In one of golf’s most iconic photos, British greats Harry Vardon and Ted Ray flank American Francis Ouimet, the 20-year-old American amateur who had just beaten them in a playoff at the 1913 U.S. Open outside of Boston. All three are dressed in collared shirts, ties and jackets. Vardon and Ray also wear vests. Imagine playing a round of golf today in a three-piece suit.
Fast-forward 22 years to 1935 – the same time interval between Tiger Woods’ first and most recent Masters victories – and a photo taken of a foursome at an exhibition on Long Island. World Golf Hall of Famer Paul Runyan and prominent amateur Frank Strafaci (grandfather of reigning U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci) wear collared shirts and ties, still de riguer golf apparel, though they are jacketless. Babe Ruth – recently retired from his Hall of Fame baseball career – is outfitted in a button-down collarless shirt that barely contains his ample belly.
But it is the fourth member of the foursome, 22-year-old amateur Tommy Goodwin, who stands out. Goodwin appears as if he stepped back in time from 2020, looking like a contemporary of Tyler Strafaci.
Goodwin’s 6-foot-3 muscular frame towers over the others, including Ruth. He is conventionally handsome and smiles easily. Instead of a starched shirt and tie, Goodwin wears a V-neck sports shirt – not tucked in – that would be fashionable today. Around Goodwin’s neck is a slender necklace: 1930s bling, though he is a devout Catholic and at the end of the chain is a Virgin Mary medallion. Only the pipe he cradles in his hands would look out of place in the modern era.
Today, Tommy Goodwin is all but forgotten. But in his day, he was an excellent amateur whose exploits were reported in sports pages across the country. He also was one of the first prominent golfers who dressed for comfort and who was a colorful free spirit at a time when golfers mostly were a staid bunch. He wore what he wanted to on the golf course and let his hair grow past the nape of his neck long before it was fashionable, a forerunner to the 1950s beatniks and 1960s hippies.
Goodwin was born June 4, 1913, in New York City into a wealthy family. His preference for informal apparel may have come from his father, Budd Goodwin, who won a Gold Medal at the 1904 Olympic Games in water polo and is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Budd operated a day cruise business in Manhattan.
Little is known about Tommy’s formative years but from a young age he spent winters in Palm Beach, Florida. He also seemed destined for golf greatness. When he was only 17, he set a course record with a 67 at the Belvedere Country Club in West Palm Beach. In 1932, at 18, he won the Dixie Amateur – a top-flight tournament in Miami later won by the likes of Lanny Wadkins, Brandt Snedeker and Daniel Berger. That win came with an asterisk, as his scheduled opponent, 1928 British Amateur champion Philip Perkins, was unable to compete in the final after getting shot in the thigh at a nightclub holdup in the early morning hours before the match. (Perkins recovered, turned pro soon thereafter, and finished second to Gene Sarazen in the U.S. Open later in the year.)
Also, in 1932, Goodwin won the first of what would be four New York State Amateur championships.
In 1933, he repeated at the Dixie Amateur – this time without gunfire or other outside interference. Every January, many of the country’s top amateurs flocked to Florida for the winter season, including the Dixie Amateur, the Lake Worth Amateur and the Palm Beach Amateur. In 1934, Goodwin won seven consecutive Florida winter tournaments.
He advanced to the round of 16 at the 1935 U.S. Amateur, and won the New York Amateur a third time in 1936. He was mentioned as a possible candidate for the 1938 Walker Cup but was not selected.
Of course, Goodwin did not become the next Bobby Jones. In seven other appearances at the U.S. Amateur, he never advanced past the second round. The reason seems clear: golf was only one of Tommy’ interests. Largely freed of the need to work (he attended college at the University of Florida but did not graduate), he was a man of many pursuits. One was fishing. As a 14-year-old in 1927, it was reported he “achieved the distinction of landing the biggest shark of the season in Palm Beach … eight feet long and weighing about 500 pounds.” A December 1933 photo in the New York Daily News shows a shirtless, shaggy-haired Goodwin with a 550-pound shark he caught off the Florida coast. The story reports “Goodwin, though he fishes for many other species, makes a specialty of seeking the scavengers.”
Goodwin also had a fine baritone voice. In 1938, bandleader Ramon Ramos hired him to join his orchestra at La Conga in Manhattan after hearing him sing in the steam room at the New York Athletic Club. In January 1939, Goodwin was a featured soloist at the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, singing semi-classical tunes. He also befriended actor Errol Flynn. Because of his physical resemblance to Flynn, Goodwin worked as Flynn’s stand-in in several films in the 1930s and became a regular in the society pages of newspapers in New York and Palm Beach.
Journalist Dorothy Kilgallen noted in October 1940, after Goodwin won a tournament at Winged Foot Golf Club, that he was seen passing the silver cup he was awarded, filled with champagne, around his table at a Manhattan nightclub. In March 1942, Kilgallen observed “Tommy Goodwin, the handsome golf star, [is] attracting more feminine glances than all the movie glamor boys in the Broadway area.”
An avid sailor and adventurer, he scoured the ocean floor off of the Caribbean in search of shipwrecks, diving deep while equipped with just flippers and a mask. Just before World War II, Goodwin headed to the Bahamas in search of the Maravilla, a Spanish galleon laden with gold, silver and emeralds sunk in 1656. Tommy did not find treasure, but the mission was still a success. In Nassau, he and friends went to a sailing club to gamble. There, a beautiful young woman playing canasta caught his eye. She was Dorothy Thompson, whose family owned hotels and the famous Dirty Dick’s nightclub in Nassau. A blind date was arranged. Tommy and Dorothy fell in love and married in New York in December 1942.
Goodwin spent a good part of the rest of his life in the Bahamas, where he befriended and played golf with Clark Gable and later a young Sean Connery.
Dorothy and Tommy proved to be excellent partners, raising four children. Their oldest, Thomas Goodwin Jr., 76 – a blues guitarist who lives in Nassau – describes his mother as “an amazing seamstress.” With her husband’s input, she created a collarless see-through mesh shirt that would have been unacceptable if worn by a woman, decades before Adidas introduced mesh sportswear commercially. Alas, Tommy’s trademark mesh shirt did not catch on with other golfers. A 1951 photo shows Tommy sporting it (and his silver necklace) with Gable at the Nassau Country Club.
During WWII, Goodwin served in the U.S. Coast Guard, escorting troops across the Atlantic to the European theatre. He expected to work after the war for the family day cruise business. But upon his return he learned that his father had sold the venture to what became Circle Line Cruises, which operates to this day.
Tommy settled with Dorothy in the Bahamas. After his Coast Guard service, with his and his wife’s family wealth, it is said that Tommy never worked a day in his life.
According to Thomas Jr., his parents rented a house in Rye, New York, every summer. When not participating in tournaments, Tommy played at the Westchester Country Club. After completing his round, he and his friends retired to a room in the clubhouse for an evening of cards. His son states he was “a perfect gentleman and he never took advantage of any of [his competitor’s] weaknesses.”
Notwithstanding his numerous and varied interests, Goodwin was a prolific golfer. One Thursday in February 1938 he won a semifinal match in the South Florida Amateur at the Palm Beach Golf Club and the same day also won a semifinal match in the Palm Beach Invitational Mixed Foursomes tournament at Everglades. On Friday he handily won the final of the South Florida tournament before losing on Sunday in the mixed foursome. It is impossible to tally how many tournaments he won but it likely was in the hundreds, mostly in New York, Florida and the Bahamas.
… he was described as “the big white-clad ‘beachcomber,’” he wore yacht slippers. He explained he had just arrived in New York for the summer, that he had not worn shoes for months and had sore feet upon having to wear them. Goodwin won the tournament.
Unsurprisingly, given his large stature, Goodwin was exceptionally long off the tee. He had an unusual putting and chipping stance. He stooped over, gripping the club well down the shaft, and waited until the pendant on his necklace was still before pulling the club back. After the war, Goodwin was content to confine most of his tournament golf to New York and the Bahamas (he had an aversion to airplanes) but was more than capable of holding his own against the world’s best amateurs. In 1956, he won the Metropolitan Amateur championship by defeating former United States and British Amateur champion Willie Turnesa in the final at the Century Country Club in Purchase, New York.
Tommy’s insistence on dressing for comfort often defied country club norms. He wore white shorts when he could. At the 1953 New York State Amateur, where he was described as “the big white-clad ‘beachcomber,’” he wore yacht slippers. He explained he had just arrived in New York for the summer, that he had not worn shoes for months and had sore feet upon having to wear them. Goodwin won the tournament.
In addition to his long drives, his ruggedly handsome, bronzed features and strange attire attracted galleries. A newspaper reported at the 1957 New York Amateur, “At 43, the Rich Man’s Buccaneer is still THE drawing card. … The dames flock down any fairway boasting that massive brown frame, draped in a navy-blue fish-net that would give Jayne Mansfield pause, white tennis shoes, white walking shorts and waved mane of graying black locks. The male spectators rally round out of pure envy (or his golf game, maybe?).”
Goodwin generously gave his time to playing exhibitions, either to raise money for charity and/or to wager with the pros. In a 1948 exhibition in Nassau, he was paired with the great Babe Zaharias against a team of male pros that included PGA Tour stalwart Harold “Jug” McSpaden. Goodwin shot a 66 and his female partner 69 to win the match.
In 1956, also in the Bahamas, Goodwin and his friend, Sir Francis Francis (not a misprint) of England played a match against Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, raising money for a local orphanage.
While Goodwin was flamboyant and free-spirited, it would be a mistake to assume that he was frivolous or unprincipled. His son Thomas recalls the Hogan-Snead match. “I don’t know what the score was, but I do remember my father saying that he was disgusted with the language, attitude and profanity on the course,” stating his father’s ire was directed at Snead. “And that he thought the whole side of the game being professional was definitely not what he wanted.”
Thomas Jr. also recalls his father detested the golf carts that became prevalent toward the end of his career: “Dad used to say that the time in between shots, and the walk to the next hole, was good exercise and time to think about your next shot, not to be talking a bunch of nonsense and drinking beer.”
Goodwin was a fitness buff who ran two or three miles a day long before it became fashionable. However, paradoxically, was a heavy smoker, which was his downfall. In 1965, Goodwin was stricken with esophageal cancer. After a long, painful illness, he died on December 31, 1968, at age 55 after an otherwise happy, but too-short life.
The ever-present necklace he had worn going back to at least 1935 was buried with him on Long Island.
He might be long forgotten to most, but we can all thank Tommy Goodwin, in part, for the fact that we don’t wear neckties on the golf course anymore.
Top: Tommy Goodwin, Paul Runyan, Frank Strafaci and Babe Ruth before an exhibition match in 1935. Photo: Courtesy USGA museum
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