Ron Green Sr.: How Leon Crump, ‘the best money player in the world,’ came out on top

​Leon Crump (center) in 1999 at Eastwood Golf Course in Charlotte. Charlotte Observer file photo.

Editor’s note: This column originally published in The Charlotte Observer on Dec. 18, 2006.

I went looking for a legend the other day.

His name’s Leon Crump. Talk golf​ for a while at any course in the Carolinas and, sooner or later, his name will come up.

Those of you who bring up the name, or are fascinated by it, will be pleased to know ol’ Leon came out a winner.

He has played more ​golf than Arnold Palmer, probably somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 holes, 90 holes some days, most of them for money.

He has shot the outrageous score of 58 three times. He has played with everyone from five-and-dimers at ratty public courses to movie stars and famous golfers and notorious gamblers across the country. He has played crazy bets, such as hitting shots with a paper cup over the ball, and he has played in the U.S. Open. He has written a book, “Drive For Show, Putt For Dough” (HarperCollins).

Famous gambler Amarillo Slim called him “the best money player in the world,” and he might have been. He always wanted to play Jack Nicklaus for a million dollars – not that he had the million – to see if Nicklaus could beat him playing for his own money.

That suggests he was cocky. He wasn’t. I’ve heard him discussed dozens of times, maybe hundreds, and never heard an unkind word about him.

Leon Crump is a relic of Charlotte sports’ colorful past, when there was a character on every street corner. They seem to be gone now, reason enough to go looking for Leon.

I found him at home in a toney neighborhood in Concord. He’s 71 years old, but he looks pretty much the way he’s always looked, except for the white hair. Parked in his driveway were some of the cars he’s restored – or had restored – a couple of El Caminos, a Monte Carlo, a ’51 Chevy.

“It’s something to take up my time,” he said. He said that three times during our conversation.

He plays a lot of checkers at the auto salvage place, he said, something to pass the time. He plays ​golf a couple of times a week with a bunch of guys for what would have been tip money back in the day, something to pass the time, he said. He plays ​golf with his wife, Claudette, and daughter, Rhonda, on Sundays and helps Claudette at her tax consulting firm in season.

It’s a quiet life, a million miles away from what it once was. He’s the gunslinger who put away his guns. They used to come looking for him, and he never hid from them. He traveled to towns looking for them and lots of times played for money that could make a man rich if he won it all.

He got robbed a couple of times, arrested once in a comical scenario playing dice on the porch of the old Eastwood clubhouse, and learned what the blues singers were singing about when he went from flush to flat broke more than a few times.

He gave it up, the big games, when he married Claudette about 10 years ago.

“I don’t really miss the action,” he said when I found him in Concord. “I wish I could still play like I did then, but ol’ Mother Nature took care of that, although I did shoot a 64 a couple of years ago. Now I shoot in the mid-70s, a long ways from what it used to be.”

What was it about Leon Crump that made him fearless, gutsy enough to play for tens of thousands day after day, while most of us freeze over a 3-foot putt for $2?

“I never worried about the money,” he said. “I don’t remember ever worrying about the money.”

Crump tried a couple of times to qualify for the PGA Tour but failed, once when he discovered he had too many clubs in his bag and incurred a four-shot penalty. He missed by two shots.

“It just wasn’t for me,” he said. “I’ve always played shooting at the flag. I was a match player. It’s a mind-set. Lots of times in medal play, you have to shoot for the middle of the ​green. It felt like a Sunday round of ​golf.”

So, I asked the old gunslinger, would you do it all over again?

“Yeah,” he said, “I think I’d do it all over again. I’ve had an awful good time in my life.”

This felt good, recalling times when vanilla was a matter of choice, not the flavor of the day.

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4 Replies to “Ron Green Sr.: How Leon Crump, ‘the best money player in the world,’ came out on top”

  1. Your reprinted article is very timely. Crump’s name came up at our coffee club this morning. A friend who came from the West Side remembered Crump from Eastwood. He mentioned a match for $2000 using only a putter. Crump used a putter, including some shots from the opposite side of the ball where he used the sloped back to get some loft.

    Crump was also known around Linwood Golf Course, where he was known to play high-stakes matches.

  2. I remember old Leon, we played a lot of Pool together—–two marathon sessions of more than 30 hours long, those were the good old days.

  3. I played with Leon Crump in the first round of the 1965 North Carolina Amateur held at The Country Club of North Carolina. I think Dave Smith was the third member of our group. I’ll never forget the third hole, a downhill par three with water all around. I had known of Leon Crump and the legendary stories of his exploits and ability at Eastwood DC in Charlotte, but had never played with him. I recall he had a very strong left hand grip. That day he shanked two off the tee into the water right of the green, announced he was going back to Charlotte to make some money and took off !

  4. My aging memory just clicked in. The third in our group that day was North Carolina’s fine golfer and gentleman Harry Welsh from High Point. I also recall I had the privilege of playing with Dale Morey, also from High Point I believe, in either the third or fourth round. I was 18 years old then and felt honored to play with Mr. Morey.

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