Column as I see’em …
Jim Hren found himself recalling his dad Bernie last week, and not just because Father’s Day was looming.
Bernie Hren was both a skilled carpenter and an accomplished golfer, talents that once posed a conflict. He earned a spot for the 1949 U.S. Open at Medinah in sectional qualifying, but couldn’t make the trip to Chicago.
“He was working on a house under construction overlooking the Narrows Bridge,” Jim Hren said. “There were seven kids to support. He didn’t go.”
The following year, Bernie Hren was presented with a sort of mulligan: He finished a U.S. Open qualifying round as the first alternate, then learned he’d scored a chance to compete at Merion Golf Club on the Tuesday night of tournament week.
Phil Mickelson’s return to Merion the other day was a nice human-interest story – he left after the practice round to attend his daughter’s eighth-grade graduation near San Diego – but it’s not as though Lefty’s travel schedule was brutal: Mickelson made the round trip between California and Philadelphia on the $40 million Gulfstream V jet he owns.
Last-minute air travel wasn’t so convenient in 1950.
“My dad had to fly cross-country in a prop plane,” Jim Hren said. “He played the course before he’d even seen it.”
Bernie Hren, not surprisingly, struggled during the first and last U.S. Open round of his life. His score of 88 assured that he wouldn’t make the cut, and Hren didn’t hang around to learn what he already knew.
“He left after one round,” Jim Hren said of his father, who died, shortly after turning 88, in 1994. “He never told me what he shot, never told me anything about playing in the U.S. Open.
“He didn’t like to lose.”
Jim Hren found that out during a Father and Son tournament in 1962.
“I was 22, and had a chance to beat him for the first time in my life,” he said. “On the 18th hole, I shot a bogey and he shot a birdie, and it was another 15 or 20 years before I finally beat him.”
A longtime teaching pro, Bernie Hren returned to the amateur ranks to participate in club tournaments. On those occasions he played for fun, bringing the moxie of a pool-room hustler to the first tee.
“He once bet an acquaintance $50 or $100 that he could win with two clubs – a putter and an eight-iron. He even spotted him a stroke,” said Hren. “The putter had a hickory shaft, and he used it as a driver.”
The guy realized he’d been hoodwinked when his opponent took his first swing with the hickory-shaft putter – and drove the ball beyond the green.
Those are the memories Jim Hren treasures on this Father’s Day, the year Bernie Hren would’ve turned 100. But he’s also proud that his dad played in the 1950 U.S. Open at Merion, where the legend of Ben Hogan was cemented in golf lore.
“Somebody told me about seeing a picture of Ben Hogan in a newspaper,” Hren said. “And standing right behind him? My father.”
• Today marks the fifth anniversary of the Seattle Mariners firing general manager Bill Bavasi, whose 2008 team had the dubious distinction of becoming the first club to lose 100 games with a $100 million payroll.
• Speaking of milestones, Saturday was the 75th anniversary of the second straight no-hitter Cincinnati’s Johnny Vander Meer threw in 1938. Vander Meer is not in the Hall of Fame – plagued by control issues, he lost more games than he won – but the late left-hander owns baseball’s most perpetually mentioned record:
Whenever a no-hitter is thrown, the discussion turns to Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters.
A duplication of Vander Meer’s achievement is not inconceivable. What’s inconceivable is the idea of a pitcher throwing three straight no-hitters.
Johnny Vander Meer’s record will never be broken. Cy Young’s career mark of 512 victories won’t be broken either, but when was the last time you thought about Cy Young’s record?
• The NBA is one strange pro sports league. Of the 12 head coaches fired since the conclusion of the regular season, six took teams to the playoffs, including Denver’s George Karl (whose Nuggets won a franchise-record 57 games) and Memphis’ Lionel Hollins (whose Grizzlies not only won a franchise-record 56 games, but reached the Western Conference finals).
What’s the deal? Do these organizations think coaches like Karl and Hollins grow on trees?
• Finally, a happy Father’s Day, wherever his irrepressible Irish spirt is, to my dearly departed dad.
He was a winner who always related to the losers, not just in sports, but in life. Coolest dude ever, even though he wasn’t able to hop on a $40 million Gulfstream V to attend my eighth-grade graduation.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com