Veteran Canadian golf journalist John Gordon, named this week to the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame, shares some thoughts on Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member Dan Halldorson, who died recently after suffering a stroke at the age of 63.
To remember Daniel Albert Halldorson as a taciturn golf pro from a bygone era would be as egregious as defining him by his politically incorrect quip that being the top Canadian in the Canadian Open “is like being the tallest midget.”
Neither by any means encapsulates a life cut short by a stroke Nov. 18 at the age of 63 in his home in Cambridge, Ill. He is survived by his wife Pat, children Mark and Angie, eight grandchildren, and his brother Ron. He was predeceased by his parents Daniel and Alice and his brother Ray.
Born April 2, 1952, in Brandon, Man., he was raised in Sandy Hook, Man., across the road from the Sandy Hook Golf Club where his father was the greenkeeper. The course’s owner, Pat Doyle, was Mr. Halldorson’s first golf instructor.
At the age of 19, after winning the 1970 Manitoba Junior Championship, he turned pro, choosing not to attend college.
He won twice on the PGA Tour, had seven Canadian Tour victories, was the only Canadian to win two World Cup team titles (1980 with Jim Nelford and 1985 with Dave Barr) and was named Canada’s top male touring professional in 1981 and 1983.
From 2005 to 2011, he served as deputy commissioner of the Canadian Tour. He is a member of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, the Manitoba Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. At the time of his death, he was the director of golf at Oak Island Resort in Virden, Man.
“He’ll be remembered as a champion,” Bill Paul, Golf Canada’s chief championship officer, told The Canadian Press. “And a champion is not always the trophies on the mantle at home. It’s that, but it’s more so what you did in the game and what you did to help grow the game, what you did to make it better. I saw Dan as someone that did that as a player, did that as an administrator and probably more importantly, what he did as a mentor.”
Joey Sindelar played many times with Mr. Halldorson during their days on the PGA Tour. From his home in New York State, Mr. Sindelar said, “Danny made it look so easy. If it was one of those times at a tournament when your swing had deserted you and Danny was on the range, you would stand behind him and get it figured out. He had a beautiful golf swing, so fully in control.”
But an outstanding tee-to-green game gets you only so far in golf. As has been truly said, putting is a game within the game. For the most part, that “control” did not extend to his putter, which was his Achilles heel.
And so it is that his PGA Tour record shows but a single official victory, the 1980 Pensacola Open, although it lists 28 top-10 finishes. He lost a four-way playoff at the 1981 Quad Cities Open to countryman Dave Barr. His win at the 1986 Deposit Guaranty Classic, at the time conducted the same week in April as The Masters, one of golf’s four majors, went into the books as an “unofficial” win.
The fact that he did not have the required two official victories that would have qualified him for a regular spot on the Champions Tour for players over the age of 50 was a source of frustration.
Although he moved to his wife’s hometown in Illinois when they married in 1983 after meeting at a PGA Tour event, he remained Canadian at heart. It was his years spent on the nomadic and hardscrabble Canadian Tour (now the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada) between PGA Tour stints that created and cemented his lifelong relationships.
He played fulltime in Canada when he didn’t have his PGA Tour card and, even when he did, he returned north occasionally in order to support the Canadian Tour. In all, he would win seven titles in Canada between 1971 and 1986, including the 1986 Canadian PGA Championship.
“We weren’t brothers in name, but we were in every other sense of the word,” says Scott Knapp, the dean of Saskatchewan golf professionals.
Mr. Knapp and Mr. Halldorson met at the 1975 Ontario Open, toured together for several seasons, and remained the closest of friends for 40 years. “He was just back in Canada after trying to make the PGA Tour. He knew he had to change his game in order to compete on the big tour and, even though it took him two years to do it, he did.”
With a hard, running draw, Mr. Halldorson was quickly acknowledged as one of the longest hitters in golf at the time. “The John Daly of his day,” according to longtime Canadian sportswriter Kent Gilchrist.
But after a couple of attempts to compete on the PGA Tour, he realized that he needed to reverse that right-to-left shot pattern in order to score more consistently. He returned home to work through that swing change on the Canadian Tour and then, in the mid-1970s, qualified for the PGA Tour where, off and on, he spent three decades.
And if the Canadian Tour did him some favours as he honed his revamped swing, he would return those with interest when he was deputy commissioner of the Canadian Tour. Not only did he help expand and enhance the tour but he mentored young players, some of whom now are PGA Tour stalwarts.
“The smartest thing I ever did was hire Dan,” said Rick Janes, who was the Tour’s commissioner. “He brought to that job the same incredible passion, determination, work ethic and attention to detail as he did to the only other job he really ever had, and that was playing golf at the highest level.”
Mr. Barr once said that, at his peak, Mr. Halldorson could “dissect a golf course” with his clubs. His dry and incisive sense of humour could do the same to unsuspecting victims. Mr. Knapp spoke for everyone who knew him well, calling Mr. Halldorson one of the funniest people he ever met.
Mr. Sindelar concurred: “It’s a very odd feeling to receive such terrible news but at the same time, I feel the beginning of a smile on my face. He was a wonderful guy. He always had that look on his face like he had something funny to say.”
When Mr. Halldorson was inside the ropes competing in a tournament, he was in his element as few others have been. When he was outside those physical ropes, he strung up a psychological version of them, intentionally keeping strangers at bay. When it came to the value of friends, as the old-time saying goes, he preferred a few $100 bills over a pocketful of twenties.
Even when he made it to the big time, he faithfully stuck to his small-town values. Ask anyone who really knew him and the descriptions repeat: Loyal, humble, a true and honest friend.
Take, for example, Carolanne Doig and her brothers, Cam and Todd. They own Seaforth Golf Course in the tiny town of the same name in southwestern Ontario. They had a special relationship with Mr. Halldorson for decades. Not only did he help Ms Doig launch a line of golf rain gear, but he headlined the club’s pro-am every summer pro bono.
During a short-lived foray into course architecture, he worked with Cam to revamp the course’s routing. When he was deputy commissioner of the Canadian Tour, he brought a Tour event to their homespun course. The Doigs were his kind of people.
“If people didn’t know who he was, they would never guess,” said Ms Doig. At 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, “he sure didn’t look like one of the world’s best players.”
Until, that is, you saw him hit a golf ball.