So far in this series we’ve examined a number of Mike Austin’s fantastic claims. He had such outstanding swinging and teaching bona fides that we never thought to question much.
I will reiterate, this does not serve to kick a dead man while he’s down , but rather to shine light on who he was.
Did Mike move out to Hollywood in 1939?
Answer: No, he left the next year.
Mike left Atlanta in the spring of 1940 just after the 1940 census captured him still living at home, probably stocking soda machines for minimum wage. Most of the stories cite Austin leaving in 1939 for a job at Wilshire Country Club, which would have seen him miss the census.
But before he made it out to Hollywood, he made a very notable stop in the city of Chicago. Two significant events happened while he was here.
In the windy city, Mike ran across the immortal Count Yogi, who had his own indoor golf teaching center (and probably inspired Mike to open his up in 1960 in Culver City, Ca.) and rubbed elbows with tons of celebrities.
According to Tim Nicholls, who curates Count Yogi’s content, Mike’s car broke down in front of Yogi’s center and Mike was pretty broke. Yogi offered him a stall to teach in. They were photographed together in the spring of 1940.
Count Yogi’s real name was Hilary Frankenburg, and he had quite a golf swing (and numerous claims and tall tales in his own right). He was dubbed the Count by none other than Bob Hope at what is now called Lakeside CC in Burbank, where Hope was a member.
Yogi would tour the country giving trick shot exhibitions featuring the use of dozens of odd clubs and contraptions and by certain accounts was an outstanding scorer, surely better than Mike Austin was. I would recommend you look him up on Youtube.
I can imagine that Yogi’s showmanship and flamboyance would have rubbed off on Mike, perhaps influencing him to create a unique backstory.
Was Mike Austin’s clubhead speed really over 150 mph?
Another fascinating story of Mike’s was his claim to have been recorded at 155 mph clubhead speed, which when compared to other long hitting pros of any era with a persimmon headed driver, seems absolutely outlandish. 120 mph or so generally seems to be as high as most long hitting tour players could swing at max effort, with a long drive competitor cranking it up to 130.
But this story has merit, and is probably true. You see, noted MIT professor Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton had arrived in Chicago in 1939 and had set up his ground breaking stroboscopic photography at the University of Chicago.
Not only would Edgerton film famous golfers, but was the first person to be able to accurately determine clubhead speed because of the known time between flashes. Here is Bobby Jones, taken in Doc’s MIT studio, measured at 112 mph…not too shabby:
Mike and Doc were in Chicago at the same time, and Mike had told me personally that his swing speed was measured by a guy in Chicago.
Want more proof? Here is Count Yogi swinging in Doc Edgerton’s lab while he was in Chicago:
Who knows, maybe Mike was there the same day. As far as the 155 mph part, an independent think tank analyzed Mike’s record drive from 1974 and determined that the club had to have been moving in excess of 150 mph:
“T+L GOLF asked the engineers at Focaltron, a golf-performance company in Sunnyvale, California, to simulate the drive to see whether Austin’s story flies. After plugging in all the known data—that day’s wind and weather conditions, the altitude, the persimmon driver and the two-piece ball—here’s what they determined:
At an altitude of 2,030 feet and a temperature of eighty-eight degrees, Austin would have needed the day’s maximum wind gust of 27 m.p.h. behind him, an astonishingly low launch angle and spin rate and a swing speed of 150 m.p.h. to carry the ball 445 yards before it started rolling.“
So I’m going to say this one is likely true. Mike had a completely different gear than even the longest hitters. He was a tall, super strong guy, but I think his powerful swing technique allowed him to reach these speeds.
In part 6, we will look at Mike’s early Hollywood years and his experiences in World War 2.