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Yates a real giant of the game on and off the course

'When the 1938 Walker Cup was staged on June 3 and 4, the home side gained their first ever victory, by a 7-4 margin.' (stock picture)
'When the 1938 Walker Cup was staged on June 3 and 4, the home side gained their first ever victory, by a 7-4 margin.' (stock picture)

Dermot Gilleece

While making quite a deal of Jimmy Bruen's birthday, Henry Cotton filled almost half a broadsheet page of the News of the World explaining how Britain and Ireland were about to make history. It was Sunday, May 8, 1938 and the team for the forthcoming Walker Cup matches at St Andrews had just been announced.

A vacancy in the 10-man line-up would be filled after the British Amateur Championship at Troon later that month. That was when Cecil Ewing's performance in finishing runner-up to the American Charlie Yates earned him the remaining spot, so giving Ireland two representatives for the first time.

At this remove, the nature of the media coverage from 80 years ago created two distinct impressions. First, there was the dominant status which the amateur game commanded. The other was the extraordinary impact Bruen had made at a remarkably tender age.

Reflecting on the Walker Cup trials which had just been completed at St Andrews, Cotton wrote: "Fancy an 18-year-old boy doing 282 for four rounds - amazing!" Then, donning his cap as the Open Championship winner of 1934 and 1937, the distinguished professional went on: "I know what a stern course St Andrews is - long, difficult and tricky. And here was a mere boy playing it with a wise head and a technique that left everybody gasping.

"I have not known a player doing such scores no matter what his age. Bruen has, indeed, set a standard for all golfers . . . the scores produced were good enough to win an Open Championship."

By way of assessing Bruen's technique, he continued: "He swings a heavy, full-length, deep-faced driver of 15 ounces and hits the ball with all his might as far as anybody. He employs a wide, very pigeon-toed stance, swings his hands high, and hits the ball with a crack like a whip. He plays his iron shots as crisply and with as much assurance as a professional.

"His swing is not elegant and although he appears to lunge at the ball, a more observant eye will see that his left side is as solid as a rock at impact. The secret of his game appears to me to be his large, strong hands."

When media attention moved to the west coast of Scotland later that month, the dominant Irishman became Ewing. Unfortunately for him, he was opposed in the 36-hole final by the formidable Yates who, as one of the finest young players of his day, was generally in command en route to a 3 and 2 victory.

The bond that is created between sporting rivals was illustrated beautifully in the aftermath of Ewing's death from a heart attack in August 1973. His daughter, Ann Bradshaw, received a letter from Atlanta, Georgia, two months later. It read: "Perhaps you will recall that at Turnberry in 1963, I was with you and your wonderful Dad whom I played in the final of the 1938 Amateur Championship. My wife was with me and also present was a great pal of ours, Reg McCadden of Belfast. Recently he furnished a clipping concerning the passing of your father and now has given me your address.

"Thus, at this belated date, Dorothy and I want to extend our deepest sympathy to you and your family. Cecil was a wonderful person, full of life and always a pleasure to be with. During our match, I holed putts all over the course . . ." It concluded with the wish "I hope our paths cross again," and was signed 'Charlie Yates'.

"Through that letter, the events of 1938 suddenly took on a whole new meaning," said Mrs Bradshaw, the 2007 president of the Irish Ladies Golf Union. "It was most unexpected but greatly appreciated by myself and my family."

As a fine southern gentleman, Yates was a revered member of Augusta National and enjoyed a friendship with Bobby Jones spanning half a century. They frequently played together at the East Lake club in Atlanta during the years after Jones' retirement from major competition.

When the 1938 Walker Cup was staged on June 3 and 4, the home side gained their first ever victory, by a 7-4 margin. The basis of this was laid in Friday's four foursomes which they won by 2-1 after Bruen and Harry Bentley had halved the top match.

As a reflection of Bruen's inspirational value to the side, he was chosen also at the top of the singles order. This time, however, he was up against Yates who more than justified his newly-acquired status as British Amateur champion in a 2 and 1 victory.

The 36-hole match ended on the famous Road Hole 17th where Bruen, throwing caution to the winds, reached the green in two whereas Yates was short. The American sealed victory, however, by chipping and putting for par.

Later in the day, the 17th also became pivotal in Ewing's match against Ray Billows, when the Sligoman won it with an exemplary par. Then, amid tremendous excitement, he went on to secure a one-hole victory with a half in par at the last. '12,000 Cheer the Cup' proclaimed Scotland's Sunday Mail about an occasion on which, it claimed, St Andrews went "golf daft".

I met Yates during the 1997 Walker Cup weekend at Quaker Ridge where he was present as a survivor of the 1938 matches. In fact, I was part of a group from the Association of Golf Writers who presented him with a print of a Graeme Baxter painting of the short 17th at Troon, in gratitude for his many years as a very welcoming press officer at the US Masters.

Clearly charmed by the presentation, he proceeded to give us a fine, baritone rendition of 'A Wee Deoch an Doris'. He then related how he had learned the Scot ballad at St Andrews 59 years previously from the GB&I player, Gordon Peters, who was "grinnin' like a mule eatin' briars."

"I've got more mileage out of that song than Bing Crosby got out of 'White Christmas'," Yates concluded with a smile. And nobody doubted him.

Sunday Indo Sport

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