite is about Stu Ungar. Ungar grew up in New York and had never seen a golf course until he won the world poker title in 1980. Hall of Famer Jack Strauss had convinced Ungar that all of the action was on the golf course, and that’s where he needed to be. So, Jack took Stuey to the golf course, explaining to him that before he could gamble at golf, he had to hit some balls and practice some.

He then led Ungar to the putting green. Within three hours, Stu had lost $80,000 to Strauss. Do you think that in the history of the United States, anyone has ever lost $80,000 the first time they ever went to a golf course (and on the putting green, to boot)?

I recently was involved in a big golf match. During a tournament at this year’s WSOP, a match was made (scheduled to be played two months later) in which Doyle Brunson and I were going to play Huck Seed and Howard Lederer.

We were playing the scramble from the red tees (ladies) and they were playing from the blue tees (championship). The original bet was a $20,000 NASSAU (front nine, back nine, and total) with one automatic press a side, which means that it would be possible to win or lose five ways. It grew to be well over a $100,000 NASSAU by game day, as Doyle had accepted all wagers from anyone wanting to be against us. The match drew quite a gallery, and garnered a lot of action. The ‘sweaters’ certainly got their money’s worth, as the match could have gone either way.

Brunson has been ‘The Man’ in the poker world (and in the gambling world) for 25 years. He has so much heart. He thrives on challenges and really wanted to shoot down the young lions. Ailing from shoulder and hip operations, bad knees he could barely walk on, crutches he needed to get from the cart to the greens, fatigue, soreness, and the scorching heat of the hottest day in summer, he made a putt of about 45 feet on the 16th hole to turn the momentum our way. We luckily ended up winning two bets in a very close match.

It was a very memorable day for me, and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Doyle Brunson is still ‘The Man!’ ♠