Sunday 15 December 2019

How green giants helped to redraw world's golfing map

Irish emigrants have left a mark on golf, especially in the US

A memorable endorsement of Ireland's rich golfing legacy came from Bobby Jones (above) who wrote: 'It was for a long time my ambition to play the Portmarnock links, and I envy those who will have this privilege'
A memorable endorsement of Ireland's rich golfing legacy came from Bobby Jones (above) who wrote: 'It was for a long time my ambition to play the Portmarnock links, and I envy those who will have this privilege'

Dermot Gilleece

Looking towards a year aimed at bringing the diaspora home, it seems appropriate to consider the very significant impact Irish emigrants have had on world golf. Indeed it would be quite a gathering if, by some miracle of timelessness, they could be brought together from various periods through the last century.

There would be arrivals from different parts of these islands and from continental Europe. But largely our golfing gathering would comprise those who took the boat to the New World where they became an integral part of the American game.

Our earliest golfing pioneer in England was Dollymount native Michael Moran. As a gifted 27-year-old, Moran became the first Irish professional to be noticed beyond these shores when he shared third place with Harry Vardon for prize money of £12.10s in the 1913 Open Championship at Hoylake.

In fact, having aroused extensive British interest, Moran took up an appointment at the newly-established Seaham Harbour Club near Sunderland in 1914. From there, he answered the call to arms on the outbreak of World War I, joined the South Irish Horse Regiment and was later killed in action in France in 1918.

Notable among those who ventured into mainland Europe was Harry Bradshaw's younger brother, Jimmy, whose exploits in Finland looked like leading to representative honours with that country in the 1960 Canada Cup at Portmarnock. Sadly, it never materialised because the Finns didn't enter a team.

When Ireland were in the process of capturing the European Men's Amateur Team Championship at Murhof, Austria, in 1987, I enquired of a local player if he had come across a professional named Mick Ferguson. "Ah, you mean F**king Mick," he replied with a broad grin.

We were referring to the one-time professional at Wien GC who was hugely influential in the development of golf in Austria as their national coach. A native of Greenore where he now lives in retirement, Ferguson won the 1949 East of Ireland Championship before joining paid ranks. In this latter capacity, he became notorious for his colourful language and for treating all his pupils equally, whether they were royalty or ordinary citizens. As in, "Listen Archduke, you f**king half-wit . . ."

One of his proudest achievements was to lead an Austrian amateur side in a representative match against Leinster at Grange GC in July 1974, though they lost by 2-and-a-half to 9-and-a-half.

Some decades earlier, the first Irish players to leave their mark in the US included fellow natives of Greenore. Prior to the arrival of Pat and Peter O'Hare, the first 'home-bred' winner of the US Open was a player by the name of Johnny McDermott. And on the occasion of his triumph in 1911, one of those he beat in a three-way play-off was a certain Mike Brady. Then, Tom MacNamara was runner-up and Brady was third when McDermott retained the title the following year. These were all first generation Irish-Americans. Some also made an impact in amateur ranks, notably a lad named J H Sullivan who, in the 1908 Greater Boston Interscholastic Championship, gained the distinction of beating a certain Francis Ouimet in the opening round. Ouimet, of course, went on to become the first amateur winner of the US Open, in the 1913 staging at Brookline. And he later married Sullivan's sister.

By this stage, a native-born Irish player who happened to be a woman had already taken the US by storm. In the autumn of 1903, as the reigning British Women's champion, Rhona Adair accepted an invitation to the US from the parents of Pansy Griscom, the US Women's Amateur champion of 1900.

Born in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, Adair was reported to have been overwhelmed by American and Canadian hospitality and "somewhat abashed by their publicity." Her hosts, however, were hugely impressed by the Irishwoman's power, notably her feat of driving a ball across the 170-yard expanse of a river. She played in tournaments in Boston, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec, and for the duration of a memorable tour was beaten only once.

Meanwhile, Irish-American golfing ranks were swollen by names such as JJ O'Brien, Tom and George Kerrigan, Willie Maguire, Tom Boyd, Eugene McCarthy, Tom Mulgrew, John Shea, Johnny Farrell, Frank and Tom Walsh, Jack O'Connor and Martin O'Loughlin.

But the O'Hares broke new ground as native Irish. One could imagine researchers of their activities in American tournaments becoming decidedly frustrated, for the simple reason that they didn't play under their given surname. Unwilling or unable to come to terms with the name O'Hare, Americans insisted on calling them O'Hara, which is how their names appear in US golfing annals.

There were, in fact, three O'Hare brothers, who hailed from 4 Anglesey Terrace in Greenore. All became professional golfers and whereas Jimmy remained at home and won the Irish Professional Championship of 1920, Peter and Pat sought their fortune in the US. Peter was first to make the move after winning the Irish Professional Championship of 1919 while attached to Dundalk. Pat then joined him in the US as resident professional at the Richmond County CC in Staten Island, New York.

So it was that long before the current generation of Irish professionals thought to look west for fresh fields to conquer, Pat O'Hare became their trailblazer on April 1, 1922. That was when he captured the North and South Professional Open at Pinehurst in what was the only staging of the event over 54 holes after Donald Ross, the course designer and manager, decided the second round should be abandoned because of torrential rain.

In O'Hare's wake were such luminaries as Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen and Jock Hutchison and a measure of the tournament's importance on the US circuit was that it later marked Ben Hogan's breakthrough tour victory in 1940. Meanwhile, Peter O'Hare's seventh-place in the 1924 US Open at Oakland Hills remained the best finish by an Irishman until Pádraig Harrington's fifth-place behind Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach in 2000.

Then there was the significant role played by an Irishman in establishing golf as what might be termed a White House sport. Having become the first professional at Delgany GC in 1908, Patrick J Doyle set his sights on a life in the New World.

So it was that he made a booking on SS Titanic in April 1912, but, through a stroke of good fortune, his connecting train from Dublin arrived late in Queenstown (now Cobh) and the doomed liner had already put to sea. In the event, the 23-year-old made the voyage in another ship and quickly displayed his skills in America, finishing 10th behind Ouimet in the 1913 US Open.

It was as a teaching professional, however, that Doyle excelled. Indeed so respected was he that his pupils included President William Howard Taft, Joseph Kennedy and world heavyweight boxing champions Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis. After a long, full life, he died at the age of 92, and by way of emphasising the value of sporting genes, he was the granduncle of Eamonn Darcy.

A memorable endorsement of Ireland's rich golfing legacy was that the great Bobby Jones saw fit to contribute a special message to the Canada Cup programme in 1960. "It was for a long time my ambition to play the Portmarnock links," he wrote, "and I envy those who will have this privilege." This, from a true golfing icon who just happened to have been born in 1902 – on St Patrick's Day.

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