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September 27, 2012

Truth & Rumors: Al Capone was Chicago's most notorious golfer

Posted at 10:32 AM by Mark Dee | Categories: Ryder Cup, Truth & Rumors

All week you'll hear that Chicago is a notoriously rowdy sports town. So, it should be no surprise to hear that one of the cities most notorious ex-residents, Al Capone, was one seriously rowdy golfer.

According to a CNN.com story that is partly based on a 1972 Sports Illustrated story written by Capone's former caddie, Scarface himself would have loved to see the Ryder Cup rolling into his hometown this weekend. He was a terrible golfer, but his $500-a-hole matches with other superbly nicknamed gangsters, including "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, Fred "The Killer" Burke and Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the game's finer points:

[Former caddy Tim] Sullivan paints a picture of wild, booze-fuelled matches where cheats prospered and arguments frequently spilled over into violence.

There was the time Capone accidentally shot himself in the foot by setting off a revolver in his golf bag as he rummaged for a club.

And the time Guzik, maddened by his inability to escape a bunker, ran after Sullivan wielding his driver and ready to use it. This was golf the way gangsters play it, with etiquette very much afterthought.

"There was a crazy game called Blind Robin," Sullivan wrote.

"One guy would stretch out flat on his back, shut his eyes tight, and let the others tee off from his chin. They used a putter and swung slow and careful. Otherwise they would have smashed the guy's face. On the putting greens they'd throw down their pistol holders -- clunk - and hold a wrestling match."

Eventually, Capone's foursome broke up in the usual way: Fred "The Killer" Burke went to prison in 1931 for the murder of a police officer, and "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn -- the best stick in the group -- was assassinated in 1936. Capone's own golf career was derailed by tax evasion, and neurosyphilis.

Still, if he were around Chicago this week, we'd bet on the U.S. and urge the Euros to pack heat alongside their putters, just in case.

Related: Caddying For A Man Who Never Shot Par, Sports Illustrated (Nov. 6, 1972)

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