Alvin Clarence Thomas (1892–1974) was a gambler, golfer and hustler. He created the character, Titanic Thompson, and lived that character's secret life, unknown to almost all of America, during his lifetime.
Life of a hustler
Thomas, born in Rogers, Arkansas, began conducting his nomadic, lucrative career of hustling in the rural United States in the early 1900s. Later, when he had honed his skills, he moved on New York City where he became an underground legend by winning at all manner of propositions.
Blessed with extraordinary eyesight and hand-eye coordination, he was a skilled athlete, crack shot and a self-taught golfer good enough to turn professional.
In an era when the top pro golfers would be fortunate to make $10,000 a year, Thomas (who after a misprint in a New York newspaper conveniently let people think his name was Thompson) could make that much in a week hustling rich country club players who thought they knew how to play golf, but found out—under extreme pressure from Thomas's creative and massive bets—that they were in way, way over their depth.
Thomas's genius was in figuring out the odds on almost any proposition and heavily betting that way. He also had to perform under pressure as he had to in golf — and most often did.
One hustle of his was to beat a golfer playing right-handed, and then offer double or nothing to play the course again left-handed as an apparent concession. One thing his opponent usually did not know was that Thomas was, in fact, naturally left-handed.
Origins of the Nickname
In his own story, published in Sports Illustrated in 1972, Alvin Thomas said:
'It must be Titanic,' said Clark. 'He sinks everybody'.
So I was Titanic from then on."
Note: Excerpt is re-printed with the permission of the legal owner of the story, Sunbelt Productions, Inc., a Texas corporation.
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