Ex-NHL Defenseman, Current Florida Panthers GM Teeing It Up In First U.S. Senior Open July 26, 2010 By Paul Ramsdell

Former NHL defenseman and current Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon has always managed to mix his hockey talent with his golf talent. He qualified for his first U.S. Senior Open, but in 1969, a year before he was drafted No. 2 overall by Vancouver, he won the Canadian Junior Boys Championship. (John Mummert/USGA) 

Sammamish, Wash. – It can be an interesting conundrum, trying to figure out whether your best golf comes when you concentrate on the game day and night, or whether it comes when it’s just a relaxing getaway to relieve job stress.

Dale Tallon walked that tightrope perfectly earlier this summer, and that’s why the new general manager of NHL’s Florida Panthers is teeing it up this week at the U.S. Senior Open at Sahalee Country Club.

This spring, golf was a distant second to everything else going on in the life of the 59-year-old from Lake Forest, Ill.

Not only was the Chicago Blackhawks squad he helped build marching toward the Stanley Cup, he was also preparing for the NHL Draft in Los Angeles on June 26. So when his alarm went off June 28 after a late flight the night before, Tallon was torn about whether he should go to the U.S. Senior Open qualifier at Inverness (Ill.) Golf Club.

I was tired. I hadn’t been playing. Back and forth I’d been to Europe. I got the job as the GM at Florida on May 18. Went to Europe, sign some players ... free agency ... the draft, Tallon remembered. So my mind wasn’t really on golf and I didn’t want to embarrass myself.

Tallon rarely embarrasses himself on the golf course. He was a junior champion in Canada, and he played on the Canadian Tour in the offseason after being the No. 2 player selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the 1970 NHL Draft. After retiring as a player, he spent 16 years as a Blackhawks broadcaster and 15 years in the club professional business before getting back into the NHL as an administrator.

I probably had low expectations, he said of the qualifier. I got off to a pretty solid start and just kept chipping away at it and hung on for dear life toward the end of the day.

He bogeyed the 18th hole, but had a two-stroke lead going into it, so his 73 was good enough to earn medalist honors and earn the trip out west.

He comes to Sahalee riding a wave of confidence. Not only is he in a new job, but by all accounts he had a successful draft for the Panthers and made some strong free-agent signings as well.

It wasn’t that way a couple of months ago, however, when he might have been considered little more than window dressing for the Blackhawks. As the team’s GM, he brought in free agents Brian Campbell and Nikolai Khabibulin and drafted Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, building blocks for the team that won its first Stanley Cup since 1961. But a year ago he was relieved of his GM duties and left out of the power broker role with his demotion to senior advisor of hockey operations.

So when another franchise came calling and wanted his GM skills, and he showed once again how he could build a team through free agency and the draft, life was turning bright, even if he hadn’t been playing much golf.

I was just happy and comfortable and pretty well at ease about everything, he said about life on the day of his qualifier. That probably helped me a lot.

And there were some benefits to that reduced role with the Blackhawks, namely more time to appreciate his second home in Vero Beach, Fla.

I’ve actually played more golf this winter than in the past, he said. Usually I haven’t played at all in the winter and then try to cram in spring once the hockey season settles down. I had played quite a bit up until the end of April and then shut it down in May. Once I got the job with Florida, leaving Chicago, I played sparingly from the middle of May until the qualifier.

Golf has always played somewhat of a second fiddle to hockey for Tallon, but he plays that fiddle well – and intently. In 1970, he was a good enough hockey player to be the No. 1 choice (second overall) by the expansion Vancouver Canucks, following the No. 1 selection of Gilbert Perreault, who went to the Buffalo Sabres and earned the 1971 Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) in what proved to be a Hall-of-Fame career..

In 1969, though, Tallon, out of Noranda, Quebec, was a good enough golfer to win the Canadian Junior Boys Championship and leave some deep impressions.

Doug Roxburgh, the director of high performance for Golf Canada, had the third-round lead in that Junior Boys and remembers clearly Tallon beating him by two shots on the final day with his 69.

Dale was good and he knew it, Roxburgh said. Very confident.

It’s always been hockey-golf, hockey-golf all my life, added Tallon. I was competitive when I was a kid in Canada.

He took hockey-golf, hockey-golf to the extreme in his 20s.

As a defenseman, he played in 642 NHL games with Vancouver (1970-73), Chicago (1973-78) and Pittsburgh (1978-80). He appeared in the 1971 and 1972 NHL All-Star Games and finished his career with 98 goals and 238 assists for 336 points.

In the hockey off-season, instead of relaxing, he was teeing it up on the Canadian Tour. During one stretch, he had three consecutive top-10sand also qualified to play in the 1970 Canadian Open on the PGA Tour.

Hockey-golf is probably not the most common sport combination, but some similarities work for Tallon.

If you have a bad shift in hockey, you can’t just sit there, you’ve got to move on. The next shift has got to be the most important shift, Tallon said. The same thing in golf, you can’t let it linger. You have to forget about it and move on after every shot.

There’s another common trait: The volatility ... you get upset. You have to control your emotions in both sports. They’re both frustrating sports, so there are a lot of similarities.

Tallon controls his ball flight fairly well, which he hopes comes in handy on the tight, tree-lined Sahalee layout.

I’m confident with my swing, he said. My swing is pretty consistent. I worked with Hank Haney for a long time so my swing is pretty solid. With me, it’s just a matter if I make some putts, and I was pretty solid on tricky greens at Inverness ... I made all the ones I had to make.

And by doing that, he achieved a lifelong dream of getting into a U.S. Open championship, be it the regular U.S. Open or the U.S. Senior Open.

It’s something I’ve always wanted to attain, he said, and I’ve been close a few times.

Now that he has made it this far, he’s definitely enjoying the fruits of his labors, playing a practice round Tuesday with Jeff Sluman, Corey Pavin and David Frost.

To get to play with Slu, Corey and Frosty, that was a great treat for me today, he said. I loved every second of it, just watching them perform.

And the three, particularly Sluman, loved talking hockey with Tallon. And when Tallon gets back to his hockey haunts, everybody will want to talk about golf.

Some hockey memories came back to him Tuesday as a teammate from his days with the Canucks, Dennis Kearns, came down to watch his practice round.

It was great to see Kearnsie, my old defense partner, Tallon said.

Kearns put it all in perspective, touting someone who has reached the pinnacle of two sports.

It’s a great accomplishment for Dale, he said. Phenomenal.

Paul Ramsdell is a Seattle-based freelance writer who is contributing stories for the USGA this week at Sahalee Country Club.