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It has become part of our national idiom in the last few years—and it may currently be an international habit, though I wouldn't know that—to declare at the conclusion of some annual event that this year's version topped all others that went before. If it wasn't simply "the best," it was at least "the most thrilling" or "the most spectacular" or the most something in one direction or another, as if to claim anything less were to admit that a retrogression had set in.
By the very nature of sports, the latest running of a good event cannot invariably be an improvement on its predecessors. I have never understood why it wasn't satisfying enough to say, for instance, that the 1959 Masters was enormously exciting, what with Art Wall's incredible finish, without having to imply that it surpassed in excitement the 1954 Masters, in which Patton all but upset the applecart, or the 1935 Masters, which Sarazen won after holing his double-eagle. Sometimes you can get so upbeat that you end by losing the beat.
I mention this because in Melbourne after the recent Canada Cup match it was almost de rigueur for the visiting professional praise singers to allude to it automatically as the best Canada Cup ever. I don't know whether it was or wasn't, recalling the dramatic virtues of entirely dissimilar character which made the editions at Wentworth in 1956 and Tokyo in 1957 something to remember. However, this recent match held at the Royal Melbourne Club was an awfully good one, and staged as it was in a country which loves and lives sports with a passion that in several respects goes far beyond ours, it was loaded with some wonderfully interesting aspects and touches that could not be introduced in last week's report, and I would like to tell you something about them now.
To begin with, a minimum of 10,000 spectators were on hand daily, and all of us were indeed impressed by the behavior of these large crowds and the tactful efficiency of the men who were charged with marshaling them. In most major American and British tournaments nowadays, each hole is completely roped off from tee through the green, a very good system in that it allows more people to see what is going on than was possible under the old method when the horde raced down the fairway to fight for position to watch the next series of shots, there to be met by a squad of panting marshals hurrying to link up their bamboo poles or their ropes. At the same time, the old method had one advantage: the spectators could get up much closer on the approach shots and be standing relatively behind the line of the ball as it flew toward the pin, the best vantage for appreciating the quality of a golf shot.
At Royal Melbourne, since the fairways could take it, a combination of both systems was used. The fairways were roped off, but after the drives the gallery was permitted to surge onto them and watch the second shots from behind a new control line the marshals created by unhooking a long segment from each side of the perimeter rope and swinging the two together to form a cordon across the width of the fairway. After each foursome had played its approaches, the two segments of rope were swung back and the unbroken perimeter restored.
The first morning of the tournament I was a member of the small army that went out to follow the Australian team of Thomson and Nagle, who were paired that day with the defending champions, Bradshaw and O'Connor of Ireland. On the fourth hole O'Connor hooked his drive into the young wilderness of tea trees off to the left. Down the fairway the ropes were swung out, all of us moved up to them and O'Connor with a mournful expression disappeared into the shrubbery. I had earlier been impressed by the consideration the spectators had shown each other—no pushing, no hard looks, everyone unaffectedly cooperative, which, from the little I have seen, is the code of the Australian as well as of Tristram Shandy's Uncle Toby: surely there is enough room for all of us. Now it was that I was first impressed by the marshals. Brooding in the alien corn, O'Connor was trying to make up his mind whether to play a safe shot out laterally or to risk going for the green, and the crowd was surging forward with curiosity when the marshal addressed us. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said in a tone with which I have never been spoken to before in my life by a marshal, "Ladies and gentlemen, can you please hold it a tick while Mr. O'Connor decides what he wants to do." I was quite stunned by this civility and thought it was just one of those occasional lapses officials make, but before the day was over I realized it was the rule and not the exception. Late in the afternoon, for example, I joined the throng encircling the 18th green as Middlecoff and Snead were finishing. The Americans and their playing partners were about 20 paces from the green when an official voice sang out softly over the P.A. system. "Ladies and gentlemen," the voice said, "may I remind you, though I know it is unnecessary, that complete silence is requested when the players are putting. And those cameras, save them for another day, will you?"
You should not jump to the conclusion that because this patient politeness was rampant at Royal Melbourne there is anything svelte or "refained" about Australian golf galleries that would lead one to mistake them for the folks who perform the Ascot Gavotte number in My Fair Lady. The average Australian is a working bloke. He was out to see Sammy Snead—it was always Sammy—and the other stars, and when he wasn't working hard studying the golfers he was working hard eating and fortifying himself for another go with the galleries.
The food facilities, by the way, were very good indeed. If you wanted to play it conservatively, you could stick to Coca-Cola and an Australian hot dog, which is served with catsup. Most of the fans seemed to prefer beer and hot meat pies (which also come, requested or not, with a couple of shots of catsup), and they were absolutely right. The galleries know their golf, too. Usually, all Snead has to do to arouse a chorus of open-mouthed "ohs" and "wows" and "whees" is to hit a tee shot. Here it was different. He had to hit a good tee shot, or the air was rent with silence. On the morning of the third day, for example, the Americans and South Africans were paired together. After the introductions on the first tee by Frank Pace, the head of the International Golf Association which sponsors the Canada Cup, Cary Middlecoff stepped up to drive. He belted a long one but it was pushed a bit. Not a single handclap. Snead, up next, coiled and uncoiled into his beautiful swing and powdered one that had a bit too much draw on it. Not a single handclap. The gallery was not being reserved. They simply didn't want to insult a man by feigning to admire a shot they knew he knew was not up to his best standard. When the next man to drive, Gary Player, hit one that was straight down the middle all the way, the applause was instant.
The Canada Cup being the first big international golf tourney ever held in Australia, it was given frontpage coverage in the Melbourne papers—with a population of over a million and a half, this is no sleepy, country town—as well as extraordinarily complete television coverage. On Saturday, the last day, a full six hours of the play was telecast. I wouldn't want this to get around, it being a contradiction in terms for a golf reporter to be at a course and stay in the clubhouse, but on Saturday, with the temperature over 90 and 10,000 people tramping along in Thomson's and Nagle's gallery, it seemed the better part of valor to watch part of the proceedings over the TV set in the cool clubhouse bar. While it can hardly be termed a shock to discover that other countries televise golf better than we do, here the measure of superiority is large. The cameramen have learned how to pick up the ball early in its flight and stay with it all the way. The commentators were un-showy and well informed, with the glaring exception of one member of the team who, reporting the play on the 15th, misidentified the players and confused the action with such unfailing regularity that he might have served his apprenticeship studying the telecasts of the Crosby.
As for the golf itself, the Canada Cup, from its second meeting in 1954 when 25 nations sent teams, has really been two events in one. First, you have the tournament proper. For all intents and purposes, this is a contest between the teams from the traditional golf-playing nations: United States, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, South Africa and Australia. No one else has a glimmer of a chance in the scoring competition except possibly the Argentines, the surprising Japanese and the Spanish team of the two Miguel brothers, Angel and Sebastian. Secondly, it is an assembly of golfers from all parts of the world, from nations ancient and new, immense and small.