Q&A with HOF Inductee Ken Tarling



Q: What was your initial response when you heard about the Hall of Fame announcement?
A: I was thrilled! A tremendous honour.  I’m honored that the committee would see my resume and my career fit for the Hall of Fame.  I will be joining a lot of my good friends.  People who I broke into the industry with and people who helped make me the Professional that I am. 
Q: What are some pivotal points in your career that you attribute to spring boarding you forward?
A: When I was eighteen years old, I went to a golf camp that Golf Ontario used to run for the top twenty juniors from the Ontario Junior Championship.  On this particular year they went to St. Andrew’s College in Aurora.  At this time I had aspirations of being a Head Professional.  My Head Professional growing up was George Louth, and I wanted to be like George.  
My teacher at the Golf Ontario camp was Sam Young and each night after we practiced  all morning and played a round in the afternoon he would ask me over dinner “It’s your time, what do you want to do?”  Some kids were in the game room or spending their free time doing whatever they wanted but I responded with, “I want to go hit balls!”  And he did too, so we did. While we were out there under the lights hitting balls into the soccer field, because there was no range, he would ask me what I wanted to be.  I said I wanted to be a Head Professional.  He offered some advice, and of course I was all ears.  “I think you should strive to play on the PGA Tour.”  He explained to me that I could always come back and pursue a Head Professional career after I had a playing career.  That was something that I had never really thought possible and after that conversation my mindset changed, and so did the direction I went in my career.
Q: How did your mindset change after that conversation?
A: Well I started to get serious.  Not that I wasn’t already serious, but I started to really focus.  I started thinking about going down to the States for school on a scholarship, which I had never done before, and then later on I started thinking about playing golf internationally.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: Well…I went to Southern Mississippi, but I didn’t stay long.  Believe it or not, the Head Professional job opened up at Twenty Valley and I got a call asking if I would come back to be the HP.  I figured I would work there and still go out and play the Tour.  As it turns out, the job had already been given away to Attila Becsy and he wanted to hire me as his Assistant.  
Now, Attila’s plan was that his Assistants would playoff every week and the winner would be allowed to go play in the Assistants tournament that week and the other would have to stay back in the shop and work.  So I asked him who the other assistant was and he said John White.  I thought to myself, I have never beat John White in one single round of golf…ever.  Not head-to-head, not in a tournament, not ever.  So I kind of panicked and decided to keep my Amateur status.  So, Whitey played all the Pro tournaments because there were no other Assistants, and I played all the Amateur tournaments I could get into.  It actually worked out pretty great.  We both played a lot.  It was fabulous for my development.
Q: It’s funny how that works, where did you go from there?
A: Well, I lived out of my car.  I took the seats out of my car and put a mattress back there.  I knew a guy near Grimsby where I grew up that owned a gas station and he gave me free gas, which is against the amateur rules by now I’m sure.  I would travel from Florida up the eastern coast to Ontario, through Ottawa to Windsor and Sudbury to Niagara.
I slept in my car most of the time.  I would set up a schedule for practice rounds, sleep in my car, shower at the club, and go play a practice round.  Then I would do it all again for the tournament.  Sleep in my car, shower at the club, go play.
Q: What were you driving?
A: I had a Ford Cougar XR7 with a 350 Cleveland engine which was a real gas guzzler.  It went about ten yards to the gallon.  I did that for a whole year.  
Q: You probably built quite a few memories in that car.
A: I remember playing in the North South Amateur at Pinehurst and I made the match play but lost eventually after twenty-two holes.  After the match I met Hank Haney there, he was the Head of Instruction at Pinehurst at the time, this is 1980.  He introduced me to Greg Gulka, who worked for Hank at the time.  This meeting proved to be an important one for me as I ended up working a lot with Hank throughout my career.  After dinner he and Greg asked me if they could give me a lift home and I said, “It’s alright, I’m just over there in the parking lot by Pinehurst #2.”  We got a good chuckle out of that but that’s the way it was for me back then.
Q: Who do you have to thank for the HOF announcement?
A: I couldn’t possibly be here without my family.  My wife and kids have made sacrifices beyond imagination.  We count pennies because I travel the world without a sponsor.  We live OUR lifestyle so that I can live THIS lifestyle.  I’m tremendously thankful.  My Mom and Dad too, my Mom bought me my first set of clubs, which were Hickory shaft I might add.  My Dad would drive me at 7AM to the golf course so I could practice, and then pick me up again at 9PM.  
I’ve also had a lot of friends who have helped me too.  This honour isn’t really about me.  Those people are the reason I am here.  A lot of the guys I owe this to are already in the HOF.  Gar Hamilton, Sam Young, Bob Breen, Moe (Norman), AB (Al Balding), George (Knudson) and Panny (Bob Panasik), these guys have had a tremendous impact on my career.  I played a lot with them, I took a lot of lessons, I would ask them about my swing, and how to get better.  I certainly wouldn’t be receiving this honour if it wasn’t for Michael Schurman who originally put my name forward for nomination.
You don’t go anywhere in this world without someone doing something for you.  I would be the last person in the world to be standing here saying, this is all about me and how great I am.  As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and there are a lot of influential and impactful people that have left their mark on my career.  This is a chance for me to reflect on and thank everybody else for their contribution; I look at it as an acknowledgment of all of the pieces working together.
My wife caddied for me when there was no such thing as females caddying.  Back in the early 80’s she travelled with me and carried that golf bag and we went all over the world.  I took a lot of heat back then, chauvinistically, “What are you doing? You’re making a girl carry that tour bag?”  My wife isn’t very big and those tour bags are huge.  She even knocked on doors of people, trying to line up sponsorship deals.  She was unbelievable.  I would call home later in my career when we had kids, and there could be a riot going on but she would assure me saying everything was calm and fine.  Who knows what happened as soon as the phone was hung up but I’m sure all hell would break loose.  My family sacrificed a lot for me to get where I am.
Q: How young were you when you got serious about playing?
A: When I was 14 years old I wasn’t playing much, I was a 28 handicap and there was a thing in those days at school when you could accept your marks before the final exam, if you were happy with them, and skip the exam.  I elected to do that, not because my marks were very good but I just wanted two extra weeks off to play golf. 
I shot 107 at Twenty Valley that week and I was really ticked.  So I went to the range and I told myself, “I’m not going back on the course until I have an idea what I am doing out here.”  For a month and a half, everyday, my dad would drive me to the golf course from Grimsby, drop me off and head to Hamilton to go to work.  I would hit balls all day, and in those days you hit your own balls and you went and picked them up.  After lunch I would hit balls until 6 o’clock at night when my Dad would go home, pick my mom up and come to the golf course to have dinner and play nine holes.  I would go back to the range when they were out playing and hit more balls until 9 o’clock at night when the sun was going down. I did that every single weekday for a month and a half.  The first round of golf I played at the end of July I shot 77.  I went from a 28 to a 10 handicap.  I still wasn’t very good but I was on a good path.  
Q: And then set your sights on the top?
A: I am very goal oriented person.  I had three goals when I was 14 years old.  I wanted to pay cash for my house and never have a mortgage, I wanted to own a Mercedes-Benz as my first car, and retire at 44, which I thought was appropriate because I was going to be a NHL hockey player and Gordie Howe was playing at 48, so if Gordie can play at 48 why couldn’t I play at 44.  My 14 year old goals weren’t necessarily the most realistic but as I grew older I set a goal and stuck to it.  After I left the tour to be with my family more, I promised myself I would get back onto the tour when I turned 50.  I should have gone back a few years earlier because I wasn’t quite good enough at 50 but I made it and now I’m here.  
Q: What would be a piece of advice you would give to a young Professional?
A: A person needs to understand their passion.  It’s one thing to say I really like golf, but if you understand your passion IS golf you will stay the course regardless of the circumstances.  It’s not always rosy, it’s primarily not rosy.  It’s what makes the rosy times so great.  Its understanding that with passion you will run the miles, you will lift the weights, you will do the training, you will hit the balls, you will take lessons, you will persevere in the worst of weather, you will make the yardage books, and you will do whatever it takes to be the best player you can be.  It’s very easy to stay in the house, sit at the computer, and let the day go by.  Once someone finds that passion and they stick to it, good things will happen.  I promise that.
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