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WHAT TITANIC THOMPSON WOULD SAY
IF HE WERE HERE TODAY.
by Richard Campbell
I grew up, just a poor kid from Rogers, Arkansas.
But along the way, I also became known to a few people as Titanic Thompson, and lived pretty high on the hog in swank places such as New York City, San Francisco, Beverly Hills, and the like. I created the Titanic Thompson character because it gave me a chance to be someone else. To dress different. To get into the right places. And, to make some money, which I had precious little of growing up in rural Arkansas.
Thanks to the Grace of God, I was, in no special order, a gifted golfer. A pretty good pool player. The horseshoe throwing champion of the whole world, including Europe. The trap shooting champion of the state of Arizona. Regimental sharpshooting champion during World War I. An expert on figuring the mathematical probability on anything.
And, on occasion—in fact, on a lot of occasions—I was a high-stakes gambler.
The truth is, I made my reputation on the fact that I would bet any amount of money on my ability to do it, figure it out, or know when it was going to happen. And “it”, was sometimes anything you could imagine, but most of the time, things you couldn’t—but I could.
I was born with natural good looks, world-class physical skills and a real good brain, which I promised my Mama I wouldn’t ruin by drinking or smoking. And, I never broke my word to her. Not once.
And while it was true that in my life I did kill five men, it is the God’s truth that they all tried to either rob me, or kill me or someone close to me, like the pretty girl on that St. Francis riverboat when I was only about twenty.
But that’s another story.
Now, there have always been people—some even to this day—who will try to smear my name or my memory. Just to make some fast money, they make up bad things about me I never did or said. But you have to only reason on it for just awhile to understand.
Maybe I beat them out of a few bucks they were sure they would win from me. Or, maybe I beat their favorite golfer they were betting heavy on in a golf match for a whole lot...and I mean a whole lot of money. And so, they have and will, for their own purposes, tell you I was nothing more than a hustler, and say it like being a hustler was something bad. But the truth is, coming from where I did, I almost think of it as being a badge of courage.
You see, back in my heyday, the roaring 20’s, everyone was hustling everyone else. Every state, city, and street corner was filled with guys—from big city bankers, politicians and stockbrokers, to the shoeshine boy on the corner—hustling anyone within earshot, just trying to make a buck while the getting was good.
Sure, it was a different time. But the ingredients were the same as today. Greed, madness and appetites that can’t be satisfied.
But even with all this going on around me, I think I kept my head pretty damn good.
Back then, we had bigger-than-life athletes to hear and read about. Jack Dempsey. Red Grange. Babe Ruth. And, I related to them and associated with people like them because I always considered myself to be—first and foremost—a truly gifted athlete and a fierce competitor. Pure and simple.
Now, when it came to playing golf, I won hundreds of thousands of dollars by beating some pretty tough competitors. You probably never heard of most of them, or even me for that matter. But remember, playing high stakes golf back then—with millionaires betting on me or the other guy—wasn't exactly a lead story for the sports page in The New York Times.
And anyway, publicity like that, or any kind of publicity, was something I avoided like the plague. Something like that could really be bad for my business. So, publicity was the one thing I never wanted, needed or asked for.
So, we held those big money golf matches sort of under cover—at private country clubs. And, anyone will tell you that I was always willing to put my money where my mouth was, because with my own money on the line—like I said—I beat some pretty tough competitors back in my time.
Now, you need to understand one important thing. When I say ‘tough competitors’, I am talking about cold-blooded, cold-eyed, stare-you-down, walk-all-over-you and take every cent-you-got, type of competitors. Not those so-called sports heroes around today. Those goofy, toothy-grinnin', ‘please don't hurt my feelings or ask me to risk any of my own money’ guys, who are backed to the hilt with easy-come, easy-go endorsement money from those corporate money-making machines.
No sir! In my day, you laid your very own cash money down and you won or lost depending on whether or not you had the skill and the nerve.
And, not with tricks mind you, but straight up, I won a lot more than I lost.
And, I was able to do that because I out matched them mentally as well as physically.
The truth is, I really never met anyone as focused, and as gifted, and as determined as me to win on the golf course.
However, there might be one exception. And I will admit that I have some respect for a young golfer I knew, little Benny Hogan. And, I like to think I taught him a few things when we played together...but that’s another story, too.
Of course, whether it was high-stakes gambling, or golfing, or both all rolled up into one, as it usually was with me, if I was smart enough to misdirect the other guy's thinking, all the better. After all, that's what competition is all about, isn't it?
And believe me, when you’re playing for the kind of money I did—luck has nothing to do with it.
You need to know and really believe one last thing. Because it’s the God’s truth.
I never propositioned anybody, anywhere, who wasn't dead sure that he had me at a disadvantage.
And, even though I had every opportunity in the world, I made it a hard and fast rule never...absolutely never...to hustle some poor guy who might blow his brains out because he lost the money he was going to use to buy shoes for his kids.
No sir. I never did that.
Now I ask you. How many of those wealthy, so-called reputable, upstanding businessmen, who smile and sing their Amens at church on Sunday, and pay themselves a whole lot more than they are worth...can say that?”
© 2001-2014 by Richard Campbell
All rights reserved.
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