When the invitation came to compete in the 1938 Walker Cup trial at St Andrews, James Bruen Snr knew there was something he had to do. Permission would be required for time off school for his 17-year-old son.
Brother Pius, the principal of Presentation College Cork, was not impressed, declaring that he had never heard such nonsense. The persuasive powers of a formidable father, however, won the day and Jimmy Bruen duly took his place at the home of golf.
Revelling in the challenge, he completed a remarkable total of 282 for four rounds on the Old Course by Saturday, May 7, the eve of his 18th birthday. His place in the British and Irish team was assured from the opening round where his 68 equalled Bobby Jones' amateur course record, much to the delight of Henry Cotton, who was awestruck by the youngster's stunning skills.
The once sceptical Brother Pius was equally impressed, to the extent that he promptly declared a school holiday in celebration of their pupil's achievement.
As this time-frame indicates, Bruen was born on May 8, 1920, which means Friday next is his centenary. And he was five days short of his 52nd birthday when he died 48 years ago on this day, May 3, in 1972.
Sadly, there will be no formal marking of either occasion, due to current restrictions caused by coronavirus. "Cork Golf Club is closed and we can't even have a family gathering," said David, the second youngest of Bruen's six children, three boys and three girls.
Their remarkable mother Nell, a former president of the ILGU and the Ladies' Golf Union (since absorbed into the Royal and Ancient), is effectively isolated in a nursing home, two months prior to her 102nd birthday. Her one-time residence, appropriately named Birkdale after the venue of Bruen's British Boys and British Amateur triumphs, is now the home of another son, Michael.
Around this time back in 1972, Bruen had joined his son, David, for one of their regular weekend golf games together when suddenly he felt a sharp pain in his chest.
"He went immediately to hospital, but they couldn't find a problem," David recalled last week. "He then had a heart attack on a Wednesday and by the following Saturday, the hospital prognosis was that he would be paralysed. As a family, we prayed that he would be taken peacefully, because the prospect of being incapacitated would have been more than he could have borne.
"The following Wednesday, the phone rang and instinctively we knew what it meant. It was obviously a dreadful blow to have him taken from us at such an early age, but he lives on through the pages of a wonderful scrapbook my mother put together of his career. She looked after it like a baby and with its collection of newspaper cuttings, scorecards, telegrams and other memorabilia it's a wonderful tribute to dad. My mother gave it to me and I've willed it onto my son, James."
Bruen was president of Cork GC at the time, having earlier been club captain at the tender age of 23.
Even now, his legacy continues to surface in the most unexpected circumstances. Like the occasion, last season, when David was watching the brilliant young American tour player, Matthew Wolff, being interviewed on Sky Sports.
"They showed him hitting the ball and the pronounced way he kicked the left knee out, while swinging in to out," he recalled. "He was then asked if he had ever heard of Jimmy Bruen and Wolff replied that his coach referred to him all the time. Next minute, they flashed a photograph of dad on the screen, from behind, to illustrate the similarity with Wolff."
Fortunately, the famous Bruen Loop is preserved on a remarkable home movie which was among the gifts presented to Joe Carr on the occasion of his 80th birthday. It was shot by Gerry Owens, a former Irish amateur international and one-time president of the GUI.
Reliving old rivalries, Carr looked intently at grainy images before remarking softly: "I always thought the loop was more pronounced than that."
Later, he told me: "I have no hesitation is acknowledging Jimmy as the best Irish amateur I ever saw. No doubt about that. I played him three times but I thank God it wasn't in his heyday.
"I was lucky enough to beat him in the semi-finals of the Irish Close at Killarney in 1963 (their only championship meeting). And I beat him in a match between Leinster and Munster at Little Island and later when Sutton played Cork GC down there.
"But when I was a youngster at Portmarnock, in the years just before World War II, I played a lot with Jimmy. He had started in the insurance business in Dublin and used to keep his game in shape at Portmarnock where he would give myself and Billy McMullan four up and beat our better ball for money.
"Of course he was already a Walker Cup player by then and was way ahead of us and certainly a long way ahead of me. He was long, considerably longer in the air than I was. He drove Portmarnock's second and fifth greens and I saw him go through the back of the third with another huge drive. Still, I could chase a low ball which would run further than Jimmy's best."
He went on: "People talk about John Burke but he didn't have the shot-making talent of Jimmy who, in my view, was among the six best players in the world, amateur or professional, from 1938 until about 1942.
"Remember, had the 1939 Open at St Andrews been played over six rounds, he would have won it. There was nobody in this country in the same class as him at that stage, myself included."
Carr, who was two years Bruen's junior, concluded: "Though I never felt I had to emerge from his shadow, I have no hesitation in saying that in his heyday, Jimmy was better than me at my best, especially as a holer-out. But I would like to think I had a better career, though I certainly wouldn't have relished playing him at the peak of his powers."
For the Bruen children, having a famous father often proved to be a mixed blessing. Michael, the youngest, was only 10 when his father died, having had the chance of hitting just one golf shot with him, at a par-three on the old Mahony's Point course at Killarney. That was where the family enjoyed wonderful holidays together in two mobile homes, situated in a thicket close to the maintenance sheds.
"I remember being on holiday in Spain with a group of golfing friends," Michael recalled. "We were sitting in a pub in Fuengirola one night when this English gentleman turned to us and asked 'Do I detect an Irish accent?'
"When we told him we were from Cork, he replied that there was a famous golfer from Cork named Jimmy Bruen. Whereupon my friends pointed at me saying 'That's his son, there'. The Englishman couldn't get over it. We didn't put our hands in our pockets for the rest of the evening."
Michael went on to relate another occasion when his father and a scratch-golfer friend, Dick Lord, went partying together on the eve of a big competition at Little Island.
"They were out so late that they eventually decided to catch 6.0am mass, it being Sunday morning," he said. "From there, without sleep, they headed for the golf club where, presumably, they had breakfast.
"Then came the competition and Lord later said that having signed dad's card, he could verify that he finished with seven threes. When he told that story in the Bruen Room, you could hear the gasps from a host of decent golfers in the audience."
David, who is now 64, recalled another occasion when, in the late 1960s, he and his father competed in a pre-Christmas semi-open at Killarney. "I was playing off 16 at the time and in the morning singles, I won and dad was second," he said.
"Then in the afternoon, we teamed up in a fourball, which we won. So we drove home to Cork that evening with four dead turkeys on the back seat of the car. It remains a lovely memory. Dad played OK, but I lost count of the number of times the right hand came off the club on his follow-through, because of the pain in his wrist."
This was a reference to an injury from shortly before his 27th birthday in 1947 which seriously undermined Bruen at the peak of his powers. While practising at Little Island, his right wrist suddenly stopped functioning and he never again recovered the awesome power of old.
He later put the damage down to lifting heavy stones for a crazy pavement around the house he had recently moved into. It meant withdrawing from the 1947 Walker Cup team and though he returned for the matches at Winged Foot in 1949 and Royal Birkdale in 1951, a one-time fearsome flame was never rekindled.
"I remember him rubbing nettles on the wrist, which seemed to give him relief," said David. "When Cortisone came on the market a few years before he died, it proved to be a miracle, providing great relief. Sadly, that was far too late to save his golf game.
"As it was, nothing but the best would have satisfied him. Though our mum always said that Michael was the one who inherited perfectionism from dad, I have to say that much of it also rubbed off on me.
"The car, for instance, had to be put away in the garage at night, then washed every morning. And at the weekend, it would have to be hoovered and polished and tyre-paint applied. Everything had to be perfect."
He went on: "But we had a wonderful life. Our home in Blackrock was on 16 acres where we had Jersey cows, pigs, ducks and chickens and there was about an acre of kitchen-garden where we grew our own vegetables.
"We had our own cream and butter, everything you could want. A dream place to be brought up, insulated from the outside world.
"It included our own swimming pool and a barbeque area. Beside that, there was a tennis court. Then there was the driving range and the putting green which he built himself and which became his pride and joy.
"It had to be cut with a hand-mower every day during the growing season and its quality was very similar to the greens at the golf club.
"Situated on a U-shaped slope, it had only one hole, with the contour delivering every conceivable type of putt. Interestingly, the hole was smaller than the normal diameter of 4.25ins, which meant that when you went to the course, the standard hole looked like a bucket."
Peter Alliss, who saw Bruen play in 1950, was prompted to remark: "He had the most beautiful, simple putting stroke, but then don't all good putters have that memorable gift."
Then David made a point of adding: "While I discovered more about dad's impact as a golfer after he died, what has never really come out about him is what a tremendous family man he was.
"He really lived for his family. Apart from giving us a wonderful home, he taught us how to do everything from fly-fishing to shooting, swimming, sailing and, of course, golf. That's how I'd like him to be remembered at this time - as a loving father and a tremendous family man."
As it happened, it fell to David to take up the Bruen golfing mantle when his father died. His first move in this context was to head for Penina where the family had an apartment, close-by Cotton's residence. "I played off five at the time and thought I was good, until my fade was shown not to work especially well around the eucalyptus trees down Penina's right-to-left first hole," he said.
"Then, on returning home, I discovered that being Jimmy Bruen's son could be a bit of a problem. There was an instance at Douglas Golf Club, where the men's changing room is very close to the back tee. I remember standing there waiting to tee-off when the door opened and two members came out. 'I must go over and look at this fellow,' one of them said, 'though he'll never be as good as his dad'. That has stuck with me ever since. I know people don't mean it, but it was like being stabbed by a knife. As things turned out, I never got down below four handicap and I now play off six."
Ironically, the thoughtless remark would have disgusted the man himself, given that he was happy to share the fairways with practitioners of the most modest capabilities.
In early competition, however, they were players of the highest rank. In the wake of the 1939 British Amateur in which Bruen lost in the quarter-finals to Alex Kyle, the eventual champion, Henry Longhurst wrote: "With all due respect to the winner, I have to confess that I shared the general opinion that Bruen stood head and shoulders above them all, British and American . . . For myself, I should rate Bruen in the highest professional class and shall not be in the least surprised if he wins the Open."
Seven years later, the same scribe suggested that the destination of the Amateur was decided on Birkdale's long 14th. Longhurst explained: "With two shots delivered against the wind and on rain-sodden ground, Bruen carried 520 yards. I should not have believed it if I had not seen it . . . and the resultant four made him dormie. [Bob] Sweeney [his American opponent], who has played with Jimmy Thompson, Sam Snead and all the long hitters in the United States, declared that none of them could have come anywhere near equalling those prodigious strokes. The right man won and hats off to the loser."
So it is that in approaching a significant milestone, we salute Bruen as a talent unique in the history of golf in these islands. To quote a much-loved if over-used Irish phrase, "we shall not see his like again".
Sunday Indo Sport