SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
July 22, 1974
Capping a personal tour de force on a funny old course in a tacky old music-hall town, the little South African slugged back at the winds, knocked down par and ran off with his third British Open
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July 22, 1974

Gary Player's Expo

Capping a personal tour de force on a funny old course in a tacky old music-hall town, the little South African slugged back at the winds, knocked down par and ran off with his third British Open

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Player was the only one who managed to avoid any major tragedies on the back side, and he was again three strokes in front by the time everybody was required by tradition to play a final 18 holes. In that last round, Player birdied the first two holes and then drilled a two-iron onto the par-5 6th green. It dribbled up to within seven feet of the cup to set up an eagle 3 and it was checkout time, folks. Neither Nicklaus nor the Englishman Peter Oosterhuis, the closest challengers could ever get within three strokes in the closing round.

True luxury was Player being able to bogey the 15th hole, then bogey the 17th, then hit a four-iron up against the Royal Lytham and St. Annes clubhouse wall and take a left-handed swipe at the ball with a putter, and then two-putt from eight feet for the world's oldest championship.

Everything exciting about this championship had occurred hours and days before, most notably two splendid controversies involving the rules of golf that furnished at least some background patter to the tunes Player was strumming with his irons. First came one of those personality clashes between an American and a Scot, the kind you sometimes get in Ryder Cup play. It was a question of honesty, as America's Hubert Green saw it. And it was a question of somebody not minding his own business, as Scotland's Bernard Gallacher saw it.

During Thursday's second round the two of them were paired with a highly frustrated Lee Trevino—he had shot a 79 the day before—and at the 3rd hole Trevino asked Gallacher to mark his ball, which was just off the edge of the green. Gallacher did so. But a few minutes later, as they were walking toward the next tee, Green told Gallacher he didn't particularly like the massage Gallacher had given the ball as he held it.

"Rubbish," said Gallacher. "I was just holding it in my hand. What business is it of yours?"

"Well, I'm keeping your card," Green said. "And I think I'll leave that hole blank until we get in." Gallacher was outraged, even though Green finally consented to pencil in a par 4, which is what Gallacher had made. Green was embarrassed about the incident. "I'm sorry he's sore," he said. "I gave him the 4 but I'm still not sure he knows the rules."

A day later the question came up as to whether the R & A itself knew very much about the rules. This was when South African Dale Hayes played a "phantom" round, a 73 that will never be recorded in the books because he wasn't, ex post facto, supposed to be competing at all. On Thursday, Hayes, who was in the company of Nicklaus, had lost a ball in the bushes on the 15th. After Hayes and Nicklaus spent the allowed time looking for it, Hayes gave up and strolled back down the fairway and dropped a provisional. But then Nicklaus found the first ball. Hayes picked up the one he had dropped and went to play the first ball. In that instant he violated a well-known rule of golf: once you drop a provisional, that is the ball in play.

It was not until the next day, after Hayes had finished his third round, that the R & A decided he should have a four-stroke penalty; two for playing the wrong ball, one for touching his ball, or something like that—it was not altogether clear—and a fourth stroke, arbitrarily, just for being dumb, one presumed. In any case, it meant that with all those penalty strokes for the second round Hayes had missed the cut and never should have played the third round.

This muddling seemed to fit in perfectly with the circus atmosphere of the unique town of Blackpool. Of all the venues for the British Open, Blackpool, on the Irish Sea, must surely be the funniest. Muirfield near Edinburgh is classy and St. Andrews is ancient and Carnoustie is properly somber, but Blackpool is a goofy bingo parlor/ music hall/ roller coaster gathering place for mill workers and their families.

The fact that the Royal Lytham and St. Annes golf club happened to turn up there one day late in the 19th century at the end of Blackpool's three-pier promenade was due to the fact that the barons of Manchester wanted a course on the sea. So there it sits today, surrounded by homes built of "lavatory brick," tumbling along over the Lancashire sandhills, meandering through the scrub willow, hard by the railway tracks that seem to mark all of Britain's classic courses and frequently lashed by winds off the cold, oatmeal-colored Irish Sea.

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