Joe Carr, the new British Amateur champion, actually hails from Dublin—a fact that is self-evident the moment he opens his mouth—but otherwise he is in many ways the Billy Joe Patton of British golf. He hits the ball a mile; he is a great re-coverer from impossible places, if only because he has so much practice at it; and he possesses the enviable quality of causing all and sundry to seem to want him to win.
The Carr who won the championship a fortnight ago at St. Andrews was a different and much more formidable proposition than the one who has been seen at Walker Cup matches in the U.S. on every occasion since 1947. He has been remodeling his swing, which has always tended to be somewhat of a law unto itself, and now not only hits them straight but declares that he knows why and will therefore continue to do so. Unhappily, he also concluded that he used, perhaps, to lose something by tending to "dash at it" without sufficient preparation before the shot, with the result that he has now gone to the opposite extreme. The final, on a course with spectators completely roped off, took three and a quarter hours—a pace which here is regarded as abominably slow.
Nevertheless, Carr's driving is now a joy to watch. In the final against Alan Thirlwell, who was the last surviving British player in the U.S. Amateur at Brookline last year, he hit one prodigious stroke which will live forever in the memory of those who saw it. Having at one time in the morning been 3 down, he had gone in to lunch 1 up. In the afternoon he was soon 3 up, but by the 11th Thirlwell had reduced him to one. It was clearly a critical moment in the game. The 12th on the Old Course measures 360 yards, and Joe's drive, through a slight left-hand wind, finished on the foot of the green. It was a truly colossal hit—every bit of 340 yards—and to add insult to injury he holed the putt for a 2. This was one of the championship's most spectacular moments for all who were present.
We had the pleasure of welcoming upwards of 20 American contestants, including 10 exempted from qualifying by the USGA. One of these, Tim Holland, reached the semifinal, where, after being all square at the end of 18, he was beaten by a rugged display by Thirlwell. Holland was involved in one of those incidents which, now that "golf has become news, tend to be so much magnified in the press. He was playing the last surviving Scotsman, a young footballer from neighboring Dundee named Doug Alexander, and each had a shortish putt on the last green. The Scots are intense patriots on these occasions. They wish no one any hard luck—so long as their man wins. For preference they like to see him beating the "auld enemy," an Englishman; next best is an American. In the absolute silence round the last green, to which I can bear witness since I was leaning out of the upper window of old Tom Morris's shop no more than 20 yards from the flag, Holland heard some local patriot muttering "miss it." Whereupon, having holed the putt, he turned to the crowd and said, "If you want me to miss it, you might wait till I have done so," or words to that effect. I mention the matter because it was probably reported in America and may have placed Holland in an unfavorable Tommy Boltish kind of light (the "old" Tommy Bolt, that is). If so, this would be quite unfair, for the provocation was ample. I asked two of his opponents, including Thirlwell, and both replied that it would be impossible to find a nicer fellow to play golf against.
Of the other distinguished Americans, the one to go farthest was Jack Penrose, whose style was much admired by the pundits of St. Andrews. There seems to be these days an accepted "correct" way of swinging a golf club, and it was generally agreed that Penrose had it. He beat the champion, Reid Jack, in the third round, losing only one hole in the process, and was beaten in a desperate fifth-round match by Gerald Micklem, the British Walker Cup captain, who holed from five yards for a birdie 3 on the 19th.
Ed Meister was beaten in the first round by a former Walker Cup captain, Colonel A. A. Duncan; Jimmy McHale lost in round three, largely through striking his second shot to the 16th over the railway line; while our oldest "customer," Frank Strafaci—he has played in this event nine times—lost at the 23rd hole in round four to the Glasgow champion, Willie Jack. L. J. Dulong, of the USAF, who is stationed near Edinburgh, reached the fourth round and was beaten on the 19th by the young footballer, while another young Air Force man, John Franek of New Jersey, lost in round three. Gene Andrews, who went out in the second round to a young man who has won the open and amateur titles of South Africa, Reginald Taylor, distinguished himself in the first by holing the St. Andrews Loop, from the 7th to the 11th, in 3,2,3,3,2.
The championship itself is in a state of flux. Constant changes have been made in recent years, and on this trial-and-error basis it is hoped that it will settle down in a permanent form best suited to modern golf. Some of these changes have been based on the experience of the U.S. Golf Association. Another, which was tried for the first time this year and is, so far as I know, revolutionary, will be of interest to all who follow, organize or play in championship golf in America. This was the seeding of the draw.
The entry was first reduced to 200 for the championship proper by regional qualifying over 15 courses, spread as fairly and as far apart as possible in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, with about 20 exemptions, including 10 to be nominated by the USGA. Regional qualifying has long been commonplace in America, by virtue of the size both of the entry and of the country, but it represented a complete—and some gloomily forecast a ruinous—change in Britain. As it turned out, there were 560 entries—at a reduced fee—compared to a previous record of 320, and next year they may well reach a thousand. Most of the critics were content to eat their words and admit regional qualifying a success. The system was identical with that of the USGA. Players could seek to qualify anywhere they chose, the number of places being adjusted according to the quality of the entry. Incidentally, Brigadier General K. K. Compton, who is serving with the U.S. forces in Morocco, flew over to qualify at Moor Park, near London, the course on which Archie Compston beat Walter Hagen 30 years ago by 18 and 17. Compton was beaten in the third round of the championship.
When the field had been reduced to 200, 16 were seeded. Apart from Reid Jack and the U.S. master sergeant, Harold Ridgeley, winner and runner-up last year, who were placed No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, no special order was observed nor any ranking list issued. I believe, in fact, that they merely drew the names out of the hat. At any rate, it will be of interest to the USGA to know that the whole thing was voted a complete and unanimous success, and the general reaction was, "Why did we not think of it before?" It was the making of the championship—just as seeding is the making, when one comes to think of it, of Wimbledon. You never, after all, found Gonzales vs. Sedgman on Court 13 on a Monday morning. Perhaps the worst example in golf—can it really be 20 years ago?—was Charles Yates vs. Johnny Fischer, both at the height of their powers and both having come all the way from America. They were drawn almost first, and by 11:15 on the Monday morning Fischer had lost by a stymie on the 19th. All this is now a thing of the dark past, for I am sure we shall never see an unseeded championship in these islands again. And a good thing, too.
I have to report that considerable controversy rages in Britain on the subject of 36-hole matches. The arguments for and against have similar force in America and are roughly as follows:
For: "With modern clubs and balls and the high standard of technique attained by so many modern amateurs, an 18-hole match is not sufficient to separate them fairly and ensure that the right man wins. Eighteen holes is no longer an adequate test of golf."
Against: "Eighteen holes is the game of golf. If you cannot win over 18, it is an impertinence to suggest that you would have won over 36. You would probably have lost by double. In any case the record shows that the man who is up at lunch nearly always wins. If they are all square, the first round is a waste of time. If one man is 6 up, why worry to play two rounds?"
A DAY'S GOLF
Last year we had the last three rounds over 36 holes, and a great weariness of the flesh it was. On Wednesday evening the championship, as a meeting of golfers, was over. This year it was the semifinals and final and, again, nobody who was down at lunch went on to win. There are those, myself among them, who would like to see not only the semifinals but also the finals over 18 holes. This experiment will be made here this year in the professional match-play championship and it will be watched with special interest. Four men left in on Saturday morning and one the winner in the evening. There is a day's golf for you!
One last aspect of the championship must be sadly noted, as it seems, from my own observation at any rate, to coincide with modern trends in the U.S. and Australia—namely that few people seem inclined to pay to come and see amateur golf any more. In the first four days at St. Andrews, the home of golf, only 2,600 paid admissions were recorded. And during the Irish-English final, the Eden and New Courses, adjacent to the Old, were packed with foursomes of St. Andrews citizens, who preferred to play rather than watch, pulling their little trolleys along and occasionally stopping to inquire the score.
Nevertheless, it was a fine championship, and what mostly made it so was the seeding.