Tuesday 23 January 2018

Giles' mentor put boot into many a victim

Dermot Gilleece

While chatting recently with Portmarnock professional Joey Purcell, I learned of a most unlikely link between himself, John Giles, singer Joe Dolan and one of golf's great hustlers, Hedley Muscroft. I last met Muscroft as a competitor in the 1992 PGA Senior Championship at Royal Dublin, when his club attachment was La Dame de Noche.

Seeing the exotic name on an entry form, a Tour official phoned the Yorkshireman with the query: "Is it a brothel or a golf club?" Gently but firmly he was assured it was one of the newest and most successful courses on Spain's Costa del Sol. And I understand the bold Hedley, now 72, is still in that area, taking in the sun while on the look-out for pigeons.

His connection with Giles stems from the player's move as a 22-year-old to Leeds United at the start of the 1963-'64 season. Golf first became part of the Dubliner's life in the late 1950s when, as a member of the Manchester United staff, he played most Mondays at the local Davyhulme Park club. "I started out with borrowed clubs, a cack-handed grip and a handicap of 14," he recalled.

Among the United players of the post-Munich period, Giles talked of striker Albert Quixall as a keen golfer, as was centre-half Bill Foulkes and, of course, Bobby Charlton. But, understandably, he gravitated towards fellow Irish internationals, Noel Cantwell, Tony Dunne and Shay Brennan. "We had some great fun together and Tony went on to become a very good golfer," he said.

It was only on joining Leeds, however, that Giles acquired the technique which would ultimately allow him to play off a five handicap. This could be attributed to lessons from Muscroft, then the resident professional at Roundhay Park, a nine-hole municipal course not far from Elland Road. "Don Revie was a keen player," Giles recalled. "So were Norman Hunter and Paul Madeley. And Big Jack (Charlton) played a bit too, though he was always more keen on fishing."

Giles remembers Muscroft as "a great character and a very committed Leeds United fan". But Purcell has rather different memories of an accomplished tournament professional who beat no less a figure than Christy O'Connor Snr in a play-off for the 1970 Classic International at Copt Heath.

He and fellow Yorkshireman Lionel Platts were also acknowledged as a fearsome partnership in money matches throughout Europe.

In 1972, the pair were at Mullingar for a pro-am and as a warm-up they beat Irish professionals Paddy McGuirk and Bobby Browne in a challenge. Then came the serious stuff. Six-handicapper Frank 'Twiggy' Daly challenged them to a match at £250 a corner. "As a 17-year-old playing off three, I was to be Twiggy's partner and it was only later that I heard the money was put up by Joe Dolan," said Purcell.

Muscroft and Platts played off scratch and the Mullingar pair took their shots as they fell. "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 decided to start playing in earnest."

In the event, the professionals 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, they won the match by 2 and 1. And when Daly insisted on a bye down the 18th, they won that too, with a birdie against a par.

Muscroft later told me he negotiated Mullingar in 64 that day on his own card, and their better-ball was 61. "I wouldn't mind but we played well," said Purcell. "I'd have probably knocked it around in level par or better at the time, but generally our birdie putts were for halves. They were nine under for the last eight holes."

"Oh yeah," he concluded with some feeling. "They were hot."

Sunday Independent

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