Ray Hague was his name and golf was his game.
When Ray swashbuckled his way into McPherson in 1985, it began an era of golf in this town the likes never seen before.
I can remember the first time Ray showed up at Rolling Acres looking for a game. Nobody knew anything about him, but it didn’t take long to see that he played a game the rest of us were unaccustomed to. You just didn’t see rounds in the mid- to high-60s shot that often, but he made it commonplace.
Having played junior college golf for two years, I went up against some of the best golfers from Kansas. Back in the mid-to-late 1970s, junior college golf was at its apex, with many of the players still having success today in the Kansas senior’s division.
But they didn’t have a game like Ray’s. He wasn’t a big guy at all, but had tremendous power. He generally drove the ball at least 30 to 40 yards past the rest of the group and inside 100 yards, nobody was better. He had this old wedge that he handled like a magician and if he didn’t get his shot inside 10 feet, he would be disappointed. His putting, like everybody’s, would come and go, but when he had the flat stick singing, he could rattle off birdies in bunches. I swear if he would have given his full attention to golf in his early 20s, he had the talent to play at the professional level, he was that good.
Ray won the McPherson City Golf Tournament on his very first try in 1985 and for the next 20-plus years, he was the favorite going in every time. He wound up winning the championship a record nine times, while finishing second five times. He is the only McPherson golfer to win the championship four years in a row, most of the time by comfortable margins.
For me, playing with Ray was somewhat intimidating. He hit the ball so well and was so confident, he seemed to have an edge mentally before we ever started. Even on his off days, it seemed like he was hardly over par.
Ironically, his last individual championship came in 2007. He had to win a one-hole playoff from none other than myself, and before we ever started the extra session, he said, “Why don’t you just go ahead and take it? I know you haven’t won before and it would mean a lot to you.”
As you would expect on the first playoff hole at McPherson Country Club, Ray stuck his legendary wedge within a couple of feet. I had to try and make birdie and gunned it past the hole, missing the par putt coming back. Ray didn’t make his short putt, but his par was good enough to win. He was almost apologetic for winning, because we both knew it probably would be the last time I had a good chance given my advanced age. He always called me “the best golfer in McPherson never to win a major.”
Just as impressive was his record in the two-man division. Ray won the title 11 times and he accomplished that with seven different partners -- Cliff Hawkes, the late Mike Lundy, Willie Johnson, Jeff Warren, Dick Johnson, Mark Wash and his son, Nick. I can remember well when he won the title in 2003 with Nick, as he told me it was the proudest moment of his golfing career. And when Nick won the individual title in 2006, Ray again was the proud papa, as they’re the only father-son duo to win individual titles.
Ray also liked to play in numerous tournaments in the area. Ray, myself and Harvey Nelson would load up and play in various three-man scramble events in the area, such as Sterling, Hillsboro and Marion. He also would go to Beloit and Russell, where he generally contended for the championship.
I asked Ray why he didn’t ever compete in the Kansas Amateur, as he had the talent to play with the best. He liked to play in tournaments where stipends were attached and the Amateur never really appealed to him.
Ray moved away a few years back, and I had lost touch with him. That’s why it was such a shock when the news of his passing earlier this week was announced. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, as he left us much too soon at the age of 58.