In part 1 of this series we talked about how while Mike Austin was recognized as an exceptional teacher with a beautiful golf swing, not everything he espoused over the years was fully truthful.
These articles are not meant to kick dead horses. Instead, they serve to clarify the man’s life achievements so we can try to decipher: just how did Mike Austin end up with his vast scientific knowledge? Exactly what was true, part true, and not true at all? As you will see, sprinkled throughout his incredible stories, there is a bit of each.
WAS MIKE AUSTIN REALLY BORN IN GUERNSEY IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS?
Between England and France, in the English Channel, exist two small islands called Jersey and Guernsey.
Mike always claimed he was born on the isle of Guernsey, and sported an English/Scottish type accent. This was definitely one of the characteristics that set him apart. You could always hear Mike from down the range at his teaching home in Studio City, loudly in this brusque brogue.
In an interview with his Nephew Joe (Mike’s older brother’s son), he stated that Mike was not born overseas like he said, but “in Fulton County like all the rest of us Austins,” meaning Georgia. This was shocking to us at the time, and a bit disappointing, but was said in such a matter of fact way that I accepted it as gospel for several years.
But it turns out Joe was wrong as well. Through more research I found the headstone for Mike’s parents, located in Alabama. Mike Austin had an older brother Joe, and oldest sister Karen. Official birth records have them being born in Alabama. And you guessed it, Mike was born in Alabama as well in 1915.
The Austins did end up living in Atlanta, Fulton County, later on, as you will see coming up.
DID MIKE AUSTIN SNEAK ONTO EAST LAKE COUNTRY CLUB AS A TEEN?
Answer: Unlikely (**updated in part 4!**)
East Lake in the mid 1920’s was the stomping grounds of the immortal Bobby Jones, who would win the ‘Impregnable Quadrilateral’ or Grand Slam in 1930. Mike Austin would have been 15 then.
Mike claims that he would jump the fence as a kid and play holes at the club. He said that when they finally realized the extent of Mike’s persistence, that they couldn’t keep him off the course. They finally gave in and let him practice there.
The story goes that Mike, now around 18, caught the eye of Mr. Jones, who was flabbergasted at how far and straight Mike was driving golf balls – 300 yards in the air over a lake consistently. Bobby cried, “How are you doing that sonny?” To which Mike replied, “I don’t know, I’m just an amateur. You should talk to Mr. (Stewart) Maiden, he’s the pro.”
It’s a fantastic and colorful story. And the timeline fits somewhat. In 1940, the Austin family was living in a blue collar (even hardscrabble) neighborhood in Atlanta. The problem is that the address is nearly 6 miles from East Lake Country Club, on the other side of town.
So there are a couple of improbable scenarios that I can think of validating Mike’s story. I suppose he could have walked or biked the 12 mile round trip (an hour each way) with a golf clubs on his back. The Austin family may have owned an automobile and dropped him off (but would his father have encouraged such rapscallion behavior?). And I suppose it’s possible that the family lived in a house closer to the course before 1940, when Mike was younger.
The East Lake side of town was an upper crust area in the outskirts of the city, until ‘suburban flight’ saw much of the wealth in the area move further from downtown in the early 1970’s. It must have been very unlike the blue collar neighborhood crosstown where the Austins lived. In fact, one former Atlanta resident described the area as a ‘slum.’ From the google map photos, it appears to me as ‘modest.’
So this scenario, while not impossible, is probably a figment of Mike’s colorful imagination.
Mike always said that his father and older brother both played, and could beat him on the scorecard, even if he could hit the ball better than them. This feels true to me. I just don’t think East Lake came into the picture.
In the next segment, I will discuss Mike as a young adult, and his trek from Georgia cross country to Hollywood.