Martyn Turner, the Irish Times cartoonist relates some fond memories of the only Irishman before Padraig Harrington to win the British Open in today’s Irishman’s Diary. Here’s a snippet:
…even in his late sixties, he could work magic on the ball. I saw him bend a medium iron right to left around a tree and land the ball 10 feet from the hole. When I said it was a wonderful shot, he said he had not been quite sure which way to send it. “Go on, show me,” I said and he bent one left to right around the tree, to land right beside the first ball.
We asked him once what it felt like to play in his prime. “Back then, if you had put an ordinary hall door 200 yards down the fairway, not only could I have driven the ball through it, it would never have occurred to me that I might miss.” Perhaps we never saw how good he was, or gave him the recognition he deserved.(He also had that Northern, Presbyterian suspicion of fame.) He was 36 when he won the Open, and there had been no major tournaments played during the second World War, when he probably was in his prime.
He told a story, someone told a story, someone made up a story, whatever, that Fred was sitting in Balmoral golf club one day enjoying a few sweet sherries with a bunch of golfing pals. One of them was called to the phone and returned a while later with a very large smile on his face.
“What’s up” they asked.”That phone call”, the man said, “was to tell me I’ve just been selected for the Walker Cup team”.
“That’s fantastic,” said the crowd. “Where is it being played?”
“Hoylake,” said the man. Then he paused and looked at Fred. “Did you ever play Hoylake, Fred?”
He became a patron of the Dublin Journalists’ Golf Society as well and it was they who brought him back to Hoylake in the 1980s. The captain turned out, in his hunting-pink jacket, and the committee and posh gentlemen were as excited as children to meet a champion who won the Open on their course. Two Open champions we have now: one who will be rich and famous for the rest of his life, and one who worked in the pro’s shop at Balmoral Golf Club outside Belfast; but both, to the true golf fan, touched by the gods.