The British Amateur championship is golf's solution to generation gaps, class barriers, welfare, physical unfitness, moral decay and the problem of where to send all those urban dogs. Everybody plays in the British Amateur: doctors, lawyers, farmers, clerks, greengrocers, bus drivers, golf writers, shoe salesmen, horse breeders, janitors, jockey club millionaires, guys with wives for caddies, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, Tom Seaver's father and midgets.
Because the tournament is "restricted" to two-handicappers, this surplus of entrants (256 when they stopped counting last week) also includes a whole bunch of liars. Still, the British Amateur remains a classic event. Bobby Jones called it the toughest tournament he ever won, and it remains one of the six major championship tests in the world each year, the only one at match play. Last week it was held in Scotland under normal eyelash-freezing circumstances on the fabled links of Carnoustie, surrounded by the waves and winds of the North Sea, the dreary smoke from textile and machinery factories, the sounds of rifle-range gunfire and railroad trains crossing trestles, and the echoes of a little bit of history. So what if Carnoustie's surroundings resemble a live-and-in-color conception of what the end of the world may look like? It was here, in 1931, that Tommy Armour returned to his native Scotland and won the British Open. It was here that Ben Hogan became "the Wee Icemon" in 1953, winning the only British Open in which he played. And it was here last Saturday that 24-year-old Steve Melnyk out of Brunswick, Ga., the University of Florida and, presently, Jacksonville, added some lore of his own by becoming the 11th man to win both the U.S. and British Amateur championships.
The pleasant, bulbous, 235-pound Melnyk, who took the U.S. Amateur title at Oakmont in 1969, closed out a grueling week of seven preliminary matches by defeating blond Jim Simons of Butler, Pa. 3 and 2 in the 36-hole final, thus joining the company of Jones, Harold Hilton, Walter Travis, Jesse Sweetser, Lawson Little, Willie Turnesa, Dick Chapman, Harvie Ward, Deane Beman and Bob Dickson. And he could fly back to America secure in the knowledge that he had concluded his amateur career the way he had wished—at the top—and that back home would be waiting professional agents, financial gold, grapefruit for his diet and the fiancée he had been mooning about all week.
For Melnyk, Simons and the rest of the U.S. team that had lost the Walker Cup the previous week, the British Amateur was a fine opportunity for vengeance. Melnyk especially was stung by the notoriety the U.S. team had received in defeat. Practicing with teammates one day, he overheard one of the local gentry shout, "Look, look, it's the Americans who lost the Walker Cup." Angrily, he vowed to the local press that an American would win their amateur title. Carnoustie was certainly better suited to the U.S. player's tastes than was St. Andrews. The Barry Burn weaves its watery coils over a vast portion of the course—most treacherously on the three closing holes—and turns some landing areas into the size of manhole covers. But flatter fairways, smaller greens and no rain brought optimism. As America's John Farquhar explained, "Ah can see where ah'm goin' here."
June 13, 1971
He could also see some of the phenomena (in clothing and golf swings) that appear annually in the British Amateur. One gentleman wore a dress shirt buttoned at the neck, cuff links, an eye-shade and no tie. Another wore faded, shredded blue jeans and black and white sneakers but no socks. A third-generation Scotsman named Gino Russo wore a V neck sweater with no shirt underneath while disposing of U.S. Walker Cupper Bill Campbell in the first round. The haberdashery was no more distinctive than the extraordinary swing of a traveling salesman from Kirkintilloch who in the second round cross-handed a banana ball 60 yards into the burn. A few years ago the same chap hit into a bunker on the 14th hole and found his ball inches from a live mortar shell that had wandered over from the nearby military firing range. The rule was he could move any movable obstruction, but the question was did he want to? He exploded (hee-hee) from the sand and went on his way.
Ignoring the fact that Michael Bonallack had won the last three British amateurs and mindful that in 50 years only three Britons had won the tournament when an American Walker Cup team was around, British bookmakers installed Melnyk, Simons and the U.S. champion, Lanny Wadkins, as the favorites. Early on, the odds looked shaky. Ian Hutcheson, who has twice won local titles at Carnoustie, had Simons three down and three to play on the first day but got a case of the terrors, losing three straight and the match on the second playoff hole. Melnyk survived a scare in the second round when, 2 up with three to go on Herb Durham of Dallas, he lost the 16th, hit into the burn on 17 to lose that and go all-even, and went into the burn again off the 18th tee. He fought back with a marvelous four-wood and a bunker shot to within three feet for a round-saving half and then went on to win at the 19th. "My whole life passed before me in that water," Melnyk said later.
Four top Americans were eliminated from the picture that day. Wadkins, suffering from the flu, lost to an Englishman named Harry Hopkinson who, among other things, pitched in from 50 yards for an eagle. Jim Gabrielsen was beaten and so, too, were Vinny Giles and Allen Miller. The victorious British Walker Cup side suffered erosion the next day when six of its men went out, including Bonallack, whose string of 27 consecutive winning matches in the championship came to an end. The quarterfinals on Friday morning included two matches between Walker Cuppers—Simons vs. Scotland's Hugh Stuart and Texan Tom Kite against Ireland's Roddy Carr—while in the other draw Melnyk met Dr. Ed Updegraff, a urologist from Tucson who is his sometime gin partner on the U.S. amateur tour. As it turned out, it was Melnyk's easiest day. His length off the tee (daily, he nearly drove the 360-yard 11th) proved too much of an advantage as he defeated Updegraff 4 and 3. In the semifinal that afternoon he disposed of British universities champion Peter Moody by the same score. Meanwhile, Simons and Kite, roommates while in Scotland, beat Stuart and Carr with some excellent golf Friday morning, but in their semifinal match that afternoon they butchered it through whin and heather until Simons, two down at the turn, took advantage of Kite's tendency to give away leads to win the 17th hole and then the match 1 up.
Friday night Melnyk ate Chateaubriand for two, exhibited a charming bravado and wondered how he would fit the trophy on the airplane. In the 36-hole final on Saturday he held a 1-up margin in the morning round. After lunch Simons hacked a drive and went two down but came back to square the match on the 27th. Melnyk was hooking everything now ("My legs were dead," he said later), but Simons hit an approach fat into a ditch on the 28th hole and Melnyk hung a rope (a 40-foot eagle putt) on him at 30 for another 2-up lead. At the 34th hole he hit an admirable three-wood to 40 feet and lagged close. When Simons used three to get on and then added a couple of putts, he conceded and Melnyk had the championship.
"I played 36 holes eight of the last 14 days," said the winner. "I walked about as far as I could go." Still, Melnyk admitted, he would be happy to do it all over again—even if it did mean a trip to the end of the world.