SquashTalk>Columns>"Clio’s
Corner": James Zug
>Germain G Glidden
The
Man Who Won Squash’s Grand Slam
By James Zug.
March 31, 2000. © 2000

In squash, unlike its second cousin tennis, there is
no official Grand Slam
. For professional squash, one could
conceive of creating a mythical trophy that emulates golf and tennis:
Take the British Open, U.S. Open (or Tournament of Champions?), the World
Open and well, it gets sticky, the Hong Kong Open or probably the Al Ahram.

In the United States, among amateurs, no acknowledged quartet of great titles
exists. A half century ago there was a whiff of one in the U.S. and Canadian
Opens and U.S. and Canadian nationals, but no one came remotely close to winning
all four in the same year and only one player, Henri Salaun, ever won all
four.

I propose the USA Squash Grand Slam for the four most prestigious U.S.
national championships: singles, doubles, intercollegiate and veterans.

In choosing the four, the national singles and doubles are automatic.

The intercollegiate title, begun in 1932, belongs because it’s youth
on display, it’s the cream of the most competitive corner of U.S. squash,
it’s boys and girls with their hearts and school colors on their sleeves.
The question is oracular: who will be a future champion?

The intercollegiates has a long litany of fascinating matches and great
champions, especially those who dominated open tournaments thereafter
but never won the adult nationals—Charlie Ufford, or four-time intercollegiate
champion Gail Ramsey (the only person, boy or girl, who has ever won the
title four times)—or Steve Vehslage, who won three intercollegiates
in a row and had to retire from a head injury after taking just one nationals
or Kenton Jernigan who was intercollegiate and national singles champion
his freshman year but yet played number three for his Harvard team.

The veterans (over 40), needed in part to round out the foursome, is
as much a prize as the other three. It’s by far the most respectable and
longest-running age-group division, originating in 1935 for men with Stanley
Pearson, six-time open singles champion, winning the inaugural tournament,
and in 1949 for women. The veterans, along with its classic matches and
champions (Salaun won six veterans titles; Goldie Edwards won ten in a
row), has equally been a quietly wonderful reminder that not all squash
players grew up playing in high school and college, that there is room
in the “Historical Data” for late-comers and late-bloomers.

Only one player has won all four Grand Slam titles in a lifetime. Not Charlie
Brinton or Eddie Hahn or Anil Nayer or Stanley Pearson Jr. or Ralph Howe or
Vic Niederhoffer or Peter Briggs or Joyce Davenport or Demer Holleran or Alicia
McConnell—all of whom won three of the four. Not even Diehl Mateer who won
a record sixteen Grand Slam titles.

The only player to put his name in gold up on all four boards is Germain
Green Glidden.

Glidden, known to his friends as G3, was born 5 December 1913. He grew up
in Englewood, N.J., and his parents pulled the old 20-20: they were married
for twenty years, got a Reno divorce; and twenty years later remarried each
other. Glidden started playing squash at age fourteen and played for Exeter
in high school.

At Harvard he was coached by the self-advertised “155 champions” Harry Cowles.
In his sophomore year Glidden got to the finals of the 1934 intercollegiates
where he played Harvard teammate E. Rotan Sargent. Down two-one, Glidden forced
a fifth game, whereupon Tanny smoked him fifteen-love.

Time to get a new backhand. Glidden, like most left-handers, had a horrible,
dead-fish backhand. In one of his last moves before he suffered the nervous
breakdown that led to his committal to a state institution, Cowles rejiggered
the southpaw’s swing. The legendary coach took him into a court and made him
hit tins repeatedly, until he was, as he wrote in his memoirs, “hating that
terrible sound.” That aversion therapy worked, and Glidden stopped getting
bageled in fifth games.

He took his first tournament, the Boston Open, his junior year, beating Harvard
assistant coach Jack Barnaby three-two in the finals. Glidden won the intercollegiates
his junior and senior year as well as the national singles his senior year.

Barnaby later wrote that Glidden was “perhaps the most extraordinary player
in the history of the amateur game.” Glidden was quick afoot and had a quick,
short stroke, but what separated him from all other players was his quick
eye. Glidden had extraordinary anticipation. He seemed to play four feet in
front of the T. He volleyed everything.

The joke was that Glidden would volley with one foot touching the tin. His
speed of mind was crucial, because he had an average three-wall boast that
he could not resist from hitting. Cowles in fact counseled him to hit his
shaky boast because it moved his opponent up and back, causing the trademark
Glidden melee. “Every tough match developed,” wrote Barnaby, “not into a grim
exchange of basic drives leading to a weak return and a crisis, but rather
into a mad whirling dervish up-and-back scramble—a mess of quick volleys,
shots and nicks that seemed all wrong but was somehow unbeatable.”

Moving to New York after graduation, Glidden defended his nationals title
two years in a row. He would drive up to Cambridge a week before the tournament
and work out with Barnaby. The 1937 nationals, in Cleveland, was notable.
Glidden, playing former national champion Neil Sullivan in the finals, lost
the first two games 14-15 and had to save four match points in the fourth
game before winning the fifth 15-11. LIFE magazine did a photo shoot of Glidden
that month which took up the center spread of the issue.

Glidden, upon arriving back via train from Cleveland, played a famous practical
joke. He went to a costume store and bought a fake mustache, tinted glasses,
a cut-away dinner jacket and derby hat, and went, as a full-blown professor
of Greek, to the Yale Club. He told the pro, an old friend named Frank Lafforgue,
that he wanted a lesson. Lafforgue said sure and took Glidden into the court.
Lafforgue taught him the grip and stroke and the rules and they started playing,
Glidden with his right hand. Every few shots, when Lafforgue wasn’t looking,
he’d switch hands and snap a ball past him. Finally, Lafforgue caught him
bare-left-handed and asked, “Why don’t you play with your left hand all the
time, sir?”

Glidden, in a quick reply as Lafforgue was about to guess his true identity,
said, “Why, is it fair?”

In 1938 Glidden won the nationals for a third straight time. Only one man,
Stanley Pearson, had done that before him and it wasn’t until the 1970s when
such a feat was repeated. Glidden, with a tough draw, beat Tanny Sargent and
Hunter Lott to get through to the finals where he outclassed Leroy Weir three
games to one.

Then he retired. He took the national championship trophy—in those days
you could keep a trophy if you won it three times—and returned home to Seir
Hill, Silvermine, outside Norwalk, Connecticut. There, until his death in
1999, Glidden kept the trophy with its inscriptions of champions from 1924
(the year after Pearson himself retired the trophy) on his table, jammed packed
with paint brushes. “It’s a perfect place to keep my brushes,” he said less
than a year before he died.

Glidden, known in the squash world for his frog cartoons, was a professional
portrait painter. Hundreds of people sat for him, everyone from George Bush
to Ivan Lendl. He also founded the National Art Museum of Sport in 1959. Today
the museum fills ten thousand square-feet of exhibition space in a building
in downtown Indianapolis.

“Germain was a great pal to have around at the tournaments,” says Charlie
Brinton, four-time national champion. “He loved to play this card-flipping
game, flipping playing cards into a hat. He always won and took all our money.
It was only later I learned he was so good at it because it was a habit of
his to flip cards with his right hand while he painted with his left.”

Abandoning squash after his retirement was never in the picture. In 1949
at age thirty-six Glidden reached the finals of the Harry Cowles at the Harvard
Club, the most prestigious tournament of the year after the nationals. He
also recalled the Woodruff-Nee, the annual Washington, D.C. tourney, when
it was two-all, seventeen-all in the finals against Charlie Brinton. Glidden
hit a risky double boast that neither player was sure of whether it touched
the front wall. So they played a let. Glidden won the replay. In the gallery
that Sunday afternoon was a young senator from Massachusetts, John Kennedy.

Returning to national tournaments, Glidden won three veterans titles in the
mid-1950s and then retired that trophy. After losing in the finals of the
national doubles in 1951, Glidden teamed with Dick Remsen, a Dartmouth grad.
In the 1952 semifinals, they took the great combo of Mateer & Lott to thirteen-all
in the fifth. Remsen dove for a Mateer reverse corner and got a lucky winner.
Then Glidden feathered a cross-court dropshot into the nick and they were
in the finals. Again, it was rough. They were down two games to one before
pulling it out in the fifth.

Total hardware: nine national titles, one Grand Slam.

Glidden died in February 1999, but his
legacy is still with us. A women’s professional
tournament held in Connecticut for
the last seventeen years bears
his name. And, as a member of the USSRA’s executive in the 1960s, he came
up with the idea that individuals pay an annual fee to be members of the
USSRA. That first year it cost $10 and there were about one hundred members.
Now you know who was the guy who suggested you ante up forty bucks a year.

In April 2000 Glidden will be in the inaugural class of inductees into the
U.S. Squash Hall of Fame. He deserves it. He was the man who hit the Grand
Slam.

 

Mottos attributed to Germain Glidden:

—“Getting along with your wife is like
passing a car on a narrow road—you both have to give.”

—“Being educated is to know where to
find out what you don’t know.”

—“On important missions, leave early
enough to come back in time to pick up what you forgot.”

—“The older I grow, the more I listen
to people who do not talk much.”

Germain Glidden: Self Portrait (courtesy
Christine Glidden)

Glidden: Creator of the world famous
"let-please" cartoon.

" Can’t Get this damn thing out
of second!" (cartoon reproduced with permission of the Germain G
Glidden Estate.)

Germain Glidden: Photo by Bachrach,
Life
Magazine


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posted
4/13/04