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The Magic of the Ryder Cup

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece looks back on a peerless scribe's account

Posted Sep 03, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

palmer 3

While we await the completion of the US team for next month's Ryder Cup matches at Celtic Manor, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of the importance of the biennial event on the golfing calendar.  It was always so, even when matches were seriously lopsided prior to the emergence of a European line-up. The answer to its sustained attraction, even during seemingly bad times, was provided by the inimitable Pat Ward-Thomas in his regular pieces for the magazine "Country Life."

When previewing the 1961 staging at Royal Lytham, he wrote: "The great benefit of the Ryder Cup match to the British watcher is the opportunity, rare these days, of studying some of the finest players in the world. (Remember, these were times when golf was a rarity on television).  Several are in this American side.  It is headed by the formidable and delightful (Arnold) Palmer and thousands will welcome the opportunity of seeing him again so soon after his (Open) triumph at Birkdale.  Of the rest, only four have competed in Britain previously.  (Dow) Finsterward, (Doug) Ford and (Art) Wall alone remain of the Lindrick side and (Mike) Souchak played in the Open at Hoylake five years ago, finishing eight strokes behind (Peter) Thomson."

In the wake of a 14 1/2 to 9 1/2 win by the Americans, he wrote: "There may be those who claim that the difference between the sides was less than five points, especially as five games were lost by the British on the last green of all, but this would be false reasoning.  On the highest level of competitive golf, the margin of quality is slight indeed, and by no means is it always technical. More often than not, it depends upon competitive ability alone and in this, as every thinking observer knows, the Americans have an advantage.  They play infinitely more competitive golf, for far greater rewards, than the British and it stands to reason that, when the plot thickens and the pressure mounts, they are less likely to weaken."

Ward-Thomas then highlighted a splendid, singles battle which dominated the morning of the second day when, for the first time, two series of 18-hole singles matches were played rather than the previous 36-hole encounters. "Down the years, men will talk of the match that (Peter) Alliss played against the mighty Palmer," he wrote.

"Here was the very essence of golfing conflict, stern in its resolve, admirable in its mood and compelling in its strength.  For Alliss, it was the severest test of matchplay imaginable, because beyond any question, Palmer is the world's supreme golfer.  Aside altogether from his formidable strength, there is the instinct of genius for improvisation of flight, the sensitivity of touch and control in all the short shots, a truly remarkable competitive nature, and withal a flair for the game such as few other men have possessed.  Against these things, Alliss stood erect, assured and strong and played superbly in the face of brutal thrusts from Palmer."

In the matter of the captaincy, the peerless British scribe went on: "It is almost a quarter of a century since (Dai) Rees played his first match against the Americans and beat Byron Nelson, and here he was, the only British player to win three points.  His unquenchable spirit knows no bounds; it burns ever brighter and never more so than on the great occasions.  No one in the match hit the ball with finer control or more consistent accuracy than (Neil) Coles, who has taken his place in the highest company with a rare modesty and poise, and has proved beyond question that he has the competitive temper for any affair.  Did he not almost beat Littler, the American Open champion, and then hours later undo Finsterwald?

"There was some criticism of Tees for not leaving out (Bernard) Hunt and (John) Panton after they had lost their morning foursome, but to be a playing captain in this match was no enviable task.  In spite of starting before the sun's rim had appeared over the clinging early mists, the players had only a few minutes for lunch.

"Thus Rees had no time for deliberate enquiry.  He could not leave himself out without weakening the side as Barber (the US skipper) was able to do, and indeed might have done with advantage on the last afternoon.  Barber was the weakest American player, yet chose to play in place of Casper or Herbert."

Though describing the result as "honourable", he concluded that the "playing of 18-hole matches had turned out as I feared.  Had the old order (36-hole encounters) been retained, the contest would not have lost its light at lunch.  Nevertheless, the Ryder Cup is in a sense an exhibition, and as such it did not fail." 

- Dermot Gilleece

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