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Legendary Hustlers and Fun Loving Rogues

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece on how the game has got more serious nowadays

Posted Nov 03, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece


During a chat last weekend with Joey Purcell, the professional at Portmarnock GC, we got to talking about his amateur days and a particularly chastening experience he had against two of golf's greatest hustlers.  It happened in 1972 when Yorkshire's Hedley Muscroft and Lionel Platts went to Purcell's club, Mullingar, for a pro-am.

Four years previously, Muscroft won the Evian Open and around the time of his Mullingar exploits, had beaten Christy O'Connor Snr at the fourth tie hole of the Classic International tournament at Copt Heath. So, he was clearly a useful performer.

For his part, Platts beat America's Tommy Jacobs in the Ryder Cup at Royal Birkdale in 1965 and by the time of their Irish visit, the duo were acknowledged as a fearsome partnership in money matches throughout Europe.

By way of a warm-up exercise in Mullingar, Platts and Muscroft won a challenge match against Irish professionals, Paddy McGuirk and Bobby Browne. Then came the serious stuff.  Over a drink in the bar, local member Frank "Twiggy" Daly, who had his own partner lined-up, challenged them to a match at £250 a corner.  Purcell, who was assured he would not be involved in any financial settlement, discovered only recently that the money was put up by local pop icon, Joe Dolan, who had more than a passing interest in the royal and ancient game.

"I was informed about the match only the previous night," recalled Purcell, who was a 17-year-old three-handicapper at the time. Daly was off six and with Muscroft and Platts playing off scratch, the local pair would receive their full shot allowance, taking the strokes as they came. 

"We were one up after seven and should have gone two up at the eighth, but Twiggy failed to take advantage of his shot," Purcell went on. "They birdied the ninth to square, but we went one up again with a birdie at the 10th, where I had a shot.  Looking back on it, I'm now convinced it was only then that they started to play in earnest."

The outcome was devastating for the local duo.  Platts and Muscroft proceeded to reel off two birdies in the next three holes. Then they went 3,2,3 - eagle, birdie, eagle - at the 14th, 15th and 16th. And with yet another birdie on the 17th, won the match by 2 and 1.  When Daly insisted on a bye down the long 18th, they won that too, with a birdie against a par.
"Oh yeah, they were hot," said Purcell. "I'd have probably knocked it around in level par or better at the time, so we played well. But generally, our birdie putts were only good enough for halves. They were nine under for the last eight holes.  Astonishing  golf.  I reckon Twiggy and I had a better-ball of 64 to their 61.  A particularly interesting thing I noticed about them was the fact that whichever player was nearer the hole, always putted first."

When I discussed the match with Muscroft some years ago, he admitted to being around Mullingar that day in 64 - eight under par - on his own card.  And the big-hitting Platts, who at one time reckoned he could gain an edge on opponents by using a set of irons all marked "3", also made a substantial contribution.

Though legendary hustlers, they could also have been viewed as fun-loving rogues, given the nature of some of their activities. Like the time Muscroft took £100 off celebrated Welsh film actor Stanley Baker, after giving him a 50-yard start in a 100-yard race. The only condition was that Baker would first have to drink a glass of water. Naturally, he wasn't told that the water would be boiling hot.

Another favourite bet involved a 100 yards race in which Muscroft would claim a 50-yard start and carry a fellow player on his back.  "It's surprising how many people fall for that one," he said. "They think it can't be done."  But to prove it, Muscroft collected £100 by carrying British colleague David Snell.

It is only when reflecting on these activities that one realises how serious the game has become these days.  Gamblers or hustlers, the Muscrofts of the golfing world knew how to care for their pigeons. Pluck a few feathers, was their motto, but never break a wing.

- Dermot Gilleece

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