Squash World Mourns The Passing Of Gul Khan, 1948-2018        
by Rob Dinerman

photo USOpenSquash

Dateline May 8th --- It is with great sadness that we at DSR inform our readers that Gul Khan, one of the most popular and free-spirited members of the Khan clan that had such a presence on the World Professional Squash Association (WPSA) hardball tour during its glorious run from the late 1970’s until the early 1990’s, suffered a severe stroke on the evening of April 30th and died early this past Sunday, two months before what would have been his 70th birthday in July. 

  Gul and his older brother Mohibullah (universally known as Mo) were nephews of seven-time British Open champion Hashim Khan (one of whose sisters married Hashim’s childhood friend Safarullah Khan) and first cousins of Hashim’s sons Sharif, Aziz and Liaqat, whose name was Americanized to Charlie. All five of them appeared at almost every tour stop on the pro hardball circuit, whose No. 1 ranking Sharif held for more than a decade. A winner of the Pakistan Junior Championship during his teenage years, Gul moved to the United States during the 1970’s, sponsored by Mo, who at the time was the head pro at the Harvard Club of Boston, a position that President John Kennedy had helped to arrange. After serving as Mo’s assistant for a few years, Gul was offered the head pro position at the University Club of Boston, which he held until the early 1980’s before moving to New York, where he had stints as the head pro first at the Manhattan Squash Club on West 42nd Street and then at the Park Place Squash Club downtown. Towards the end of that decade, Gul relocated once more, this time to Cleveland, where he spent the last nearly three decades of his life and where he was the pro at the Cleveland Athletic Club and later the Tavern Club.

  At each of those venues, Gul’s charismatic, larger than life personality, contagious laugh and generous spirit earned him numerous supporters, admirers and fans, including famous figures as disparate as Senator Ted Kennedy, Patriots owner Bob Kraft and the famous artist Frank Stella, all of whom took squash lessons from Gul and became part of his large circle of friends. His stylish, crowd-pleasing game, tremendous racquet skill, speed, power, deception and flair for the dramatic made for captivating entertainment, and this combination of traits caused even the top players, including Sharif (whom Gul defeated at an event in Saucon Valley during Sharif’s prime), to regard Gul as one of their most challenging opponents. He advanced to many WPSA quarterfinals and a few semis, and was consistently ranked in the WPSA top 20. Gul also was an outstanding right-wall doubles player and the winner of three of the top doubles tournaments on the tour, namely the Heights Casino Doubles with his brother Mo in ’73 and with Peter Briggs in ’84 and the Cambridge Club Doubles in Toronto with Mo in ’74. In both 1999 and 2000, Gul teamed with cousin Gulmast to win the U. S. National Doubles 50-and-over crown, a dual achievement that Gulmast attributed to “outstanding coaching advice from my cousin and good friend. Cheers to Gul!”

  In addition, Gul was on the US team that played in a world team championship tournament sponsored by Pakistan International Airlines during the mid-1970’s, and he also earned a spot (along with teammates Mark Talbott, Larry Hilbert and Ted Gross) on the American team that competed in Karachi in the Hashim Khan Open in November 1980. This was the tournament in which Jahangir Khan, still a teenager at the time, had his first breakthrough wins, over Mohibullah Khan (a different person from Gul’s brother) in the semis and Qamar Zaman in the final, thereby launching a record-shattering career highlighted by an all-time record 10 consecutive British Opens. During this latter visit, Gul’s teammates noticed that he took on an even more relaxed and mellow persona than he normally displayed in the States, wearing traditional Pakistani garb and clearly luxuriating in being back in his native homeland. In light of the foregoing, it is perhaps not surprising that, per his oft-expressed wishes, he will be buried in Pakistan.

   Gul was a compelling personality and beloved figure, and he will be sorely missed by his legion of friends and fans throughout the squash world. Sharif and his wife, Karen, may have best expressed what so many felt upon learning the sad news of Gul’s passing when they wrote, “Gul had a heart of gold. He lived large, he knew politicians, business wheeler-dealers, lawyers, baseball stars, famous artists, and they knew him. But he also knew the local guys at the ‘Cheers’ bar, the maintenance guy in his apartment building and the people who needed a helping hand on his block in Cleveland. We will miss him, and life may be a little less exciting without him, but we will never forget him.”

Gul v Ken Binns

Gul v Aziz Khan

photos courtesy Charlie Khan