Never did his plan lack conviction. “I went to Duke to become a pro golfer,” said Bill Mallon. “I wanted to be the No. 1 golfer in the world.”
Which isn’t to say that he wasn’t so saturated in curiosity and possess such a thirst for research that he’d be left unprepared should something go wrong. And it did, in a way that still perturbs him.
“I lost my game. I got the driver yips. I drove it so bad I couldn’t score.”
The solid start to his PGA Tour career – Mallon made the cut in 32 of 41 tournaments in 1976-77 – was a natural progression from his string of brilliance. From 1972-77, he won two Massachusetts Amateurs, two New England Amateurs, and two New England Opens.
But when in his fourth year he drove himself off the Tour, Mallon was 27 and if people wondered what was next for the young man from Framingham, the answer was: A lot.
So diverse has been Mallon’s life that if you were to focus on all the accolades given him for a robust Olympic expertise, you might overlook his profound passion for cycling.
Or his rich connection to that golf era that when Curtis Strange and Jay Haas were peers and an 18-year-old Seve Ballesteros was one of his competitors at a PGA Tour Q School.
Or his lengthy stint as a member of the Golf Digest editorial staff.
You might even forget that he had a day job as an orthopedic surgeon. Digest that for a moment. The fact that this layer of his life often gets pushed to the background when you strike up a conversation with Mallon shows the depths to which he’s made.
Intriguing and engaging, Mallon might have had designs on being the world’s best golfer, but clearly his life is now and always has stood in stark contrast to those who are one-dimensional. The best part of it all? So much happenstance brought much it to fruition.
For instance, what set golf in motion was that family move to Raleigh, N.C., in 1964. New neighborhood, few homes, even fewer kids, so Mallon, who took after his father, a passionate cyclist and speed-skater, and rode. “Only I couldn’t ride eight hours a day,” he moaned to his parents.
The solution? “I rode 15 miles to the golf course. I got pretty good, pretty quick.”
A love of the Olympics can be traced to his father who had a collection of books that Bill devoured.
Fast forward to those PGA Tour years when Mallon and Ed Dougherty would rarely get into pro-ams, so they had Wednesdays off. Dougherty was a model train collector, Mallon a rare books guy who specifically needed “Encyclopedia of the Olympic Games” for his collection.
When he wrote to the acclaimed author, Austrian Erich Kamper, and asked if he could buy a copy, the reply Mallon received thrilled him: “I need someone to research U.S. Olympians. If you do that, I’ll send you a book.”
Talk about igniting liftoff. Mallon immersed himself in Olympics research and when PCs came out around 1982 it went to another level. “I was a math major and I was pretty good with setting up a database and compiling records and stats.”
Pretty good being a massive understatement. He was a veritable walking encyclopedia and laughs about the day a medical assistant asked him why. “Kim, this is what keeps me sane.”
Ah, yes, the “medical” slice of the story. Sort of important, given the “Dr.” before his name, but Mallon only entered Med School when he walked away from the PGA Tour.
Bill Mallon's stretch of golf between 1972-77 included a pair of wins each in the Mass. Amateur, the New England Amateur, and the New England Open. But never winning the State Open "still irks me," he said.
He reasoned that “I majored in math and physics at Duke and I think I knew enough science to be pretty good.”
Mallon concedes he “almost knew nothing about medicine,” but he had had shoulder surgery and was intrigued. “It seemed interesting. It looked like a decent way to making a living.”
Assuming, of course, you weren’t in a hurry.
“Four years of Med School, six years of residency, then a Fellowship and two more years of orthopedics – it was 14 years before I was board certified,” laughs Mallon. “Guys I started with (in golf) were retiring from the PGA Tour.”
By the time Dr. Bill Mallon was board certified, he was deeply entrenched in the Olympics. He attended ’76 in Montreal, ’84 in Los Angeles and has been to every Games since ’96 in Atlanta. The streak may or may not continue at the upcoming Winter Games in China, depending on how difficult are the hoops through which one must jump to fulfill protocols.
Either way, Mallon is an icon in Olympic circles, the author of 24 books and a member of the International Society of Olympic Historians.
For his service to the Games, he was presented the Olympic Order in Silver in 2001, the IOC bought his database in 2015, and Mallon continues to find great joy in this corner of his life.
As he does with orthopedics (he still edits the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery).
As he does with cycling (he loves riding the Kancamagus Highway when he’s at the summer home in New Hampshire).
And as he does with golf, which remains a sport that he loves even if he rarely plays.
No, Mallon does not regret walking away in 1979. Back then, “there were no other options” beyond the PGA Tour so Med School was the proper play for Mallon. Still, something his friend, Ed Byman, who played in 36 PGA Tour events between 1978 and 1983, said has always resonated.
“Ten years after we were both out, he told me that what he missed was being nervous on the first tee,” said Mallon. “I told him, I miss that, too. It was a fun nervous.”