Dale Tallon's passion for golf runs deep

By Dave Mitchell, Contributor

CHICAGO -- Someone once said Michael Dale Tallon is "arguably the greatest golfer ever to play in the NHL."

Just like in all sports, numbers don't lie. The Celebrity Players Tour ranked Tallon 18th on the 2002 money list, earning $29,025 and securing six top-20 finishes out of 10 starts during that season. His career winnings are an impressive $183,693. Last year, Tallon gave it his best shot trying to qualify for the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields outside Chicago, a country club he belonged to as a NHL player before being traded away to Pittsburgh.

The 52-year old Tallon, one-time All-Star, long time broadcaster and now assistant general manager for the Chicago Blackhawks, played 10 years in the NHL after being drafted second overall by the Vancouver Canucks in 1970. Three years later, Tallon was traded to Chicago, at the time a perennial powerhouse because of the likes of Bobby Hull, Stan Makita and Tony Esposito.

But Hull had recently departed for the World Hockey Association and the team needed a gun to try and fill the void as well as the opposing net. Talk about your high expectations. Tallon came to town wearing Hull's familiar number-9 for training camp and the first game of the '73-'74 season. Every time he hit the ice he was booed by the home crowd and quickly was allowed to switch to No. 19. The relationship warmed and soon he settled down in Chicago, golf clubs close at hand.

Perhaps his number should have been 18. Tallon says his passion for golf runs as deep as his passion for hockey.

"I started playing as a boy, near my home (400 miles north of Toronto)," says the plus 1.5 handicapper. "Both my parents played, and so did I."

So you can see, golf can hardly be called his second sport. His dad had the same passions playing "old time" pro hockey with the likes of Eddie Shore and playing plenty of golf.

Tallon swung his first golf club and his first hockey stick at about the same time. Weather was no friend to the golfer in his home town, one of the many Canadian bastions of perpetual winter. But he made the most of the long-daylight months of June, July and August, when he and his friends became familiar with a local nine holer.

Soon, he became an accomplished junior player, tuning his game up against the likes of future PGA players Dave Barr and Dan Halderson.

Just before pro hockey called, Tallon won the Canadian Junior title, and could have entertained a pro golf career had he not been drafted by Vancouver. In those days of poor pro hockey contracts, Tallon was not afraid to haul out the clubs, supplementing his income by playing on the Canadian PGA Tour. Tallon has been a PGA professional for the last 10 years and at his home course, Highland Park Country Club just north of the city, he ranks as the top scoring professional.

If you follow both sports at all, you know that many hockey players take their summer hacks on a course somewhere.

And some of them are pretty decent. While Tallon was partnered in the broadcast booth with play-by-play announcer Pat Foley, himself an eight-handicapper, he had a chance to tune up his golf game on road trips, providing the trips were early season, late season, or someplace warm. In fact, most of the courses he visited on the road were in California. But he's also quick to point out his native Ontario is among his favorite "tee up" destinations in the off season.

As for last year's efforts at making the U.S. Open field, Tallon will tell you qualifying for the Open sectional was one of the toughest things he's had to do in sports. He had been preparing for local qualifying all winter, playing a round on those warm weather road trips. Then when the Hawks' season ended, once again without the added time constraints of playoffs, he went to Florida to shape up for the big event. He credits his preparedness to a carefully crafted program, put together for him by two golfers, who also happened to be hockey fans.

"Every time we went to Dallas, I worked with Hank Haney and Steve Johnson," said Tallon, "They helped me immensely."

Then, once the season ended for the Hawks, Tallon headed for a month to Vero Beach, Fla. "I worked every day on conditioning and fundamentals," says Tallon. As he entered qualifying, he reported feeling strong, even with his hockey-souvenir artificial hip.

Tallon advanced to the U.S. Open sectional at North Shore Country Club after surviving a five-man playoff in local qualifying at Stonewall Orchard in Grayslake, Illinois. It was his plan to use the U.S. Open local as a tune-up for the June 5-8 PGA Senior Championship near Philadelphia. But plans changed, and he headed to Aronimink, for the next stage in Open qualifying where the following week he failed to qualify for the big dance. His 19-over par finish left him out of the running and tied with Arnold Palmer for 137th place.

Too bad.

Tallon was looking forward to returning to his former home course. "Olympia Fields is one of my favorites," he said. "You have to hit it long and straight. You have to work the ball, you can't just blast it." And he says with the new equipment available, he thought he would have a chance.

As for the obvious comparisons between the two sports, Tallon says golf and hockey are different but the same in some aspects.

"In golf you're out there by yourself. You put most expectations on yourself. At least in hockey, if you get frustrated, you can at least hit somebody."

As for the mechanics of the two games, Tallon says "I think it's body type. The angle of attack is similar and the weight shift is the same. Hockey players have strong hands, forearms and wrists. And we can play in the summer, which is important." But he adds, with a laugh, "The way we shoot on the ice translates into a bit of a slice on the golf course."

Also important, especially for the senior player, is staying in shape. Blackhawk Hall of Famer Stan Mikita, in his 60s, is still able to keep up with Tallon. The likes of Mario Lemieux, Dan Quinn and Jeremy Roenick are among the best nationally out on the links. Quinn attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open, too.

Tallon's biggest challenge in the coming season may be to forget serious golf. His new duties as assistant general manager for Chicago, a position he ascended to last November. The job will have him, no doubt, trying to figure out how to get his team to the playoffs or how to sign the next Bobby Hull, or maybe even the next Dale Tallon.

Did you know?

Dale Tallon plays all Titleist equipment...all irons, all woods, putter and plays a Titleist pro-v ball. The shot he's most proud of...long irons.

Dave Mitchell, Contributor

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