Sport Golf

Sunday 26 March 2017

Irish five will hope to write their own chapter in Lytham's rich history

Dermot Gilleece

The Walker Cup is set to further enrich a splendid history when an Irish quintet of Paul Dunne, Jack Hume, Gary Hurley, Gavin Moynihan and Cormac Sharvin with English and Scottish colleagues, face an American line-up spearheaded by Bryson DeChambeau, only the fifth player in history to have added the US Amateur to the NCAA individual crown
The Walker Cup is set to further enrich a splendid history when an Irish quintet of Paul Dunne, Jack Hume, Gary Hurley, Gavin Moynihan and Cormac Sharvin with English and Scottish colleagues, face an American line-up spearheaded by Bryson DeChambeau, only the fifth player in history to have added the US Amateur to the NCAA individual crown

Remarkably, Royal Lytham is to have its first experience of staging the Walker Cup when GB&I, with a record five Irish players in action, will be attempting to regain the trophy against the US on September 12 and 13. In such circumstances, a commemorative book seems entirely appropriate.

It is equally apt that the work should have been entrusted to Steven Reid, a long-time friend of Irish golf, and club captain for the 1996 Open Championship, won by Tom Lehman. Among other things, it ensures the pages are sprinkled liberally with wicked wit.

The inimitable Pat Ward-Thomas once observed of Lytham that "no noble sandhills mark its horizons, the ground does not move in dramatic fashion and the sea might be miles away." He then added: "But let nobody be deceived by this apparent tranquillity and smoothness. The course is a test of golf many times proven to be among the best in Britain."

Which leads me to a wild, punishing afternoon in 1982 when I observed The Island's Martin Sludds battle magnificently through a final nine of level-par for a memorable victory in the Lytham Trophy. Tom Craddock had paved an amateur path for players like Sludds to follow, by becoming the first Irish winner of the Lytham Trophy in 1969. Meanwhile, Christy O'Connor had set formidable standards for his professional brethren with a course-record 65 at Lytham in the second round of the 1969 Open Championship which, as it happened, would be equalled by Paul McGinley, also in the second round, 27 years later.

Dr Reid's book opens with a foreword by Michael Bonallack, who includes an almost predictable reference to Sutton's most distinguished member. "I remember playing a practice round [at Lytham] in 1963 with my great friend, Joe Carr, a wonderful golfer who, being Irish, would bet on anything.

"He foolishly decided to have a reasonable wager with our third playing companion, Bob Charles. Needless to say, Joe lost, but he was so impressed with Bob's play and especially his putting, that he made a hasty visit to the bookmakers. He placed a more than healthy bet at generous odds on Bob to win [The Open] and duly collected a very nice sum of money. He more than recouped the loss from his first wager."

Then, in a prologue, John Hopkins is similarly informative in his reflections on the Lytham Trophy. The former golf correspondent of The Times writes: "The Masters may have resisted the opportunity to pair Herman Kaiser with Frank Fuehrer a few years ago, but in the Lytham Trophy, a Burgess has played with a Maclean, a Tate with a Lyle, a Marks with a Spencer, a Donald with a Duck and a Holmes with a Moriarty."

Though these tasty aperitifs set a fairly formidable standard for the main course, Dr Reid is more than equal to the challenge. He provides some enthralling detail about the 1955 British Amateur at Lytham where Carr lost to the American, Joe Conrad, who went on to capture the title. It was two other American competitors, however, who apparently caught the eye, though one of whom, a certain Edward E Lowery of San Francisco, lost in the first round.

This was the legendary Eddie Lowery who, as a 10-year-old urchin, famously caddied for Francis Ouimet when the Bostonian became the first amateur winner of the US Open at Brookline in 1913. As Dr Reid recounts: "The element which gives insight into Lowery's eye for an opportunity is when the victorious Ouimet, concerned about his status as an amateur, rejects the $125 thrust towards him [as the winner]. Lowery, free from such caution and inhibition, pockets the money."

Ken Venturi was another celebrated American challenger at Lytham, as a veteran of the 1953 Walker Cup team. And he had one of the championship's most eagerly anticipated matches against compatriot Billy Joe Patton, who had led the US Masters the previous year with just six holes to play, only to finish third behind Sam Snead and Hogan. In the event, Patton won a patchy encounter on the last green.

Of the English Championships staged at Lytham over the years, arguably the most notable was that of 1975 when a tall gifted teenager became the youngest winner in the history of the event. Against the hapless David Eccleston, 16-year-old Nicholas Faldo covered the morning 18 of the final in an approximate 69 strokes to lay the basis of an eventual 6&4 triumph. Informing reporters afterwards that it had cost him £100 to play the event, Faldo turned professional without defending his title.

Now, the Walker Cup is set to further enrich a splendid history when an Irish quintet of Paul Dunne, Jack Hume, Gary Hurley, Gavin Moynihan and Cormac Sharvin with English and Scottish colleagues, face an American line-up spearheaded by Bryson DeChambeau, only the fifth player in history to have added the US Amateur to the NCAA individual crown. And with Ryan Moore as an exception, the other three, Jack Nicklaus (3), Tiger Woods (3) and Phil Mickelson (1), went on to secure no fewer than seven Open Championship titles between them.

Mind you, it may be a comforting omen that none of those was achieved at Lytham.

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