At the Royal Lytham and St. Anne Golf Club, that weather-beaten links off the Irish Sea above Liverpool where Bobby Jones in 1926 captured the first of his three British Opens, Joe Conrad, a small, compact, steady and impassive 25-year-old Air Force lieutenant from San Antonio, gained the first major triumph of his career last Saturday by winning the 60th edition of the British Amateur Golf Championship. A member of the American Walker Cup team which successfully invaded Great Britain in May, Conrad, a very likable redhead who was Southern Amateur champion in 1953 and '54, achieved his new eminence by making his way quietly and surely to the final and there outplaying, 3 and 2, an equally unflamboyant Yorkshireman, Alan Slater. A 36-year-old businessman-engineer, Slater had never before won as much as the Yorkshire County championship. But day after day in this grueling tournament—seven rounds of 18 holes precede the 36-hole final—he had not only outscored but had soundly outgolfed a succession of players of far more luminous reputation, among them two Americans and Britain's reluctant lion, Joe Carr of Dublin.
The final between Conrad and Slater was played in "typical British golf weather." During most of the morning round, the Lancashire sky was so absolutely colorless it was not even gray, and from it a chilly rain fell on the rolling duneland fairways. Midway through the cold afternoon a black thunderstorm rushed out of the south and pelted the players again. On a rainless, windless day St. Anne's presents a far less stern test of golfing skill than the truly classic British seaside courses—say, St. Andrews, Muirfield and Hoylake. It measures only 6,657 yards from the back tees and under congenial conditions its long par 4s play moderate par 4s and its short par 5s amount only to fairly difficult long par 4s. But when, as in the final and on a few other days of this tournament, the fairways and the rough become heavy with rain and a south wind is blowing off the sea, St. Anne's is something more than a junior-grade championship test. It plays long enough. Its narrow fairways become extremely hard to hit. So do its relatively small greens, peppered all around by pot bunkers, as many as six or seven on some holes, some of them cut at the very edge of the putting surface. St. Anne's then calls for control.
All week long Conrad and Slater had hit the ball straight and putted steadily, and these qualities, which will take a golfer a great distance in any circumstances, took them all the way to the final on this tight old battlefield that is bounded along several holes by a railroad and is now enclosed on practically all sides by that inevitable decorative motif signifying the triumph of suburbia over the English countryside—those rows and rows of gray-and-tomato-colored houses, each unalterably the same in design.
Conrad—or Smoky Joe, as the self-contained Texan was inexplicably dubbed by his Walker Cup teammates and thereafter referred to by the British press, which dearly loves a sobriquet—was never behind at any stage of the final. He won the long 3rd hole when Slater pushed one onto the railroad tracks, out of bounds. After the 6th, 471 yards into the wind to a sloping plateau green where he smashed the second of two superb woods 14 feet from the pin, Conrad stood three-up. Slater got back into the game by winning the 9th and the 10th, but Conrad, whistling as he worked, took the 11th, 14th, 15th and 16th with sharp, deliberate play, lost the 18th, and so went to lunch holding a very comfortable four-hole lead.
June 12, 1955
Peter Ryde, the golf correspondent of The Times of London, was an unwitting accomplice to Conrad's rally. On the 11th, 478 yards downwind, Conrad for some strange reason elected to play a 3-wood for his second when all he needed to get home was a 4-iron. The resultant shot was much too long and was headed for the thicket behind the green when it struck Ryde's umbrella and came to rest in the heavy rough. It presented Conrad with a very tough lie but it was playable, which was the big thing, and he seized the break with a perfectly judged chip that died five feet from the cup. He sank the putt to win a hole he could easily have lost, and was off again.
Four-up is a pretty luxurious lead for a golfer of Conrad's stability to have on his hands at the halfway mark. Starting the afternoon round, Smoky appeared to be a wrinkle less relaxed than he customarily is, a state of mind which is par for the course even for Texans when the prospect of winning something really important becomes a tangible reality. Nevertheless, he added another hole to his lead by dropping an eight-footer on the first hole (the 19th of the match). This would have discouraged most opponents then and there. Not Slater. All through the week he had held his poise in tight corners and he did so here. He cut Conrad's lead down to 4 by holing a sidehiller of about 18 feet for his par after three useful shots to the long 21st. He cut another hole away with par 3 on the 188-yard 23rd where Conrad was bunkered. He cut still another hole away when Conrad conceded the 24th after he had played five shots and was still not in the cup while Slater lay four feet away in three. Only two down, Slater kept on coming and won the 26th with an orthodox par by holing a two-and-a-half-footer after Conrad had opened the gate by missing most uncharacteristically from three feet. Slater had now swept four of the last six holes. One more win and he would square the match.
The 9th, or the 27th, is a short hole played from an elevated tee to a green practically encircled by traps. It measures 163 yards. Slater stepped up, took his slightly loose and effortful swing, and slapped a fine shot through the crosswind which finished hole-high, 20 feet to the left of the pin. Throughout the tournament Conrad had been having trouble finding this green. Now, when he had to, he summoned his best shot of the day, a low 3-iron that started off on the flag and held that line all the way, hit the green a few yards short of the hole and pulled up eight feet past. There was nothing meek about Slater's reply. He banged his 20-footer into the back of the cup. Now, this was a moment. If Conrad did not hole his eight-foot, slightly downhill putt, his whole handsome lead would be gone and...with no fidgeting at all, he holed it.
In retrospect this was the match, this "covering" putt of Conrad's. Gradually he rebuilt his lead. Conrad was the more accomplished shotmaker; he had to be, for Slater was his peer in resolution. It will be a long while before one has the privilege of watching a counterattack such as the gaunt York-shireman mounted in the gray and windy afternoon.
A SPECIAL CHARM
The British Amateur by its very structure has a special kind of charm. It is the last of the big championships which demands no qualification round. Any golfer whose handicap "does not exceed 3" can enter, and as a result it draws a unique gallimaufry of contestants: tens of American golfers who seldom play in tournaments back home; a high number of American servicemen doing their tours of duty in Europe; golfers from all corners of the British Commonwealth; a sprinkling of European players; and, most unusually, scores of middle-aged players, some of them retired businessmen whose business now is improving their golf, others of them rotund ex-champions for whom playing in the British Amateur is an annual reunion.
The casual nature of the field does not mean, however, that the British are casual about the tournament. After the long series of defeats they have incurred in international golf, the baby they love most of all, British golfers wanted a victory by a native son and they wanted it terrible. It was understandable then that hearts were somewhat lighter when three of our Walker Cuppers, Don Cherry, Bill Campbell and Dick Yost, were eliminated in the first round, reducing the American threat right off the reel.
On Thursday morning, the day of the fourth and fifth rounds, of the 32 remaining players, 11 were still Americans. Seven of these had to be watched closely: Patton, Conrad, Cudd, Jackson and Morey of the Walker Cup team; Jimmy McHale, an ex-Walker Cupper, and strapping young Don Bisplinghoff from Orlando, Fla., who won the North and South Amateur in April and had come over for his first crack at British golf. Bisplinghoff's confident style and demeanor during the first few days' play had given British fans plenty to think about, and so had his name. "Pronouncing that chap's name," Bernard Darwin commented one evening, "is like putting. One day you have it and the next you don't."
Four of the seven—Morey, Cudd, McHale and Jackson—went out in what was really Fratricide Day. The draw frequently brought two Americans together and one necessarily had to lose. Bisplinghoff raced through the first 12 holes against Cudd 5 under even 4s and at length beat the dogged Oregonian 4 and 2. Patton beat middle-aged George Coleman of Oklahoma but was wild and not too impressive doing so, St. Anne's being much too confining a course for him to maneuver in—the Vic Seixas of golf. He had been getting by on his net game—his wedge play and his putting. And in the mellow twilight, after a staccato seesaw in which but three of the 18 holes were halved, Conrad edged by Jimmy Jackson, one-up. In another way it was also Alan Slater Day. The unheralded York-shireman had been personally responsible for ousting two Americans, Morey and McHale. Both had been close matches but Slater had produced the better shots down the stretch.
ANOTHER GIANT KILLING
And so finally it was Friday, with the big unwieldy field now whittled down to eight quarter-finalists. At the top of the draw Slater met Joe Carr, and killed yet another giant. In the second match Bisplinghoff, after a fine comeback that forced the match into extra holes, lost on the 20th green to Arthur Perowne, who had been a British Walker Cupper six years ago at the age of 19. The third match loomed as the match of the morning, inasmuch as it brought together Billy Joe Patton and Philip Scrutton, the frail Englishman whom he had beaten 2 and one over 36 holes in their Walker Cup encounter. Scrutton was a slight favorite this time, for he had been waltzing easily through his early matches.
The more you see of Scrutton, the more he strikes you as a person you expect to bump into only in fiction, so much "in character" are the highly individual manners and mannerisms of this wealthy young man who owns about eight cars and, in pursuit of a first-class golf game, spent the winter of 1951 on the winter circuit in America. Scrutton's woods, just as you would expect, are encased in leopard-skin covers. During his match with Patton he wore an off-yellow sweater with a matching beret and, in addition to his caddy, employed a retainer to carry a folding chair on which he could sit when Patton was shooting. But Scrutton, mechanical as is the delivery of his swing, can play golf, and he ran clear away from Billy Joe, losing the first and then winning eight of the next nine holes and, in due course, the match, 7 and 6. On the holes where Patton was outplayed to the green, he could not equalize his opponent's advantage, as he usually manages to, for this tremendous putter couldn't buy a putt. On the few holes where Patton was inside his man, Scrutton putted phenomenally and his catch included one 20-footer, one 25-footer and one that must have measured 40 feet.
In the fourth and last match of the morning, Conrad quietly disposed of the last middle-aged survivor, a reformed figure skater named Roger Bayliss. In the afternoon in another quiet match that was supposed to produce fireworks, he beat Scrutton 5 and 4. The Englishman sank a fairly long chip on the second, but thereafter his swing began to unravel a bit in the face of Conrad's accurate play down one fairway after another. In the meantime that other quiet man, Alan Slater, had defeated Perowne, thus setting up the memorable final and its exciting climax on the 27th green when Conrad stopped the Yorkshireman's brave bid to square the match by knocking in his birdie putt right on top of Slater's.
Disappointed as the British were at once again being denied a British success in the British Amateur, there is complete Anglo-American unity on this point: the new champion is a worthy one.
MEET JOE CONRAD
Lieut. Joe Conrad, now stationed at Gary AFB, San Marcus, Texas, is comparatively small (5 feet 8 inches, 155 pounds) as golfers go. Born 25 years ago in San Antonio, Tex., he became a golfer in spite of the hope of his father, a railroad worker, that he would some day be a big league baseball player. Joe was a heavy-hitting infielder with an American Legion team in San Antonio, but 12 years ago he started playing golf with Joe Sr.'s sawed-off clubs and golf has been his game ever since. At North Texas State College, Joe played golf four years, lost only one match. In 1951 he won the Texas Amateur and the Mexican Amateur, in 1953 the Trans-Mississippi, and the Southern Amateur the last two years. He is now the defending world-wide Air Force champion. Said his mother on hearing of his British Amateur triumph: "I just can't believe that little guy going way over there and winning something big like that."
A BOW FROM THE TOP
Homer Herpel, Webster Groves, Mo. pro, who was scheduled to give some pointers on chipping accuracy in this week's TIP FROM THE TOP, has graciously allowed Herbert Warren Wind to "play through" with his account of the British Amateur. Mr. Herpel's tip will appear in a forthcoming issue.