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.
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
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
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.