The British Amateur Championship is a cruel golf tournament. It is a test not only of golf finesse and skill but of brute stamina as well. Traditionally it is played on the longest courses in the British Isles; courses where wiry rough pinches in on fairways like a matron's girdle, where the best of shots are often swept off line by wild wind gusts and where chill rains soak fairways, cutting distance and intangibly sapping a golfer's vigor. In this setting the winner must play 36 holes a day for the last four days.
Thus a 21-year-old Deane Beman may win the British Amateur by combining precise putting with spring-legged youth, or an older Joe Carr may win it twice (1953 and 1958) by linking booming drives with 20 years of experience at playing British courses in British weather. But a 47-year-old paper salesman from St. Louis, Mo. can, in theory, never, never win it. Last week, however, one almost did.
Thin, graying Robert Cochran, long a top St. Louis amateur, came to the Royal Portrush links in North Ireland seeking "one last chance at a big one." His woods were wonderfully accurate down the narrow Port-rush fairways, and while his opponents tried to take this 6,842 ancient championship course (par 36-36: 72) by force, Cochran was out-thinking it. He gave the impression that, while he will from time to time make a bad shot, he might go five years without making an unintelligent one. He took unusual care with his grip, and once set it looked iron-hard. His putting was a model of the stiff-wristed American style which often has proved superior to the more relaxed British stroke. His putts were always louder than his opponents', indicating he hit the ball low and square.
Winner of his first five matches, Cochran was "awfully tired" by the 36-hole semifinal on Friday. Phone calls and nerves had left him with little sleep. Then for seven and a quarter weary hours he battled against 29-year-old Gordon Huddy of England. Never once was he ahead, but he was even at the 35th, gambled everything by hitting a four-wood out of a very bad lie in the rough to birdie the 36th and halve the hole, then hit his second shot on the green of the 5-par, 510-yard 38th to win.
In the finals Cochran faced Joe Carr, the 38-year-old pretournament favorite (2 to 1 odds). Always long off the tee (he once drove 383 yards uphill in the 1958 World Amateur) Carr was now accurate, too. The fatigue, the ache of his chronically bad back, and the sight of Carr's drives 40 yards ahead of his own, were too much for Bob Cochran. He couldn't match Carr's 69 going out; finally lost 8 and 7.
With that, Deane Beman's British Amateur title went to Ireland, but once again an American had made a profound impression in British golfing circles. And there were renewed complaints that the 36-hole semifinal and final matches were too long and too exhausting. A champion is expected to be fit. He should not be expected to be young.