A few years back, a major golf wager came up among poker players during the World Series of Poker. It is my favorite Doyle Brunson story (for good reason).
During one of the tournaments, Doyle was seated at a table with high-stakes players Howard Lederer and Huck Seed. Those two had been playing a lot of golf at that time and were looking to get Doyle out on the course. Doyle said he would take me for a partner and play them in a scramble match (meaning that both players hit a shot and then play the best shot). The catch was that we would tee off from the red tees (ladies tees) and they would tee off from the blue tees at TPC Summerlin. They agreed.
The bet was a $20,000 nassau (a separate $20,000 bet on the front nine, back nine, and total) with one automatic press a side. By the way, Doyle was staking me to a freeroll in the match. The next day, Howard and Huck chided Doyle for taking the bet. Doyle said to them, “If you think you’ve got the nuts, double the bet to $40,000.” They did. “Game day” was set for 30 days after the WSOP.
What amazed me about Doyle making this bet was that neither he (in his 60s at the time) nor I had played any golf in several years. In addition, Doyle was on crutches from a knee operation and couldn’t walk without them. Now, Doyle is an action man, but without our having played in so long, it seemed like a pretty daring bet. But Doyle said he had forgotten more about golf than they would ever know. He didn’t see how they could overcome the tee advantage we enjoyed.
After the bet reached $40,000, Doyle said to me, “We better go out and see what we can shoot.” The next day, we went to the course and shot a 76, which is a horrible score when scrambling from the ladies tees. All the way around the course, Doyle kept saying, “I can’t believe we’re this bad. We stink. We’re gonna get killed. I’ve got to get out of this bet.”
So, he went back to the poker room the next day, and after playing for a while, he calmly asked Howard and Huck, “What do you guys want to do with this bet?”
They said, “What do you mean? We want to play.”
Doyle said, “Well, it’s going to be a close match, and my knee is bothering me. I don’t want to injure myself.” They responded that we had a bet and they wanted to play the match. At that point, Doyle threw his chest out at them and declared, “Well, I’ll tell you what. You can either double the bet or cancel it!” (You have to know Doyle to really appreciate this ploy.) Howard and Huck looked at each other and said, “OK. We’ll double it to $80,000!”
Doyle had bluffed and they had called. Turning to Plan B, I assured him that I could play poker online a lot better with some serious practice. I said I would go to Florida for two weeks and train with Harold Henning, a friend of mine who was playing on the Senior PGA Tour, but was off the following week. Doyle reached into his pocket, pulled out two $5,000 chips, flipped them to me, and said, “Go train.” Doyle knows how to take care of his men.
When I returned to Vegas, my game was as good as it was going to get. Doyle sent a man (who knew Howard’s and Huck’s game) out to the course to watch me play, and I played well. After the round, we went over to Doyle’s house to report in. Doyle asked him what he thought, and the guy said, “Doyle, you’ve got the nuts.”
Doyle nodded and said, “We’ve got the nuts, do we? Well, how much would you like to bet on us?”
The guy, who had never bet more than $500 on anything, answered, “I want to bet $5,000 on you.”
Hearing this, Doyle displayed a broad grin and lit up like a Christmas tree. He exclaimed, “That’s good enough for me!”
The next day, Doyle was back in the poker room and going into his act. “What do you guys want to do with this bet? It’s going to be a close match, it’s hot out there, and my knee hurts.” After saying they wanted to play, Doyle again declared, “Well, you can either double the bet or cancel it!” And they doubled it again — up to $160,000. “The Match” was on. It was now a situation in which you could win or lose $800,000 in one round of golf!
On game day, which turned out to be the hottest day of the summer, about 50 carts followed us around the course. It looked like a PGA Tour event. And what a show they saw. If only we’d been smart enough to film this event for television; it would have been exciting reality TV.
Doyle and I jumped out to a 2-up lead after four holes. On the fifth hole, we had about a 12-foot putt for birdie and they had a 40-footer. Howard missed, and then Huck drained it. Doyle and I both hit good putts, but they lipped out — one on one side, one on the other. Ouch! Instead of going 3-up on the original bet and 1-up on the press, and being in total command, we were now 1-up and 1-down (even), which is how we finished the front nine.
They birdied 10 and we birdied 11, and it stayed even until 15. There, Doyle and I made our only bogey of the day (on the shortest hole on the golf course) to go 1-down. On 16, we had about a 50-foot putt for birdie that broke about 10 feet to the left, and they had a 6-foot putt for birdie. Things didn’t look good.
I putted first and didn’t come close to making it. Then, Doyle stepped up and stroked it, and before it got halfway to the hole, he started screaming, “It’s in! It’s in!” Incredibly, the putt went in, and the crowd went crazy. (Forget about television, this should have been on the big screen!)
They made their birdie and were still 1-up on the back nine, but Doyle’s putt seemingly broke them down. We won 17 and 18 and ended up winning two bets for the day ($320,000). It was an amazing match that was anything but “the nuts”. I was quite pleased with the way I played. And Huck played terrific golf, the best of the group. Doyle, however, was still “the man.”
There are certain days in life that you put in a frame and hang on the wall. This was one of them.