Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chapter 6: Get the Lads to America

For  Seve    An Eye-witness Account
                  Oak Hill, 1995, Sunday Singles Match

      Tom Lehman was 2-up on Seve Ballesteros on the 12th hole.  Their balls were on the putting green, and I had a front
row seat in the grass alongside.  Lehman's ball was away and he putted first.  His ball stopped a foot from the hole.  While Seve and his caddie studied Seve's putt, Tom strode to his ball, looked at it, looked at Seve, looked at the gallery, and sort of shrugged.  Seve, still lining up his putt, seemed oblivious.  Tom, then, putted his ball into the hole as I, and the gallery around me, softly gasped.  In all my years of playing, watching and officiating I had never seen anyone do that before -- play out of turn like that in match play, when the ball was so close to the hole.  A conceded putt is picked up or knocked away. [In match play, when an opponent plays out of turn there is no penalty, but he may be asked to re-play the stroke.  Rule 10-1c] 

       Seve, Tom, and their referee conferred and Tom replaced his ball and marked it in a deliberate fashion, whereupon the gallery booed Seve, thinking he had pulled a gamesmanship ploy on Tom, who did nothing to quiet them.
      The referee later diffused the noisy gallery by explaining that Seve had not conceded Tom's putt because Tom's ball was his aiming point.  Had Seve conceded the putt, Tom would have picked up his ball and there would have been no marking process, no marker for Seve to aim for. 
      When Seve putted and missed, some of us groaned but generally the gallery thought Seve got what he deserved.  Tom not only won the match three holes later, he won, to my mind, the gamesmanship award that day without getting caught.  Upon reflection, I can imagine that Seve didn't mind being accused in the headlines the next day -- not this time anyway.
      As Seve played his final stroke in his very last Ryder Cup Match at the 15th green, I thought I detected a tear in his caddie's eye. 

 Origins of the Ryder Cup     
      Let's review: In 1920, American Walter Hagen invented the "unnattached" pro.  After he won the US Open, he played in the Open in England where he befriended the reigning  British champions Abe Mitchell and George Duncan.  Through his connections with Rodman Wanamaker, Hagen arranged exhibition tours in America for Mitchell and Duncan from 1921 - 1924.  The British pair found that the best place to be from, when you are in America, was England.  When they returned home to their jobs each year, they spread the word about American enthusiasm.  
Verulam Golf Course
        Meanwhile, 65 year old Sam Ryder, the rich Englishman with a serious addiction to golf, was concerned that the oppressive conditions under which English professionals labored were adversely affecting their competitive edge.  So, in July 1923, Sam did something for golf that was extraordinarily complicated and generous.  He, in concert with his brother James (to whom he gave most of the credit), invited British pros to compete in the Heath and Heather at Verulam Golf Club course (pictured above with the St. Albans Abbey in the distance) expenses paid, plus £5 to each entrant, to compete for prize money totaling £500.  The £5  was "appearance" money, not so the pros would appear, but so that they could afford to appear.  To compare prices, in 1925, Duncan's  salary as pro at Wentworth was £100 annually.   
         Mitchell, Duncan, Vardon, Taylor and Braid, and a full field of British golf professionals came to the Ryders' Heath and Heather, the name of James' herbal seed company, a subsidiary of Ryder and Son.  A movie was made of the famous swings, and at the end, Mrs. James Ryder, a handsome woman of Wagnerian proportions, awarded the prizes.  (For years I had thought she was Sam's wife Helen.)  The movie was shown at the Odeon for a week.
       I can imagine that  the British major champions, who had been to the USA, told Sam about the  benefits of American exposure. "Get the lads to America," they would have said, so that they can compete in the US Open  One way to do it was to make an international match for Professionals, like George Herbert Walker (as in Walker Cup) had done for the amateurs in 1920.  Time the Match to fit comfortably with the US Open
      A year later Sam went into action by asking Abe Mitchell, whose contract with North Foreland was about to expire,to come with his wife and son to live in St. Albans and, for £750 plus £250 expenses, do nothing but play golf.  It's hard to believe, but Abe's wife Dora told Hertfordshire Country Magazine that Abe hesitated. Sam had to ask him a second time before he accepted.

      Bernard Darwin had this to say about this somewhat bizarre situation:

"The American professional can, in some cases, afford to be unattached and makes a great deal of money in that way.  We have here only one professional who can be called "unattached" in that sense.  This is Abe Mitchell, who has an engagement as private playing professional with Mr. Ryder, a gentleman who gave the cup played for this year in an International match between the American and British professionals."
       The above quote, published in the January 15, 1927, issue of Literary Digest, is doubly clarifying to the careful reader. Not only is Darwin saying exactly what Ryder did -- that is, "unattach" Mitchell, he also proved what I had come to believe: there was a cup at that Ryder Cup Match at Wentworth in 1926.  The words "this year" in the above quote refers to 1926.

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