Willie Drop passed away the other day. Oh, you maybe know him by his given name of Joe August. But for a time in the Marines, Joe, an amateur boxer, was kidded by his friends who gave him the nom de ring Willie Drop.
Joe died after living a year or two too long and suffering the indignities of old age, indignities far too severe for my friend.
I asked him a few years ago for his greatest memory in a lifetime of sport, most of it spent as a golf club professional at Elmwood Country Club in Marshalltown, where he stayed for 33 years before he retired.
Other than his election as an initial honoree for the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame, Joe's greatest memory was of an aging Babe Ruth, swatting batting practice pitches out of old Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
As an 18-year old, Joe had been invited to a Brooklyn Dodger rookie camp and was transfixed by the sight of an aging Babe shipping air mail deliveries to the outfield seats in batting practice. To a someone hoping for a chance at the big leagues, the sight of the 60-year-old Babe swatting flies into the empty outfield seats created a lifetime memory for a green kid to whom the Bambino was only a headline.
Joe later became a minor leaguer in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system but it was only a prelude to his real life in golf.
Joe came by golf indirectly. He began as a six- or seven-year old kid in Chicago shagging golf balls for Leo Durocher and Ducky Medwick whenever the St. Louis Cardinals' Gashouse Gang came to play the Cubs, mixing in some golf when they had time off.
After his stint in the Marines where he played a little golf and boxed some, Joe went to work as an assistant at Olympia Fields Country Club in Chicago. From there, he spent time as an assistant in Minneapolis before coming to Marshalltown in 1952.
Joe stayed at Elmwood Country Club in Marshalltown for 33 years before his retirement. He was elected a charter member of the Iowa Golf Hall of Fame in 1989.
At Elmwood, Joe boosted the Elmwood Best Ball into a very big amateur tournament, drawing such future PGA Tour players as Jim Colbert, Jim Jamieson, Jack Rule and Lonnie Nielsen, as well as leading amateur players from all over the Midwest. Joe later became a national vice president of the Professional Golfers of America.
In addition, Joe kept the caddie program going at Elmwood until everyone insisted on golf carts.
A couple of years ago, I went up to Colbert at the Principal Charity Classic, a PGA Champions Tour event in Des Moines, and asked him to sign a golf ball. He resisted until I told him it was for Joe August, the retired pro at Elmwood in Marshalltown.
"Oh," he brightened up. "How is Joe?" I told him about his health problems and he said he would happily sign a ball for him. In addition he wrote a little note (as much he could get on a golf ball) and recalled playing in the Best Ball, and that the trophy for winning had been lost in a country club fire.
Colbert, the guest pro a few years ago at Elmwood's Lennox Pro-Am, received a duplicate trophy for his trophy case.
Most of that is stuff you can find anywhere but, as a friend for 45 years, here is some stuff you didn't know.
Joe had a weakness for ice cream and slow horses.
Joe loved the horse races and the dog races. Not because he did well betting on the animals or was a big bettor but because of the action. Joe and I had the biggest score of our lives one day at the old Ak-Sar-Ben race track in Omaha. We had wandered down to the paddock before the first race and struck up a conversation with another horse player. He mentioned that one of the horses was a half-brother to a very good horse whose name I forget.
A couple of suckers for "hot" information, Joe and I made a $2 bet to win on the horse-it won and paid $86 or something like it to win. Naturally, that wasn't good enough. We whined all day about not tying up the horse in the daily double, not betting $5 to win and so on. We were afraid to go back to the paddock for another tip for fear our tout would demand a part of the winnings for his help, a notorious trick of race track touts who would give everyone a different horse in each race.
The rest of Joe's betting life was spent trying to duplicate that big win. He would tie up the favorite in the dog races with two or three long shots in the exacta, not bothering to buy tickets putting the favorite second along with the long shots to win, just in case. Joe's weakness was that he couldn't pass up a race. Even for a $2 bettor, that's a killer.
Most cases of disappointment (and happiness) were salved by ice cream, Joe's favorite food. At his retirement from Elmwood, he and his wife Juanita were given a refrigerator that made ice cream so he would never have to go without. No matter where we went to play golf (or the horses or the dogs) we would stop for ice cream-Whitey's in the Quad Cities, Birdsall's in Mason City, the gas station off the interstate at the Kellogg exit.
Joe was a fine Italian lad but he never (to my knowledge) took a drink, not even a glass of Dago Red.
One time, Joe and I played golf with a couple of Elmwood's more sporting members, starting out at $2 a point with automatic 2-down presses. We got together before the match, since Joe and I were on opposite sides, and agreed that the game was too rich for us and we would play for a quarter a point with no presses. As it turned out we had to play an emergency nine holes to try to get the game even because the first 18 ended with my big-betting partner up $256 and us playing for $128 a point, a potential loss of $256 a hole. My partner ended up winning $512 and I sweated for days before owning up that Joe and I were only playing for quarters.
Sadly, Josie never recovered from a quadruple bypass and spent most of his later years at the Iowa Veterans Home, where he played the last hole of his round Saturday.