THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP – Roddy Carr shares some great stories of the Open of Old remembered with 2020 hindsight
The Open is quite simply the best golf Championship in the world. Why, because it’s the oldest and most prestigious golf event in the world and is ‘open’ to everyone, which is why it is called the Open.
I tried many times to prequalify over the years and made it only once, in 1976. I remember vividly as a starving young pro on tour playing with Raymond Floyd in the last round. All he could do was bitch all the way around about how slow play was and how he would miss his flight home! I managed Floyd years later while working at IMG later and I told him how he had contributed to me shooting an 80 in the last round!! He didn’t care… it’s a selfish game on tour.
I have always loved the Open and the memorable moments it has delivered. The flamboyant Doug Sanders, who sadly passed away recently, missing that two-footer against Jack in 1971 with the whole world watching on the 18th green at St. Andrews. Few will remember the incredible six-iron shot he hit to the 71st. hole. As it happened I played with Doug and Sean Connery (007) the very next day in Cecil Whelan’s Charity Pro-Am at Woodbrook in Dublin and asked him about it. He told me: ‘I didn’t have the airmail shot required in my bag, the only shot that would work for me was to punch my 6 iron into the mound on the right corner of the road hole bunker to take the sting out of it and hope to hold the green, and not finish on or over the road. He played it! Jack hit an eight iron so high that came down like a butterfly with sunburned feet into the heart of green’. Sanders shot was a stroke of genius by one of the purest shot-makers the game has ever seen.
I loved hearing stories from the old-timers about The Open. I was lucky enough to have John Jacobs as my coach and Henry Cotton as my mentor during my early days on tour. I spent many months with Henry and his beloved wife Toots’ in their Casa Blanca house at Penina in Portugal with my great friend and traveling companion Warren Humphries. In those days there was no TV in Portugal and after dinner every night we would sit by the fire and listen to Henry regaling us with stories from the past. Stories about Bobby Locke and how he never spoke, only through the News of The World newspaper, who ended up sponsoring a challenge match between the two of them where 10,000 people watched the duel.
I later played with Locke in South Africa and when I asked him about Henry, he snapped, ‘Cotton couldn’t putt and never won in America’. He didn’t mention the three Open’s Henry had won against the best players in the world.
The story Henry told us about his Open experience in 1934 is one I will never forget.
Henry was not your ordinary artisan Pro that drove a Morris Minor in those days. He played golf with King George and drove a Rolls Royce, much to the displeasure of the Members of Royal Mid-Surrey, where he was the Professional. He arrived at Royal St. Georges GC for his first practice round on the Monday. He walked up the elegant wide steps of the entrance to be greeted by the uniformed recoated guard who asked him who he was. He said I am Henry Cotton and I am here to play The Open. The uniformed guard asked him “are you an Amateur of Professional?”. Henry replied: “A professional’. The guard then instructed him that he was not allowed in the Clubhouse but he could change his shoes in the caddy shed around the corner and he could get a sandwich out the side window of the kitchen if he was hungry.
Professionals were not allowed in the Clubhouse!
Henry said nothing changed his shoes in his car and played his practice round. The next day Henry, driven by his chauffeur in the Rolls, parked at the foot of the steps of the Club. The chauffeur got out, set up a table with the best of linen and crystal glass and served Henry a lunch of caviar and champagne on the steps of the clubhouse. He said nothing to anybody and then went to play his second practice round. He shot 65 in his third round, a famous round as the Dunlop 65 ball was named after it and lead the Open by 10 shots.
Toots, the daughter of an Argentinian beef baron of aristocratic stock, who was incensed with the clubhouse issue, went to the farmer who owned the field behind the wall of the car park – in sight of the clubhouse. She rented the field and had a marquee erected that night. Henry went on to win the Open and hosted a champagne reception for ‘Professionals Only’ that final night, to celebrate and hammer home his message. Pure class and a gamechanger from the man responsible for taking the pros from the caddy shed into the clubhouse all those years ago.
Henry spent his final month living with me in London before he passed. He was a truly great man that grew old so gracefully like a happy old elephant. He had the most beautiful hands on a golf club I have ever seen along with Arnold Palmer. I was honoured to know him as I did.
John Jacobs, another who recently sadly passed, told me that when he Dai Rees and Max Faulkner played the Open at Portrush in 1951, it finished on the Friday because they Professionals had to be back behind the counter in their pro shops for the members at 0800 on Saturday morning! I never knew The Open used to finish on Fridays in those days!
Nowadays people and the Pros forget those old stuffy rules. I remember after we won the Walker Cup at St. Andrews in 1971, my mother Dor was the first woman to ‘crash’ into the R&A Clubhouse along with the multitude of Irish followers on that final night singing Kevin Barry under the portrait of the Duke of York! The ‘friendly’ Secretary of the R&A at the time and a real character, Keith McKenzie, who had stayed at our house in Sutton several times, watched with a wry smile on his face. How things have changed – for the better.
We will miss the Open most of all this year as it is truly THE EVENT on the golfing calendar as was clearly experienced last year with Shane Lowry wrote the fairy-tale that was the return of the Open to Portrush. Who will forget those scenes of the triumphant Shane, a lad from the GAA being celebrated with such uplifting joyous passion by all Irishmen, women and children, from both sides of the border. It was truly a historic site to behold on our Island and another gamechanger, thanks to The Open.
July 19th 2020