The biennial Ryder Cup matches that were played last week in England presented the kind of golfing tableau that is, unfortunately, never unveiled in the U.S. The setting was the Royal Birkdale Golf Club, some 20 miles north of Liverpool, one of the truly noble links of the world. The gallery, which ranged from 12,000 to 15,000 for each of the three days, contained that type of devout British golf communicant whose knowledge of the game is exceeded only by his enthusiasm. And so the matches themselves were to almost any other golfing event as a bottle of Vosne-Romanée is to a jug of muscatel. It seemed almost incidental that the U.S. pros defeated their counterparts of the British Isles for the 13th time since the series began in 1927.
There is a quality to international team matches—the Walker Cup for amateurs as well as the Ryder Cup—that never reaches its full flavor in the U.S., and this says something about the difference between the two countries. The British admire unity and teamwork and the whole jolly group pulling together for good old Britain or even little old Chipping Sodbury. This concept fires the chauvinistic impulses of that tough island people. Americans, as Louis B. Mayer and the rest of Hollywood discovered, tend to idolize the individual. They would rather watch Jean Harlow than the greatest Shakespearean cast ever assembled, would rather see Babe Ruth than Tinkers to Evers to Chance and would far rather observe Arnie Palmer going for another hundred grand than giving his all for the red, white and blue.
But not so the British and, as a result, just about every golf bug from Lands End to John o' Groat's who could dig up a room in Lancashire county last week turned out for what proved to be the most dazzling golf show yet produced in Britain. It was worth the trip, for this cup match had all the panoply of the changing of the guards plus the kind of efficient management that one normally associates with General Motors. In addition, the course and the weather were perfect. Royal Birkdale's fairways were narrow emerald-green ribbons winding through olive-drab sand dunes on the shores of the Irish Sea. The greens were as smoothly puttable as any could be. Because the summer had been extremely wet, they would hold any well-hit approach. There was scarcely a hole on the course that failed to offer ideal viewing from bordering dunes rising 40 or 50 feet high, and the picture of thousands of observers silhouetted against the sky is one of the unforgettable sights of tournament golf.
As far as the British galleries were concerned, the stars of the occasion were Arnold Palmer and Tony Lema, for they were the only players on either side who had ever won the British Open. (Jack Nicklaus, who has not yet completed his full apprenticeship for PGA membership, was not eligible for the U.S. team.) The rest of our side, chosen by a formula of points for tournament performances, consisted of Dave Marr, the recent PGA champion, Julius Boros, Bill Casper, Gene Littler, Tommy Jacobs, Don January, Ken Venturi and Johnny Pott, though Pott had suffered a rib injury and could not play. The British side contained the best of their current crop of pros, plus Christy O'Connor, the Dublin Irishman who qualifies to carry the Union Jack just this once every two years.
To most Americans, the British would have been quite unfamiliar both as golfers and personalities, since they rarely plunge into U.S. professional competition and even more rarely make much of a splash when they do. Nonetheless, on their home soil they can be formidable and stubborn opponents.
The U.S. team was well aware of the British capabilities, and by the time play began they were exhibiting more of the mannerisms of a gung-ho football squad than those of seasoned old pros competing in an event where the main thing at stake is prestige, not cash. When Byron Nelson was appointed their captain, he wrote each of them a letter saying how glad he was to have them on his team, and later he sent each one a handsome alligator wallet to demonstrate his point. Getting the respect and affection that probably no other older pro could muster from today's active players, Nelson led a team that truly wanted to win. As one of his men (obviously not Palmer) said to him late in the week, "If we played this hard in the tournaments back home, we'd all be millionaires."
The competition began on Thursday with foursome matches, four in the morning and four after lunch. This is alternate-shot golf—you hit it, then your teammate hits it—and is something Americans seldom try. Nor do they really enjoy it, much to their own loss. To many Britons, however, foursomes is golf. It was Nelson's feeling that if the U.S. team could get through Thursday without a serious setback the worst would be over.
By the luck of the draw, the top American pairing of Arnold Palmer and Dave Marr met the British team of Dave Thomas and George Will in both the morning and afternoon matches. In each instance you might have thought it was the Green Bay Packers working out against Sadsack Tech, with each side taking turns as Green Bay. In the morning Palmer-Marr could do nothing right, failed to win a hole and were clobbered 6 and 5. Winnie Palmer was following her husband around the course, carrying a man-sized box of Kleenex, and it looked for a while like the U.S. was going to need it all to cry into. But in the afternoon Palmer-Marr combined to devastate the British and Royal Birkdale. Starting with a birdie 4 on the first hole, they shot six straight 3s, and missed 3s at the 8th and 9th by inches for an outgoing 30, which was five under par. Two 4s and two 3s later, the last an eagle, Palmer-Marr had won 6 and 5. Throughout this overpowering stretch of golf—the best in memory at Royal Birkdale—they took only 17 putts.
Captain Nelson's most fortuitous pairing of the day turned out to be Tony Lema and Julius Boros, the only U.S. team to win both its matches. In the morning they shot a three-under-par 70 to squeak past Lionel Platts and Peter Butler 1 up, and in the afternoon they buried another team 5 and 4. But Ken Venturi, trying his first competitive golf since the operation on his ailing hands last June, and Don January did not fare well, losing both of their matches. At the end of the day the score was a standoff, 4-4, and that was as much as Nelson had hoped for.
Four-ball matches were played on Friday, and this, as things evolved, was to be the crucial point, bringing out the best golf on each side. Both Nelson and Harry Weetman, his British opposite, stuck with their three strongest teams in the morning—Palmer-Marr, Casper-Littler and Lema-Boros for our side. Tommy Jacobs filled in for Venturi as January's partner, for it was felt that Ken should not again try 36 holes in a day, and in the afternoon Venturi replaced the 45-year-old Boros as Lema's partner.
Just as it had been the afternoon before, the Palmer-Marr team was sharp. Against Christy O'Connor and Peter Alliss, the only British team to win both its matches on Thursday, the Americans fired a best-ball 33 on the first nine, and won 6 and 4. Elsewhere, however, things were not looking so good. After playing the first nine even against Neil Coles and Bernard Hunt, each team going out in three-under-par 32, Lema-Boros lost the 10th hole to go 1 down and seemed unable to regain the ground. January and Jacobs went 4 down to Thomas and Will through the first 10 holes. Casper-Littler, who had been cruising along at even par, found themselves 4 down to Platts-Butler by the time they reached the 11th hole. Then came some extraordinary American heroics that cast a hush over the justifiably partisan gallery. Starting at the 12th hole, January-Jacobs began to whittle away at their opponents' big lead. January won three holes, and then Jacobs came up with two birdies that meant a U.S. win. Right behind this thriller came Casper-Littler, who arrived at the 15th still 4 down to Platts-Butler. Their position apparently was hopeless. But both Littler and Casper birdied 15 to stay alive, and Littler then reeled off three more birdies on the final three holes to gain a tie. Finally, in came Lema and Boros, finishing almost as strongly, but this time the British held on to win.
The results in the afternoon were exactly the same, two matches for the U.S. and one for Britain with one halved, but the formula was entirely different. Instead of the early leads and fast finishes of the morning, all the afternoon matches were close from start to end, and the exuberant gallery was treated to the unique experience of seeing every one of them wind up on the 18th green. Only Palmer-Marr lost, and the U.S. was ahead 9-7, with Saturday's singles matches ahead. The U.S. always does well in the singles—that individuality again—and this year was no exception as it won 10 of the 16 matches and the Ryder Cup 19½-12½.
Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who had followed Palmer most of the day, awarded the cup to the Americans with a graceful little speech full of golfing savvy. Lord Derby, the president of the British PGA, thanked the greenkeepers and the club members and everyone else, and then a lot of other speakers, including the two captains, thanked everybody for everything. The band played God Save the Queen and The Star-Spangled Banner, the U.S. and British flags came down, and everyone brushed away a tear. It was, they all said, the finest Ryder Cup ever.