SI Vault
Bernard Darwin
September 03, 1956
Written especially for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Every game has its intense moments which fix themselves forever in the memory. To the swifter-moving games belong those instants of victory or defeat which pass almost as the speed of thought. The historic moments of golf are slower and more drawn out and, for that very reason, perhaps the harder to bear. The hush that falls upon a golfing crowd as the player studies a fateful putt is full of agony. I have many visions from Scottish links of a big, black square of people watching and waiting around the green with only the cry of curlews overhead to break that eerie silence.
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September 03, 1956

Great Moments Of Golf

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Now we must have something of the immortal Bobby. A kind friend once said that he read anything I wrote on golf except about Bobby Jones; as to him there was nothing to say and superlatives were a bore. Nevertheless I must take the risk, and for my moment I shall go first to St. Anne's in Lancashire at the Open Championship of 1926, the more readily because there is here a Hagen moment too. Bobby is partnered by Al Watrous; they are leading the field, and one of them will in all human probability win. Bobby has been having a hard time. Still he has now come with a fine rush; he has caught Watrous and they are even with two holes to play. At the 17th Watrous is right down the fairway, but Bobby has pulled his ball, not into a specific bunker as it is often described, but onto a waste of sand where there is today a little memorial to mark the spot as far as it can be identified. I am walking with Bill Fownes as he, looking at Watrous' ball and speaking of the value of winning the British Championship, observes, "He'll have that shot for about $100,000." Watrous plays the shot well enough to the outskirts of the green, and now for Bobby's. The shot is, I suppose, about 160 or 170 yards long. The ball is lying well, but to take as much as a tea-spoonful of sand would wreck the stroke. He uses his mashie-iron, as it was then called, and hits the ball as clean as if a bird had flown away with it. It comes in beautifully with a touch of draw and leaves him an easy 4. Poor Watrous takes three putts, and there is no $100,000.

Later Walter Hagen arrives on the 18th tee, wanting a 2 to tie with Bobby at a hole some 370 yards long. He hits a straight drive, walks forward to survey the green and then with a typically magnificent gesture has the flagstick taken out. The shot is magnificent too, for the ball very, very nearly pitches right into the hole. History has a way of being improved upon, and I have lately read an account by an American author who certainly was not there of how the ball remained an inch or two away. In fact, it went bounding on into a bunker behind the green, and Hagen, on the aut Caesar aut nullus principle, carelessly took 6 to hole out. Perhaps that author was thinking of Frank Stranahan's second-to-the-last hole at Hoylake in 1947. He also had a 2 to tie, and the ball finished three or four inches from the hole.

I must have one more moment of Bobby, that when he won the Open Championship again in the following year at St. Andrews with an irreverent, almost indecent score of 3 under 4s. He is winning by the length of the street—there is no doubt of that—but a huge crowd is following him to the end. His second has been a little cautious, and his ball lies in the Valley of Sin short of the green. He plays a perfect approach putt to lie stone dead; up swarms the crowd onto the edge of the green. He taps the ball in, and in an instant there is no green left to see; nothing but a swirling mass, with Bobby hoisted on worshiping shoulders, feverishly holding the famous putter, Calamity Jane, out of danger.

The hum of mighty hosts

That last green at St. Andrews has witnessed many such scenes, and I cannot for the life of me refrain from naming one of them, that of our solitary victory in the long series of Walker Cup matches in 1938. The wide empty plain stretching from the clubhouse to the Swilcan burn lends itself well to the movement of armies, and there is the trampling and the hum of mighty hosts there this afternoon. Ewing and Ray Billows are driving to the home hole; Ewing is dormy one, and, if he can but halve the hole, the day is ours. One army is with them, and then away in the distance at the 14th green we see another army suddenly break ranks and dissolve to come pouring towards the burn. That can mean only one thing: Kyle has beaten Haas, and Ewing and Billows no longer matter; nothing matters, we have won. Now the two armies are fused in one black mass and again come storming up the slope like the Old Guard at Waterloo. Ewing lays his putt dead, and Billows misses. On the outskirts of the crowd, Sam McKinlay advances towards me with outstretched hand. "Well, Bernard," he says, "we have lived to see this day." A little while later our American Amateur Champion, Charlie Yates, was leading the assembly in singing "A wee doch and doris...."

Memory's storehouse is still full of St. Andrews pictures, and two of them are tragic. There is Gene Sarazen battering away a second championship that ought infallibly to have been his, against the cruel sandy wall of the hill bunker at the 11th hole. There is poor Leo Diegel left with a putt of a yard to halve that same championship and barely succeeding in hitting the ball. There is Craig Wood, who did halve it with Densmore Shute, taking off his shoes and stockings at the first hole and playing his floating ball out of the burn and onto the green. That is a stroke that the old diehard, Mr. George Glennie, had once, many years before, called "No gowf at a', jist monkey's tricks." Nor must I forget that battle between two very great ladies, Miss Joyce Wethered and Miss Glenna Collett. The historic moment there did not come to me nor to anyone watching the match, but to an innocent, nongolfing stranger walking in the St. Andrews streets. Enter to him a postman on his rounds who, with no word of preface and a face of gloom, announces: "She's 5 doon." Such indeed was the incredible news from the links. Miss Wethered was 5 down and very nearly more. I still shudder in recalling the putt that Miss Collett did not hole to be 6 up. As every golfing schoolgirl knows, Miss Wethered won in the end on the 35th green, but it was almost a pity that both heroines could not be crowned.

Finally I must go from St. Andrews to Carnoustie to catch a glimpse of Hogan's championship two years ago. Not since Harry Vardon's invincible days with a gutty ball did one single golfer so dominate and monopolize a championship as Ben Hogan did this one of ours. There are eyes for nobody else. A Scottish crowd is nothing if not patriotic, and as long as Eric Brown is in the running with two fine rounds there are doubtless hopes and prayers for him, but once he has faded I think every man, woman and child on the links wants Hogan to win. His gallant crusade in quest of the one prize he has never tried to win, his astonishing recovery from his accident and his own pleasant personality have won him many hearts but, apart from these things, there is the conviction that he is just too good, that it would be an unbearable shame if anyone else should presume to win.

The last hole at Carnoustie is over a quarter of a mile long and the crowd is kept to the sidelines, so that the whole of the space is empty except for Hogan and his partner, their caddies and their markers. At this hole, the Barry burn lies in wait like a ubiquitous snake. He has escaped its first coil with his tee shot and now for the second with the burn directly barring the way. Hogan is so set for victory that nobody dreams of a mistake. Here comes the ball, deliberately played to the right of the hole, for there is out-of-bounds lurking on the left. The first putt is a little short, but he has plenty of strokes to spare; the second is in, and a cry of real genuine joy goes up from the crowd. The right man has won.

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