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Dermot Gilleece's Blog : Fewer Mountains to Conquer

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece reminisces on ground-breaking victories for Irish golfers

Posted May 18, 2009 by Dermot Gilleece


              With the astonishing amateur victory by Shane Lowry in the 3Irish Open coming after Padraig Harrington's three triumphs in the last seven major championships, there seem to be fewer and fewer mountains for Irish golfers to conquer.  Yet the PGA Championship at Wentworth, which takes place this week under the BMW banner, remains a notable omission.

               Christy O'Connor Snr captured the 1959 Daks Tournament with a record aggregate of 274 over the famed Burma Road stretch.  And he returned five years later to win the Martini International there, with an aggregate of 286.  But O'Connor had departed the scene before Wentworth's West Course became the home of the PGA Championship.

               As it happened, Des Smyth came tantalisingly close in 1986. That was when he appeared to have the title in his grasp with an aggregate of 281, only for Rodger Davis to force a play-off by holing an unlikely 25-footer on the 72nd green.  The Australian then went on to win an indifferent play-off with scores of 5,3,6 on the first, second and 18th, compared with 5,3,7 from the Droghedaman.  Poor compensation for the Irish on that occasion was that Philip Walton's closing 65 was the best round of the championship.

               Which is not to say that there has never been an Irish winner of what has become the flagship event of the European Tour season.  Harry Bradshaw captured the PGA back in 1958, before he and O'Connor headed off to elevated terrain in Mexico City for what proved to be the first success by one of the "home countries" in the Canada Cup.  In fact the Brad did it over the Maesdhu Course at Llandudno in north Wales, with rounds of 72,71,73,71 for an aggregate of 287.

               Given the circumstances of the event, it proved to be a fitting culmination of his PGA career.  As had happened when he captured the 1955 Dunlop Masters at Little Aston, the Brad fought out a splendid battle with the then Ryder Cup captain, Henry Cotton.  On this occasion, the incumbent happened to be the redoubtable Dai Rees of South Herts, who was a strong favourite to win his first title on his native soil. 
              Starting the final day three strokes behind the little Welshman, Bradshaw reached the turn in 35 strokes against 37 from Rees.  He then drew level at the 10th where he chipped dead for a birdie three.  From there, the closing stages of the morning round became extremely tense when Bradshaw kept the large crowd waiting impatiently while he sought an official ruling as to the status of his ball which had finished in a disused bunker on the 18th.  The lesson of the infamous ball-in-a-bottle incident during the 1949 Open Championship at Royal St George's, had been well learned.

              Was it a sand bunker in the accepted meaning of the hazard?  He was informed that it was not a sand hazard, which meant that he could ground his club, just like you can do in what is called a waste area these days.   In the event, Bradshaw played a fine recovery to save par, so entering the final round in the afternoon, two strokes adrift of the leader.

              As things turned out, he and Rees were level again after the 15th of the final round, where the Portmarnock professional sank a 20 yards putt for a birdie three while the Welshman took five, ironically after being bunkered.  On the short 17th, Bradshaw was on the back of the green after hitting a fairway wood off the tee, while Rees finished on the front edge of the putting surface.  Bradshaw's approach putt went six feet past, while the home favourite ended five feet away.  When Bradshaw holed and Rees missed, it was effectively all over.

             O'Connor finished in a tie for third place with Peter Alliss, which meant that had there been a team event run in conjunction with the tournament, the Irish duo would have won it.  Which is precisely what they did on the next assignment in far off Mexico.

- Dermot Gilleece

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