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Cherishing his role on golf's greatest stages

H aving promised himself a sentimental return to Portmarnock Golf Club, you can imagine the reaction of Norman Drew when one of the first people he met there was Harry Bradshaw. Moments later, he was in the foyer of the beautifully refurbished clubhouse, silently absorbing every detail on a splendid, etched plaque carrying the results of the 1960 Canada Cup.

The famous name in the professional's shop now belonged to a 16-year-old from Swords, gaining some work experience. And his relationship with the original bearer is somewhat tenuous, in that his grandfather and the beloved Brad were first cousins. But the youngster's very presence stirred a flood of memories for Drew.

Ideally, he should have made the trip south sometime last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the most significant golfing event ever to be staged in this country. Yet his eventual arrival last week with Valerie, his wife of more than 52 years, seemed no less rewarding.

Standing back from the plaque, Drew said: "My third round of 76 killed it for us, though 289 wasn't a bad total. Pity it wasn't the 280 I had in the (Dunlop) Masters." That was also at Portmarnock, the previous year when he was tied second with Joe Carr behind Christy O'Connor.

Then he added: "When you look at it, Christy and I weren't that far behind. Fourth was a decent finish in a field including Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Peter Thomson and Kel Nagle. Nagle was a nice guy. Then you had Gary Player and Bobby Locke behind us. And Scotland's Eric Brown and John Panton. And Dai Rees and Dave Thomas for Wales."

Dressed smartly, Drew looked every inch the distinguished old pro. He brought with him a beautiful, gold replica of the Ryder Cup trophy which was presented to him by the PGA on the occasion of the 2002 staging at The Belfry, to mark their centenary. Indeed he has weathered well, considering he will be 79 in May, though he hasn't been able to play golf for close on 12 months since breaking his right ankle.

This was the man who, in 1960, became the first player from either side of the Atlantic to gain the distinction of Walker Cup, Ryder Cup and Canada/World Cup honours.

Looking out over familiar duneland, he mused: "It must be 10 years, at least, since I was last here. And more than twice that since my last competitive round at Portmarnock, in the Carrolls Irish Open. I remember turning to my playing partners and asking each of them for a fiver. When they looked a bit puzzled, I indicated the guy who was carrying one of those boards with our scores on it.

"The figures showed us to be 22 or 23-over par at the time, which was a bit embarrassing. 'I want to get rid of this fellow,' I said. With that, I gave him the £15 and told him to go off and have a drink for himself. And he could take the board with him."

Drew's father, a Dubliner involved in engineering, lived on Vico Road in Dalkey before the family moved to Belfast where the future champion golfer was born. "I always assumed I was given Vico as my second name because of my father's home place," he said. "My brothers knew me as Vico, not Norman. So did my school pals.

"As I grew older, however, the lads would shout 'Here comes VD'." He laughed. "My mother didn't like that. 'You're Norman Vico Drew,' she said, 'and you'll be called Norman from now on'. I have a photograph at home of Vico Road. Pity we don't own a house there now. It would be worth a few bob."

We talked about The Brad. "It really saddened me that I was made to feel I had taken Harry's place in the Canada Cup," he said. "You see Harry and Christy had won it in Mexico City in 1958 and they played again in 1959. So people thought Harry should have been picked again, because it was Portmarnock. I felt the public certainly wanted him and here was I taking his place. And it really got to me over the opening nine holes. I almost hit it out of bounds at the first; was in deep rough on the right at the second; nearly hit the fifth green off the third tee and found some bunkers, too.

"But I pitched and putted marvellously well to reach the turn in 37 shots. That's when Christy said: 'You won't survive unless you settle down. Take your three wood off the tee and hit it down the fairway'. My response was to start back with three birdies -- 3,3,2. All of a sudden the crowd were on my side and I did the back nine in 33. Christy played beautifully and had a 73; I was all over the place and still shot 70. With the huge galleries and no ropes, I remember Christy telling me that if I had any doubts about distance, I should just aim for the crowd at the back of the green. 'They're 10-deep,' he said 'and they'll not get out of the way.'"

Drew was in Balmoral GC in early July 1947 when word came through that Fred Daly had won the Open at Hoylake. Indeed he remembers being bought a celebratory soft drink by Dorothy Forster, a future Irish international.

Only a few years later, after being runner-up in the British Boys at St Andrews, he was rivalling Joe Carr as one of the country's leading amateurs. He won five championships -- the Irish Amateur Open (1952, 1953) the North of Ireland (1950, 1952) and the East of Ireland (1952) -- and gained Walker Cup honours in 1953.

Then, after turning professional in 1954, he had the misfortune to fall foul of the IPGA. Determining that he was filling the role of professional at North West GC when he should have been training as an assistant, they banned him from local competitions for five years. Still, he bounced back, gaining Ryder Cup honours in Palm Springs in 1959 after capturing the Yorkshire Evening News tournament, along with that runner-up finish in the Dunlop Masters.

A long, happy marriage, a daughter Heather and son Gordon, who is the professional at Donaghadee, would seem to reflect a rich, fulfilled life. Yet he admitted to serious regrets.

"I made a big mistake in the 60s by taking a club job at Ralston in Scotland where I stayed for six years," he said. "The money wasn't particularly good and I isolated myself."

"The truth is I never found much fun in the professional game, travelling here, there and everywhere with very little money in your pocket. And it was such a lonely life. Though I eventually learned to make the best of what it had to offer, I'd love to have stayed as an amateur if I could have got a decent job. As a leading player here in Ireland, I would have been welcome wherever I went, not like professionals, who weren't treated very well back then."

Then he looked again at the Ryder Cup replica. "Of course I would have missed this," he admitted. "Which would have been a great pity."

In that moment, I thought of Lee Trevino's insightful observation that whatever your status, golf never gives you everything. It always holds something back.

Sunday Indo Sport