His contemporaries thought of him as the greatest scrambler of all time. One of them told a Long Island Star Journal writer that “Farrell had a penchant for coming out of the most terrible places, never hit a green and could sink putts from anywhere. I vividly recall Farrell playing with me at Wykagyl in the Met Open and he dropped a 12-foot putt to beat out Bob Cruickshank. And that 12-footer was the shortest putt, by far, Johnny dropped all day. In the final round, he hit only one green but was par for the round.”
Byron Nelson remembered the rhythm in Farrell’s swing: he told a writer from the Boston Globe that Farrell “had a very rhythmic swing, back and through—kind of like an old rocking chair.” Farrell always said he developed his rhythm from his days playing with hickory shafted clubs, such as those he used during the 1927 winning streak.
The Teacher & Media Pioneer
While Farrell came to Baltusrol to teach, he did not give up competitive golf altogether. He played in dozens, if not hundreds, of local Met, NJPGA and NJSGA events, and even some nearby PGA events. He won the 1936 New Jersey State Open at Crestmont Country Club. But for the most part he wanted to be home with his growing family. He knew he could not be successful on both the Tour and the lesson tee, and as he told Harry Grayson, a syndicated golf writer, “I used to laugh off the alibis of teaching professionals when they failed to score well in open tournaments as a lot of baloney, but I’ve learned to my mistakes since I quit freelancing and took up serious teaching at Baltusrol. They were right. It’s almost impossible to give lessons all day and still make a good competitive showing against men who do nothing but play in tournaments.” He went on to say that a golf teacher’s game is “rusted at the hinges” and that “he lacks that nice judgment of distance and sensitive touch that comes from constant competition.”
Farrell worked hard to become a star teacher, as he had worked earlier to become a star tournament golfer. And apparently, he took a lead in the development of a members’ golf program at Baltusrol. He took an early position in promoting junior golf at Baltusrol and it was reported to the Board in the summer of 1935 that “the golf professional had arranged classes for children between the ages of 10 and 18 years and it was resolved that children of Golf members may attend these classes without obtaining links privileges.” A few current Baltusrolians took lessons from Farrell. They recall that he spent hours on the practice tee, was happy to take on all comers as students, and treated all with unfailing charm, courtesy and gentlemanly bearing. His central message was “rhythm, tempo, pay a lot attention to your grip, and get your left hip out of the way of the swing” according to Larry Carpenter. If Farrell had a mantra, it was rhythm. Carpenter recalls that when he was hitting balls on the practice tee, Farrell would watch and whistle a waltz tune (was it the Merry Widow Waltz?). Farrell would constantly check his grip and always followed up with Carpenter and all of his students when he saw them next. None of the people to whom I spoke, and few of the writers, ever failed to mention Farrell’s courtesy and charm.
Farrell had already become a noted teacher during his days at Quaker Ridge, and his fame as a teacher continued to spread beyond the limits of Baltusrol’s practice tee. Over the years, he taught golf to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon and Ford, as well as to the likes of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Ed Sullivan, Douglas Fairbanks, and the Duke of Windsor. One suspects that most of these celebrities visited Farrell at the Country Club of Florida, where he became the golf professional in 1957, but we know that at least the Duke of Windsor, Bob Hope, and Bing Crosby came often to Baltusrol.
Farrell participated in a number of instructional films for RKO and Pathé during the 1930s, and in 1951 he wrote a golf instruction book called If I Were in Your Golf Shoes. He hosted the first golf instruction program on television in the early 1950s, called Swing into Sports. The theme music for the show was the Merry Widow Waltz, that favorite rhythmic tune of his. One episode featured a discussion with Joe DiMaggio on the similarities and differences between the golf swing and the baseball swing.
The writers were always welcome in Farrell’s golf shop. He was happy to talk to them about the swing, both early in his career as a Tour player and when he was at Baltusrol. Because many of his writer friends had syndicated columns, Farrell’s tips appeared in dozens of columns all over the country. And these pieces often began with the phrase “Johnny Farrell of Baltusrol.”
“Johnny is a classy guy and he has a classy swing,” Mike Turnesa said after Farrell’s eight win streak ended in 1927. That thought was echoed hundreds of times over many years by dozens of writers—and by today’s Baltusrol members who remember him. The writers always seemed to add an adjective or two when they mentioned Farrell’s name, rarely just writing ‘Farrell said this or that’ but instead writing something like ‘the ever-genial (or cordial, suave, pleasant, charming, courteous, etc.) Johnny Farrell.’ He seemed to be able to converse as easily and comfortably with a President as with a teenaged student. He was, one suspects, the Arnold Palmer of his day, or perhaps Arnold Palmer was the Johnny Farrell of his day.