The Ryder Cup, the Curtis Cup and now the Canada Cup," shouted a puckish, handsome little Welsh golfer named Dai Rees as he bounced ecstatically off the golf course at the Club de Golf Mexico in Mexico City last week. The Irish team of Harry Bradshaw and Christy O'Connor had just staged a stirring finish to win the sixth annual Canada Cup trophy, and then Bradshaw had been narrowly defeated in a three-hole, sudden-death playoff for individual honors by the surprising Angel Miguel of Spain. It hardly mattered to Rees that the winners of this 32-country, two-man-team, world professional golf championship had been Irish. He is captain of the British Ryder Cup team, and Bradshaw and O'Connor are two of his boys. Where golf is concerned at least, Ireland and Great Britain are a friendly unit, and this was all in the family.
This renewal of an event that solidly increases in stature each year again had a setting, like Tokyo last year, which preserved for the Canada Cup its uniquely cosmopolitan flavor. Mexico City, with its population of 4,500,000, is a crowded, rambling metropolis that occupies a great part of the Valle Méjico, an open, flat area some 50 miles wide, surrounded by a crown of mountains that extends up to 3,000 feet in the air over the valley floor, itself some 7,500 feet above sea level. The Club de Golf Mexico is tucked into the southern end of the valley, just beneath Ajusco Sierras. It was founded in 1949 by Miguel Aléman, then president of Mexico, on land almost completely covered with the volcanic ash from the Ajuscos. The only vegetation in this whole arid section of several hundred acres was a growth of 15,000 75-year-old coniferous evergreens known as "El Cedral." To cover this wasteland with a deep enough carpet of dirt and top-soil to cushion a first-class golf course required considerable cunning and patience, but by 1952 the course was ready for play. Today the club has a membership of 1,000, of whom half are Americans. In Mexico golf is too expensive to be a popular pastime with the middle class. There are virtually no municipal courses, and membership in a private club involves an initiation fee of $4,000.
The Club de Golf course itself is an extremely tight one. The fairways are narrow and the greens well trapped. The rough alongside the fairways was deep and bushy and those who hit their balls that way were often severely punished. But on the holes that carried through El Cedral, it was the tall spruce trees, clustered close along each side of the fairways and looking clinically ominous in their four-foot-high jackets of white insecticide paint, that made each journey through this dark, green forest such a perilous one.
In addition, the course's measured distance of 7,216 yards was not a true indication of its length. On four of the long holes it was downright risky, if not impossible, to use a driver off the tee. On the 463-yard fourth hole, for example, a stream slashing diagonally across the fairway would have devoured any ball hit with a driver. It was necessary to use a shorter club off the tee and play safely in front of this hazard. There were only three birdies scored there during the first half of the tournament, and a total of 73 bogeys or worse.
The great distance of the course was somewhat relieved by the fact of Mexico City's altitude. Here a golf ball will fly farther because the thin air can make only the most reluctant pretense at holding it back. It was permissible, under international golf rules, for the players to choose between the small, so-called English ball (1.62 inches in diameter), which can be hit farther, or the larger American variety (1.68 inches), which putts better. This freedom of choice stirred rampant speculation as to which one would work better in the thin air. In Ben Hogan's meticulous mind, however, there was no room for doubt.
"Any golfer who has the chance," he said, squinting around at a small lunchtime gathering who had come out to watch him play a practice round with Partner Sam Snead, "should play the small ball every time. Under any circumstances it holds its line much better than the big ball. Why, if I want to put a left-to-right fade on the small ball I have to cut it twice as hard as the big one. Besides, on this course with this atmosphere you probably get an extra 50 yards per hole playing the small ball; 30 yards added to your drive and 20 to your second. Now where is that Snead fella; he said he'd meet me here an hour ago?"
Another aspect of life in Mexico City that could have done more damage than it did is the digestive nightmare known as the "turista." Some authorities claim that this illness, which preys exclusively upon the tourist trade, stems from the fact that Mexican food is improperly refrigerated. Others maintain as stoutly that what is involved is nothing more than readjustment to the change in altitude. Whatever the cause, about a quarter of the field came down with the turista just two days before the start of the tournament. The sickness fortunately abated and by opening day the plague had runs its race.
With the field intact though shaky, the tournament got under way before a festive holiday gathering of some 5,000 spectators. It was November 20 and Mexico was celebrating the 48th anniversary of its 1910 revolution. The two gentlemen representing Los Estados Unidos de América, Snead and Hogan (combined age: 92), were the golfers everyone had come to see. These two, who as a team rival the box-office attraction of the Lunts, sailed out onto the course for the first round with 75% of the gallery scampering behind. On the 561-yard, par-5 second hole each hit a magnificent wood shot that hopped through the narrow entrance to the green and onto the back edge. They were down in 2 from there for birdies, and the gallery was ecstatic.
From the second day on, though, the play, if not the gallery, was captured by the Irish, who swept into a two-stroke lead which they were able to hold to the end. Bradshaw is a ruddy-faced, 45-year-old Dubliner whose round face, rounder figure and style in headgear are reminiscent of Jackie Gleason. He has a stifflegged swing that starts with his bending over so far at address that he appears to be leaning on his club. Then he cranks himself up with a few waggles of the club, unwinds quickly and pops the ball straight down the middle. Last year Bradshaw had to withdraw from this competition after two rounds when he contracted a nosebleed on the plane to Tokyo that lasted for 10 days. "I thought for sure I was going to finish my days there," he recalls with a shudder. "I had a priest and five doctors by my bed and cotton stuffed in my nose clear up to here." O'Connor, a terrierlike man of 33 who was born in Galway, is another straight hitter who, though not producing any single round of great golf, had to complement Bradshaw's scoring by not having a single very bad round. To Harry's scores of 70-70-76-70, 286, Christy added rounds of 73-73-76-73, 295.
After two rounds, when the Irish led with a combined score of 286 and the U.S. lay only two strokes behind, the tournament had the makings of an enticing match. Snead's abrupt withdrawal came as an unpleasant shock. The Slammer had injured his back in a tournament at Havana the week before and on the morning of the third round the pain was so intense that he abandoned any idea of going out on the course. This automatically eliminated the U.S. from the team competition, though Hogan played on alone, and left the pair from Ireland in a good position for an easy run at the championship, since the Australians, next in line, were six strokes back. But on the third day Scotland (Eric Brown and John Panton) and Spain (the Miguel brothers, Angel and Sebastian) turned in par rounds while the Irish wavered, and leaders were crammed together like this as the tournament faced its final day: Ireland 436, Scotland 438, Spain 440 and South Africa (Gary Player and Harold Henning) 442.
Brown buried his own and Scotland's chances when he pulled his drive on the tough par-4 fourth hole into some rough and trees on the left. Then, trying to reach the green with a wood out of the tall grass, he hooked once again, this time into a ditch. He needed six strokes to hole out and when his playing partner, Panton, double-bogeyed the par-3 fifth hole, the Scots were out of the race for good.
Ireland and Spain went out together as the last foursome in the wake of a blazing streak of golf by Gary Player that carried the young South African to the turn in 32, four under par, and threatened to bring his country the team title until it burnt itself out in the trees and sand-traps on the back nine. Ireland led Spain by 10 strokes in the team scoring after nine holes had been played, and Bradshaw, approaching superbly as usual, had built up a three-stroke lead over Angel Miguel in their own match for the individual trophy.
Angel, at 29, is the oldest of the two golfing brothers by a year. He and Sebastian have won a vast assortment of Portuguese and Spanish championships, but had never done well in the three previous Canada Cup matches at which they teamed together. They look like twins, with identical thin, dark faces and flat, slender physiques. Angel is the better golfer of the two, being a straighter and more accurate hitter. On the back nine he began to play at the top of his game and got a stroke back from round Harry with a birdie on the 11th hole and another with a long putt on the 12th. They matched cards through the 17th, but on the 18th Bradshaw, not keenly aware that the team match had already been won and that the individual prize could be his, came out of the rough short of the green and took a bogey. He had scored a 34-36, 70 for the round while Angel had gone 37-33, 70. They were tied at 286 and an individual playoff was forced. Ireland, however, had won the important honor. Their team total of 579 was three strokes better than Spain's and five ahead of South Africa.
The playoff, with a vast Sunday afternoon throng racing for position after every hole had been played, produced two great golf shots and three excellent putts. On the first hole Bradshaw had hit his second shot over the green and a weak chip had left him with a tricky, downhill six-foot putt for his half. He holed it. On the second, the 561-yard par 5, Miguel hit a wood second shot that came boring up toward the green, faded just a trifle and skipped directly for the trap on the right side of the green. It appeared for a moment as if it would end there, but it suddenly popped out the other side and came to rest on the green 55 feet short of the hole. This faced Bradshaw with the necessity of getting down in 2 from 80 yards off the green where his approach had left him. He did just that. Crank, crank, crank, unwind and Bradshaw had punched a wedge shot that hit on the front part of the green and ran right at the pin, way at the back, until it had stopped three inches away. This put so much pressure on the Spaniard that his first putt was weak and he had to hole out a five-footer and the half.
This dramatic overtime ended on the par-3 third hole when Angel putted into the cup from off the apron for his second consecutive birdie. Both tee shots had been aided by striking into the spectators who were jammed around the green, but the crowd that surged forward to lift Miguel to its shoulders didn't care how it had been done. They carried him off the green to cries of "toreador, toreador." Angel, a farmboy who is rumored to have learned his golf by pitching potatoes into a basket with a hoe, had played 12 straight holes of magnificent golf. Five birdies, and no hole played in more than four strokes. He should have been given two ears and a tail at least.
CLUB DE GOLF
CARRETERA (Drive way)
GLORIETA (Parking Lot)
CAMPO CORTO (Pitch and Putt)