I was talking to Dave Rovick, he of the hockey-playing Rovicks, by phone on Sunday morning. Dave was a member of the 1959-60 Gophers and I was attempting to confirm a tale that an e-mailer passed along concerning Red Berenson's first seres as a Michigan star at the old Williams Arena in February 1960.
Dave wasn't certain enough for me to go with the alleged details of Berenson's interaction with the Gophers faithful. Rovick did make this request:
"Do you have a copy of that column you wrote on Kenny Pinns?''
I said: "I'll find it in the Strib's electronic library and e-mail it to you.''
I found it -- May 23, 1995 was the date of publication -- and sent it along. And the yarns provided by Rovick back then on Pinns, golfer and gambler, might bring a few smiles on this cool Sunday afternoon, so here it is:
PINNS ALWAYS FOUND THE GREEN
James Kelley's Minnesota Golf, a history of tournament golf in this state, refers to three events as the "vacation circuit." They are the Birchmont at the Town and Country Club in Bemidji, the Resorters
at the Alexandria Golf Club and the Pine-to-Palm at the Detroit Country Club in Detroit Lakes.
The tradition has been for the tournaments to be held on consecutive weeks, opening with the Birchmont at the end of July, followed by the Resorters and then the Pine-to-Palm. Wealthy people would be spending that part of the summer in Minnesota's resort country. Their interest in golf and the large amount of expendable income caused Minnesota's vacation circuit to become famous for the size of its betting pools.
Such a pool is called a Calcutta. What happens is that a couple of rounds of medal play reduce the field to 32, or 64 players for match play, then the folks in the know gather for the auction. Bids are made according to the confidence the assembled group has in a player's ability to advance in the tournament. The tradition is for 40 percent of the Calcutta pool to go to the winner, 20 percent to the runner-up, 10 percent to the losing semifinalists and 5 percent to the losing quarterfinalists.
The heyday of the Calcuttas came with the prosperity following World War II and lasted into the late '60s, when law-enforcement officials became less tolerant of such betting pools. In the early '60s, the money available on the vacation circuit attracted a couple of gentlemen from Chicago - the elegant Kenny Pinns and Marty Stanovich, known affectionately as the Fat Man.
The plan was for Pinns and Stanovich to remain as anonymous as possible during medal-play qualifying, so pals working on their behalf could purchase them for a reasonable sum at the Calcutta.
On one occasion, Stanovich feared he was going to be the medalist, driving up his price at the auction. The Fat Man's solution? He intentionally snap-hooked his tee shot out of bounds.
Pinns lost his anonymity in 1962, when he won the Birchmont. In 1965, Kenny became the only player to sweep the vacation circuit. It would not be outlandish to estimate that the Calcuttas in Bemidji, Alexandria and Detroit Lakes totaled $100,000 that summer.
Pinns and his pals would have taken away $40,000, minus what it cost to purchase him at the auctions. Doug Pinns, Kenny's oldest son, was asked if his father had ever told him what his 1965 profits were in Minnesota.
"Yes, but I'm not going to tell you," Doug said.
Kenny Pinns, 71, is near death in a Chicago hospital. Three years ago, he underwent treatment for colon cancer. The cancer returned six months ago in the liver and lungs.
"I don't know where he is finding the strength to hang on," Doug said Monday. "The nurse said he should have been gone three days ago."
There is one possible answer: Kenny might have had a 50-buck bet with someone that he would make it through the weekend.
"I once saw Kenny bet a guy 50 bucks that, from 15 feet, he could toss a skeleton key into a door lock," Dave Rovick said. "I'm talking about one of those keys with the big teeth on it and an old-fashioned door lock. The bet was that, within three tosses, Kenny could make the key stick in the lock. On the second toss, the key hung there."
Pinns also would put a hat on one side of a hotel door, close it and then make this bet: He could sit in a chair, flip cards under the door and 50 percent of the cards would be in the hat.
"It had to be a door with at least a half-inch crack under it," Rovick said. "I saw Kenny flip 36 cards, open the door, and there were 27 in the hat."
Pinns was born in Aberdeen, S.D., and then his family moved to Minneapolis. Kenny lived on 38th and Bryant Av. until his high school years, when the family moved to a Chicago suburb. His father
was a guy who went to work every day, but the closest Kenny came to a regular job was playing semipro basketball for the Danville [Ill.] Gears in the years before the NBA.
Until it closed in the early '60s, Pinns and Stanovich were the resident amateurs at Tam O'Shanter in Chicago. Every day, they would take the members' money - first in golf, then playing cards.
Rovick was a couple of years out of the University of Minnesota when he met Pinns. "I met him at the Resorters, after he had won the Birchmont," Rovick said. "I was amazed by the guy. People would ask,
`What do you see in that guy?' I would say, `Mysticism.' "
After Pinns completed the sweep of the vacation circuit, he came to Minneapolis for a few days. "I invited him to stay at my house," Rovick said. "He discovered the `Friday Hustle' at Hiawatha. Without ever being on the course, Kenny made a bet he could shoot 67. Who would bet he is going to shoot 6-under? Kenny would, and then he did it."
Rovick visited Pinns a few times at his various winter hangouts in Florida. "One winter he was running the front-door service at Harrison's," Rovick said. "It was well known as a mob joint in Fort Lauderdale. Kenny would hire kids to park the cars, but he was always the guy who delivered the cars - to get the tips.
"During the day, he would play golf at Plantation. I met Big Al, the Shoe, the Rabbit, Rocky, all of Kenny's friends. He left me with Rocky one day and said: `Take care of him, Rock. Don't let him win or lose more than 50 bucks.'
"Rocky had muscles like a heavyweight champ and he was the greatest putter I ever saw. He said to me, `Minnesota? Do you hunt? Do you have dogs?' I answered yes and Rocky said, `I had dogs. They made a lot of noise. My neighbor poisoned them.'
"I said, `That's too bad.' And Rocky said, `Feel sorry for him. I burned down his house.' "
One of Pinns' semi-jobs involved being hired by the Chicago Teamsters. "He checked on golf properties that the Teamsters had invested in - made sure they weren't being cheated," Rovick said. "Kenny knew some of the boys, but he never crossed the line. If the conversation got too deep, the Rabbit would say, `Kenny, you better leave now,' and he would."
Pinns visited the Rovicks regularly in recent summers, staying for a week or a month. Several years back, Pinns and Rovick were paired in a small game vs. Mike Morley and Cal Simmons. They were
playing one low-ball and, with Kenny rolling in putts, the Pinns-Rovick pair went 3-3-3-2-3 over the last five holes at Interlachen.
"All you had to say about Kenny Pinns' game was that the ball was always going toward the hole," Rovick said.
And the other guy was always going for his wallet.