From the Publisher
“Neil Sagebiel brings the memorable tournament to life…Mr. Sagebiel's narrative is strongest when he reports the hole-to-hole proceedings, which is all the more remarkable since only three minutes of television footage were archived. He teases out drama and puts the reader on the green.” The Wall Street Journal
“Sagebiel's book gives an excellent account of the matches, as he interviewed nearly every living member of the two teams.” ESPN Golf
“This is the definitive account of one of golf's great stories of sportsmanship and honor... Sagebiel deserves to stand as a beacon for all aspiring sportswriters.” Yahoo! Sports Blog
“Sagebeil has found his stride again… It is more than a shot-by-shot account. This Ryder Cup was like with a fine Italian sauce, with a little of everything in the mix--drama, controversy and just the right spice of hostility to keep you alert.” The PGA of America
“The 1969 Ryder Cup is a great story and Sabiel tells it with great skill…Highly recommended. This would make a perfect Christmas or Holiday gift for the golfer in your life.” Golf Blogger, A+ review
“Sagebiel's brilliance comes in his ability to put us right there next to the players, so close you can hear the club strike the ball, see the divot fly through the air, smell the freshly cut grass, and feel the anguish of the players. The depth of his research is tremendous, his prose sparkles, and his storytelling keeps you spellbound.” CYBERGOLF, Winner, Jay Flemma's 2014 Writing Award
“Draw In the Dunes recounts the times, the circumstances and perhaps best of all, the background needed for readers to put the 1969 Cup and Nicklaus' concession into perspective….Bottom line--if you are interested in golf, the Ryder Cup, its history and its personalities, you will enjoy this book and give it a permanent spot on the shelf.” New England Golf Monthly
“[An] enjoyably readable piece of sports history from Neil Sagebiel, a nationally prominent golf blogger and author from Floyd who has a reputation for digging up interesting golf stories and telling them as deftly as a PGA pro handles a 9-iron around the green…The details, interviews, research and clear writing make Draw in the Dunes an ace of a read for fans of good golf writing.” The Roanoke Times
“For a competition that ended in a draw, Sagebiel's book is a winner” Gold Digest Stix
“Golf journalist Sagebiel capably re-creates the action, leading up to the last-hole concession, which is now regarded both as a quintessential gesture of sportsmanship and as the beginning of the rebirth of the Ryder Cup, which continued with the decision in the eighties to add Continental Europeans to the British team. Moving both backward and forward in time, Sagebiel gives rich context to what happened that day, showing why The Concession, as it is now called, occupies a unique place in golf history.” Booklist
“Draw in the Dunes is a lively, interesting look at the Ryder Cup, chock full of insight and anecdotes. Sagebiel does a wonderful job balancing play by play with the necessary background and player quotes. ‘I hoped I would capture the essence of the Ryder Cup,' Sagebiel said. He did. Point conceded.” The Tampa Tribune
“An exploration of the personalities involved--from Peter Alliss, Brian Barnes, and Bernard Gallacher on the British side to the Lee Trevino, Ray Floyd, Dave Hill, and captain Sam Snead on the U.S.--and the issues and conflicts both between and within the two teams.” Links Golf Magazine
“The Floyd author does a good job of explaining the Ryder Cup format and the sport's lingo. Then he builds drama throughout 'Draw' as it heads towards The Concession.” Play by Play Magazine
“Methodically, but with wonderful attention to detail, Sagebiel recounts each day's morning and afternoon session of matches.... Draw in the Dunes captures the 1969 Ryder Cup in vivid detail and is a stirring addition to a growing history of this event.” Book Reporter
“Neil, who writes a nationally prominent golf blog, takes golf out of the realm of sport and into something more akin to anthropology with his works. The Longest Shot was named one of the best sports books of 2012 and my guess is Neil's new work won't be far behind that.” Valley Business FRONT
“In Draw in the Dunes, Neil Sagebiel has once again brought a significant moment in golf history to life, combining the results of exhaustive research and extensive interviews with his prodigious storytelling talent to paint a complete and very satisfying portrait of a complex series of events.” Examiner.com (five star review)
“Sagebiel leads up nicely to the big moments…he then he breaks down the competition at Royal Birkdale session by session, letting the drama of the matches naturally unfold.” Golf Digest
“I'm really, really enjoying your book, not only for the fact that it chronicles and details what happened in 1969 at that Ryder Cup, but because you provided context and history in essence for ... how we got to there. Very, very well done. I'm very much enjoying the read.” Matt Adams, host of Fairways of Life on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio, during September 18 interview
“Fifty-seven years after the fact (and in time for this year's Open at Olympic), two books about one of golf's most improbable upsets have surfaced simultaneously. Like the clash between Hogan and Fleck, the works pit an established, celebrated veteran against a relative upstart. And as in 1955, the upstart wins. But, unlike in 1955, it's not close. The Longest Shot is the first book from Neil Sagebiel, the founder and editor of Armchair Golf Blog, and he makes a strong bid to create shelf space for himself alongside 21st-century golf literati like John Feinstein, Mark Frost and Don Van Natta Jr. Sagebiel takes his time, working leisurely as golf demands, but does a thorough job. And his narrative pace during the last hour of that final round, as he bounces back and forth between Hogan in the locker room and Fleck on the course, may have a rhythm more suited to a tennis rally, but here it aces.” The New York Times Sunday Book Review on The Longest Shot
“A compelling read…Golf historians can thank Sagebiel.” PGA Magazine on The Longest Shot
“Long before a small circle of American kids dismantled the Soviets' Big Red Machine at Lake Placid, Jack Fleck's defeat of the mighty Ben Hogan at the 1955 U.S. Open was as stunning and stirring an upset as sports had ever seen. In The Longest Shot, Neil Sagebiel not only expertly reconstructs the million-to-one tale of the Iowa muni pro who denied Hogan his chance to become the only man to win the Open five times, he honors the grand tradition of profound and poetic literature in golf.” Ian O'Connor, New York Times bestselling author of Arnie & Jack: Palmer, Nicklaus, and Golf's Greatest Rivalry on The Longest Shot
“The Longest Shot is the remarkable story of how Jack Fleck, the improbably named municipal course pro from Iowa, defeated the great Ben Hogan at the 1955 U.S. Open. Moment by moment, Neil Sagebiel lyrically describes the drama of the David-and-Goliath clash at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Sagebiel persuades a new generation of readers that Fleck's triumph was not only the most unlikely result at a U.S. Open, but one of the greatest upsets in American sports history. The Longest Shot is destined to become a classic of golf literature.” Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times bestselling author of First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush and Wonder Girl: The Sporting Life of Babe Didrikson Zaharias on The Longest Shot
“Iowa golfer topples big-time golf legend. Zach Johnson over Tiger Woods at the 2007 Masters? Sure, that was a huge upset. But how does it compare to another Iowa golfer taking down an icon? Jack Fleck had never won on tour, was playing a few hours behind the immortal Ben Hogan--who had already accepted congratulations for winning the 1955 U.S. Open--and had to birdie the 18th hole just to tie the four-time Open champion. Then it was on to an 18-hole playoff the next day in which the unknown Iowa muni pro knocked off his idol by three strokes. In The Longest Shot, Neil Sagebiel details how this remarkable outcome unfolded.” Bob Harig, senior golf writer, ESPN.com on The Longest Shot
“Lost in the pages of golf history is a remarkable story of an unknown municipal golf professional who won the 1955 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Author Neil Sagebiel's account of the courage and determination of Jack Fleck, who late on a Saturday afternoon came out of the pack to tie the legendary Ben Hogan, and then go onto defeat him in an 18-hole playoff, is dramatically recounted in The Longest Shot. It is a Cinderella story of a young professional from Iowa who against all odds wins the U.S. Open. It is also the bittersweet account of Ben Hogan's last hurrah.” John Coyne, author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan on The Longest Shot
“The Longest Shot is more than the story of the greatest upset in U.S. Open history. It's a book for anyone who's ever risked everything to follow a dream. Golfers owe Sagebiel a thank you for lending a voice to this oft-forgotten tale.” Bob Smiley, author of Follow the Roar: Tailing Tiger for All 604 Holes of His Most Spectacular Season on The Longest Shot
“Upsets are the lifeblood of sports, and golf has provided its share--but arguably none so startling as unheralded Jack Fleck's triumph over the legendary Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. In "Dewey Beats Truman" fashion, NBC proclaimed Hogan the winner of his unprecedented fifth U.S. Open while there was still one man on the course, the unknown Iowan Fleck, who had a chance to tie. He did exactly that, with a birdie on the eighteenth hole, and then went on to beat Hogan by three strokes in the next day's playoff. Sagebiel wrings every ounce of drama and poignancy out of this remarkable sporting event, backtracking to tell the story of the lanky, teetotaling, socially insecure Fleck's improbable rise to success and judiciously reprising Hogan's life and career, including the nearfatal car accident and the inspirational comeback that followed it. And, of course, just like in a movie, Fleck idolized Hogan and was the first professional, other than Hogan himself, to use Hogan-designed clubs. But it's the on-course drama that golf fans will relish, Fleck, "whose long, fluid golf swing wrapped around his lean body like a loose belt," besting the man whose steely determination to win that fifth Open made him seem unbeatable. As fellow player Bob Rosburg observed about the outcome, "It defied everything anybody knew about golf." Great storytelling and great golf history.” Booklist on The Longest Shot
“Neil Sagebiel of Floyd County captures the drama and the ambiance of professional golf in the mid-1950s in a book that will delight golfers but also enhance any reader's understanding of American society in post-World War II America. The story of Iowa club pro Jack Fleck's rise from obscurity to win the U.S. Open is the essence of the American Dream....Sagebiel brings to life the drama of the tournament and the long road to arrive there. He also re-creates a time when golf was just a sport, and the players enjoyed the game without the money and the fame that accompany modern-day athletes. Reading this book is like reading the golf coverage from a major newspaper in the 1950s when a keen ability to describe the players and their venue was the key to having readers.” Roanoke Times on The Longest Shot
“The author's imaginative narrative…gives a fascinating insight into Hogan's character, avoiding death by inches in a 1951 car crash to become one of the game's great icons.” GolfMagic.com on The Longest Shot
author of The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan on The Lon John Coyne
Lost in the pages of golf history is a remarkable story of an unknown municipal golf professional who won the 1955 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Author Neil Sagebiel's account of the courage and determination of Jack Fleck, who late on a Saturday afternoon came out of the pack to tie the legendary Ben Hogan, and then go onto defeat him in an 18-hole playoff, is dramatically recounted in The Longest Shot. It is a Cinderella story of a young professional from Iowa who against all odds wins the U.S. Open. It is also the bittersweet account of Ben Hogan's last hurrah.
author of Follow the Roar: Tailing Tiger for A Bob Smiley
The Longest Shot is more than the story of the greatest upset in U.S. Open history. It's a book for anyone who's ever risked everything to follow a dream. Golfers owe Sagebiel a thank you for lending a voice to this oft-forgotten tale.
Read an Excerpt
The Vietnam War was escalating, the first Boeing 747 jet airliner was set to roll off the assembly line, and the Ryder Cup, if not already dead, was on life support. The biennial golf matches between the United States and Great Britain, which except for a ten-year interruption resulting from World War II had been played since 1927, were jeopardized by new and existing forces in professional golf. In the late summer of 1968, the fate of the Ryder Cup rested in the hands of the Americans.
Officials of the United States and British Professional Golfers’ Associations (PGA) were scheduled to meet in London during the third week of September to discuss the 1969 Ryder Cup, which was to be played at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England. The location of the matches alternated between the United States and the British Isles, and it was the Brits’ turn to host. Yet, as The Guardian reported on September 19, they were not even able to host an initial meeting. The U.S. PGA representatives weren’t coming to London. They faced serious problems at headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. It seemed the Ryder Cup was the least of their concerns.
Founded in 1916, the PGA of America was a burgeoning organization of about 5,800 club professionals and 300 year-round tournament players, or tour pros, by the late 1960s. The club pros oversaw golf operations at public and private golf clubs throughout the United States. They gave lessons, sold equipment, promoted golf programs, and, when time allowed, sharpened their own games. Tour pros, conversely, were golf vagabonds, chasing the growing riches on the PGA tournament circuit. Both professional breeds were ruled by pro golf’s governing body in Palm Beach Gardens, but in 1968 the tour pros could no longer tolerate governance they felt didn’t represent their best interests.
Although the players had fought for and won equal representation on the PGA’s Tournament Committee, deadlocks between the committee’s four player representatives and four members of the PGA Executive Committee were broken by an advisory panel—and its decisions were final. This didn’t sit well with the players, one of whom was Jack Nicklaus, and one of the four players on the Tournament Committee who had sought to resolve philosophical differences with the PGA men and gain more autonomy for the players and the tour.
“Just as we wouldn’t presume to tell the P.G.A. how to run its affairs, we think we should have the authority to run ours,” Nicklaus said during that period in The Greatest Game of All, his first book about his life in golf.
There were several thorny issues, including number of tournaments and tournament schedule, course selection and conditions of play, purse sizes and distribution, sponsors, television contracts, and tour administration. During the previous year, for example, the players wanted to start a new tournament sponsored by singing legend Frank Sinatra to the tune of $200,000, but the PGA brass vetoed the idea. Resentment grew. A lot of money and control were at stake, and the two sides could not bridge their differences. The final straw was two television contracts. The PGA negotiated the rights to the World Series of Golf and Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf with no involvement from the tour players. All the resulting TV money went into the PGA’s general fund. No money went into tournament purses or to the players. The inevitable split came in mid-August of 1968 when tour players, led by Gardner Dickinson, Frank Beard, Doug Ford, and Nicklaus, among others, voted to establish an organization separate from the PGA named the American Professional Golfers (APG).
Tensions escalated when tour pros arrived for the $100,000 Philadelphia Golf Classic. PGA President Max Elbin met with seventy tour pros on the Tuesday night before the tournament to inform them the PGA didn’t recognize their new association. A special entry form was being prepared for future tournaments. “A player who signs it may continue on the PGA tour,” Elbin said. “Those who don’t sign will be ineligible.”
Beard later remembered Elbin and Leo Fraser, who was secretary of the PGA of America, as “the staunch hotheads” on the PGA board at that time. “We were bitter enemies during the two-year period when we tried to break away,” Beard said. “We went head-to-head behind closed doors more than once.”
Arnold Palmer, the charismatic superstar who almost single-handedly elevated the game of golf in the television age, did not break with the other players, instead pursuing a peacemaker role. “I saw an opportunity to serve as a bridge of sorts to a better world for everybody,” Palmer later said in his autobiography, A Golfer’s Life. Palmer also had business interests with the PGA and its more than five thousand club pros to consider, but, as one golf writer noted, “I think he was principally motivated by a desire to do the best for the professional game and if possible to avoid damaging its image.”
It was apparently in that spirit that Palmer met with Elbin to broker peace and resolve differences between tour players and the PGA. It was to no avail. Around that same time, an unnamed PGA executive issued a statement critical of Nicklaus’s role in the player mutiny. If it was intended to drive a wedge between Nicklaus and Palmer, it failed. Despite having different approaches to solving the problems, golf’s two biggest names had similar interests. In addition, attacking Nicklaus was bad business because the players and the public regarded him as honest, straightforward, and sincere about professional golf and its best interests.
In early September at a meeting in Houston, the International Golf Sponsors Association said it would negotiate with both the players and the PGA and threatened to pull the plug on its tournaments if the talks were unsuccessful. The seriousness of the threat was debatable at a time when U.S. tour pros appeared to have the upper hand—if they could remain united. Corporate money was pouring into professional golf in America. If sponsors bailed, others were likely to take their place.
By mid-September, after legal wrangling and third-party attempts to make peace and reach an agreement of some kind, there was still no resolution to the mess, and, hence, no London meeting to plan the next Ryder Cup.
“If the newly formed association, the American Professional Golfers, gain complete control of tournament golf next year,” reported The Guardian’s Pat Ward-Thomas, “there is no telling whether they will want to play the [Ryder Cup] match. Even if they do it must be unlikely that the PGA will hand over the trophy, and they themselves can hardly continue the match if they cannot call upon any of the leading players.”
Another month passed, and there was still no definitive word from the western side of the Atlantic about the Ryder Cup. British PGA secretary John Bywaters said his organization had expected a U.S. delegation to arrive for a meeting by the third week of October. Once again, they were no-shows.
“There must be some element of doubt about the competition, but we are optimistic,” Bywaters said, trying to sound a hopeful tone.
If the rift between the PGA and defiant tour professionals wasn’t enough of a problem, there was another potential obstacle to the continuation of the Ryder Cup. In the forty-year history of the event, Great Britain had never won on American soil, and rarely on any soil. To some, the Ryder Cup had become irrelevant. A goodwill match? Sure. A competition between two relatively equal golf superpowers? Absolutely not.
* * *
The Ryder Cup was the namesake of Samuel Ryder, the fourth of eight children born to a seed merchant and a dressmaker on March 24, 1858, in Preston, Lancashire, England. Ryder joined his father’s business after attending Owens College and working at a shipping concern in Manchester. He studied to become a teacher but didn’t graduate due to poor health. It was a theme, for illness would again divert his life in such a way that his name would rest on one of golf’s most-famous trophies.
Ryder split with his father after the two disagreed about the business wisdom of selling seed packets through the mail. He moved south to St. Albans in Hertfordshire, near London, and began selling seed packets from his home for a penny apiece. Ryder had a simple motto: “Everything in a penny packet from orchids to mustard and cress.” The microscopic price undercut his competitors, and he posted the packets each Friday so his working customers would receive their seeds on Saturday, a day during which they could devote time to their gardens.
With a steady supply of seeds from his garden shed and assistance from his wife and daughter, Ryder’s mail-order seeds business grew rapidly. The expansion led to the establishment of a large packaging facility on Holywell Hill where he employed up to a hundred people. He added herbs to the product line and named his small empire Heath and Heather Seed Company. By 1908 Ryder had become a very rich man. He was also exhausted and fell ill from his labor.
Light exercise and fresh air were prescribed for the fifty-year-old seeds tycoon, who had played cricket during his youth but had since become a workaholic with no hobbies or recreational interests that bolstered his physical health. Frank Wheeler, a friend and the minister of Trinity Congregational Church, where Ryder was a devoted member, suggested that Ryder try the game of golf. After initial resistance to the idea, Ryder took up golf and was soon hooked. He hired a local professional to teach him the fundamentals of the game. It marked the beginning of a new obsession. He then retained Abe Mitchell, a famed English golf professional with several tournament victories, as his personal instructor for the sum of £1,000 per year. Ryder, it seemed, had discovered a new vocation, and he worked diligently on his golf game in fair or stormy weather every day of the week except Sunday. He could be seen hitting drives and iron shots on the grounds of his five-acre family residence, Marlborough House. To develop his short game, he chipped over a hedge in the paddock and honed his putting stroke.
Ryder’s manic golf immersion paid off. In a year’s time, at the age of fifty-one, he played to a 6 handicap, a skill level that most golfers never attain in a lifetime of devotion to the sport. He joined Verulam Golf Club in St. Albans and soon after was elected captain of the club, a post he would again hold in the mid-1920s. Ryder’s keen interest in tournament golf led to his sponsorship of the Heath and Heather Tournament in 1923, the first event reserved for professionals. Then, in 1926, he witnessed an informal match between American and British professionals that further stirred his passion for the game, including golf’s potential for international competition and goodwill.
The U.S. players were in England for the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in Lancashire. Arriving early because they had to qualify for the Open, American pros traveled to the Wentworth Club outside of London for a friendly practice match with the Brits. The U.S. side included the colorful Walter Hagen, Tommy Armour, Jim Barnes, Fred McLeod, Cyril Walker, Joe Kirkwood, and Emmett French. Of that group, only Hagen and French were natives. The other men had migrated to the States from England, Scotland, and Australia to ply their golf trade. The British team, which included 1920 Open champion George Duncan and Ryder’s instructor, Abe Mitchell, handily beat the Americans, 13½ to 1½. Gallery member Samuel Ryder was captivated.
“Why can’t they all get to know each other?” Ryder wondered. “I will give £5 to each of the winning players, and give a party afterwards, with champagne and chicken sandwiches.”
Later, during tea, Ryder, Duncan, Mitchell, Hagen, and French drew up a plan for an official international competition pitting British professionals against American professionals. It would be called the Ryder Cup because Samuel Ryder donated the trophy, a nineteen-inch gold chalice that was crafted by Mappin and Webb for the sum of £250. The trophy bore the likeness of Mitchell, who was forever grateful for the gesture. “Putting me on top of the cup is more distinction than I could ever earn,” he said.
While the Ryder Cup was born at Wentworth, the concept can also be traced to 1920, when a Golf Illustrated circulation manager named James Harnett sought to raise funds for international matches. The PGA of America approved the funding at its annual meeting in December, and the Americans took on the British at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 1921. Harnett didn’t provide a trophy, but he did pick the U.S. team, probably with Hagen’s help. The Brits prevailed, 9–3.
The inaugural Ryder Cup was played on June 3 and 4 in 1927 at Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Massachusetts. The British Ryder Cup team was barely able to scrape together the £3,000 needed to make the trip. When an appeal to 1,750 British golf clubs failed to raise the necessary funds, Ryder contributed £500 to help make up the difference. The Stock Exchange Golf Society also made a donation of £210.
Winners of sixteen British Opens and known as the Great Triumvirate, Harry Vardon, James Braid, and John Henry Taylor—selected the nine players for the British team: Aubrey Boomer, Archie Compston, George Duncan, George Gadd, Arthur Havers, Ted Ray, Fred Robson, Charles Whitcombe, and Abe Mitchell, who was chosen as captain. On the train to the ship that would take them to America, Mitchell became ill (later diagnosed as appendicitis) and had to abandon the journey. PGA secretary Percy Perrins selected Herbert Jolly as Mitchell’s replacement on the squad, and Ted Ray took over the captaincy. Ray had won both the British and U.S. Opens and participated along with Vardon and Massachusetts amateur Francis Ouimet in the famous 18-hole playoff at the 1913 U.S. Open, which Ouimet won.
Clad in suits, ties, overcoats, and brimmed hats, most of the team appear in a photograph prior to their departure from Waterloo Station. Also pictured are G. A. Philpot, the editor of Golf Illustrated, who served as team manager, and Ryder, holding the leash of a stout-looking dog. After a stormy crossing, the money- and fashion-challenged British team stepped off the boat and into another world. American PGA officials had arranged a welcome party hosted by the U.S. captain, the stylish Walter Hagen. The Brits arrived with a police escort at the Biltmore Hotel in midtown Manhattan, where they deposited their bags before heading north to the Westchester Biltmore for a fancy dinner and nighttime putting tournament made possible by floodlights.
Besides Captain Hagen, the U.S. team included Leo Diegel, Al Espinosa, Johnny Farrell, Johnny Golden, Bill Mehlhorn, Gene Sarazen, Joe Turnesa, and Al Watrous. Like Ray, Hagen was a playing captain.
The teams competed in four foursomes matches and eight singles matches over the two days. Foursomes pitted two British players against two American players, each team playing one ball and taking turns hitting the ball until it was holed. Singles were one-against-one matches. Whether foursomes or singles, the object was to make the lowest score on a hole, and thereby win the hole. Tied holes were called “halves.” Matches ended when a team or player was ahead by more holes than remained to be played. Teams or players were awarded 1 point for winning a match and ½ point for a tied (or halved) match. All matches were 36 holes, a format that would continue until 1961.
This time, with only native-born players as Ryder Cup rules dictated, the Americans reversed the results at Wentworth. They took a 3–1 lead after foursomes matches on the first day. The second day was no better for the British boys. The U.S. players won the first four of eight singles matches to capture the Cup. Only the final score was in doubt. Prevailing in singles 6½–1½, the United States won the first official Ryder Cup by the score of 9½–2½, a decisive victory.
“One of the chief reasons for our failure was the superior putting of the American team,” summed up Captain Ray.
The winning team took possession of the trophy until the matches resumed in two years. Samuel Ryder’s prized Cup did not make the return voyage to Southampton, England.
In May 1929, five months prior to the stock market crash that plunged the United States and much of the rest of Western civilization into a deep and protracted depression, the teams met at Moortown Golf Club in Leeds in northern England. Walter Hagen again served as captain of the U.S. team, a role he would assume for the first six Ryder Cups. George Duncan led Great Britain. The era of hickory-shafted golf clubs was coming to a close, although the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, Great Britain’s ruling golf body, wouldn’t approve clubs with steel shafts until the following year. As a result, U.S. player Horton Smith, a rising star who would go on to win the inaugural Masters Tournament, switched to hickory sticks for the first time.
People streamed to the Leeds course to watch the action, creating a one-mile backup of automobiles. A boisterous gallery of 10,000 saw the visiting Americans take a 2½–1½ lead in dry and fast conditions after the first-day foursomes matches. Most disturbing was the 7 and 5 thumping Captain Duncan and Aubrey Boomer took from Leo Diegel and Al Espinosa. Duncan shook it off as he went out the next day to face Hagen in singles. An excellent match-play competitor, Hagen had won eleven major titles, including his fourth British Open two weeks earlier at Muirfield in Scotland. “Sir Walter,” as he was nicknamed, was a brash man, which on this occasion worked to his disadvantage. Word reached Duncan that Hagen had guaranteed a point to his teammates. The captains’ 36-hole singles duel resulted in a 10 and 8 rout in favor of Duncan, an enormous upset. It would be Hagen’s only defeat in nine Ryder Cup matches. The British team won the day, 5–2, and the Ryder Cup, 7–5.
Returning to the States, the 1931 Ryder Cup was played at Scioto Country Club on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio. Team selection rules stirred debate and an outcry before and after the matches. The Ryder Cup Deed of Trust declared that team members must be both natives and residents of the country for which they played. This and a team rule that required the players to travel together prevented the selection of three of Great Britain’s finest players: Percy Alliss, who was serving as a club professional in Berlin; Aubrey Boomer, who was a member at St. Cloud Golf Club in Paris; and Henry Cotton, who planned to remain in America after the Ryder Cup. Without the three accomplished players, an aging Great Britain squad went down to defeat in stifling June heat by the score of 9–3. The scorching Ohio summer would result in early fall dates for future Ryder Cups played in America.
The 1933 Ryder Cup at Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club on the northwest coast of England was the closest and most exciting to date. The British team was led for the first time by a nonplaying captain, five-time British Open winner John Henry Taylor. An enthusiastic crowd numbering 15,000 watched the home team take a 2½–1½ lead in closely contested foursomes matches. The second-day singles produced high drama, leaving the Cup in doubt until completion of the final match between Great Britain’s Syd Easterbrook and America’s Denny Shute. Easterbrook had holed three consecutive putts to reach the final hole of the match all square, or tied, with Shute. Both men drove into bunkers and reached the green in 3 shots. Easterbrook lagged his long par putt close, but Shute’s 30-footer slipped 4 feet by the hole. He missed the comeback attempt, Easterbrook tapped in, and Great Britain was again Ryder Cup victors, edging the United States 6½–5½.
The 1935 matches were contested in New Jersey at Ridgewood Country Club. Propelled by Captain Hagen in his final Ryder Cup appearance, Gene Sarazen, Paul Runyan, and Horton Smith, the United States won three of four foursomes matches on the first day to take a comfortable lead. The following day the Yanks dominated singles play and recaptured the Cup by the same 9–3 score as four years earlier in Ohio. The home side had won all five Ryder Cups, but the tide would soon turn.
Three months later, on January 2, 1936, Samuel Ryder died from a massive hemorrhage in London at the age of seventy-seven. The man who had sold countless seeds that had been planted throughout England was put into the ground with his favorite mashie, roughly the equivalent of the modern-day 5-iron. It was a blessing that Ryder did not live to see the future of his cherished Cup.
Beginning the following year, in 1937, the British would lose for the first time on their home soil. The victory drought—both at home and in the States—would extend well past World War II. After splitting the first four Ryder Cups with the Americans, Great Britain would win only one of the next thirteen contests. Conceived and meticulously crafted in England thanks to the visionary efforts of a passionate golf convert, the Ryder Cup trophy, for all practical purposes, had migrated to the United States.
* * *
In December 1968, a month after Richard Nixon had won the White House, the fledgling APG formed by defecting tour players had arranged twenty-eight tournaments for the 1969 season. Except for four holdouts, all existing sponsors were on board. Doral Country Club in Miami would host a qualifying school. The players had strengthened their hand.
Among the APG’s first moves was to appoint New York attorney Sam Gates as its acting commissioner. Gates had been tour veteran Doug Ford’s lawyer, and the players wanted legal muscle for their ongoing skirmishes with the PGA. Jack Tuthill, an ex-FBI agent and the PGA field man who ran tournaments, jumped ship with the players and was hired as the APG’s tournament director. Tuthill occupied a small office in a Manhattan hotel and could not initially be assured of a paycheck, but he nonetheless rallied most of the sponsors that had formerly supported the PGA-sanctioned tournaments.
At the same time, the tenure of PGA President Max Elbin was coming to a close. His successor was Leo Fraser, a PGA member since 1927 and former head pro at New Jersey’s Seaview Country Club. The change of leadership provided a new opportunity. Although originally backing the PGA position, which included a “verbal attack” against Nicklaus that the star golfer detailed in a self-penned Sports Illustrated article in September 1968, Fraser slowly came around. According to Palmer, who met with Fraser in Atlantic City to discuss the creation of an autonomous players organization within the PGA as the way forward, the incoming president was open to compromise with tour pros. Unlike other PGA officers, Fraser was willing to talk to the “rebels,” as the players were sometimes called during that turbulent period. He squashed the public war of words and, in good faith, sat down with the players, listened, and bargained until a settlement was reached. There would be no APG tournaments in 1969. The short-lived organization had helped achieve the players’ goal—the formation of the Tournament Players Division of the PGA, which would become known as the PGA Tour in the mid-1970s. (For the sake of uniformity, the tournament circuit will be referred to as the PGA Tour throughout the rest of this book.) Players would now enjoy majority status on policy boards and thereby guide important decisions about their livelihood.
“We could finally get back to playing the game we all loved to play instead of bickering about it,” Palmer said.
The deal clincher, as Nicklaus called it, was the naming of Joe Dey as the tour’s first commissioner. The sixty-one-year-old Dey, whom Golf World called “the most respected golf authority in the world,” had been the executive director of the United States Golf Association (USGA) for more than three decades, a period of tremendous growth in the game. The USGA had become synonymous with Dey, who was trusted and admired by virtually all who had a stake or interest in the game. Dey’s departure was a surprise to many people, probably even to Dey himself. After turning down many offers through the years, he would pursue a new role in professional golf. “I am ending what has really been my love affair with the USGA,” Dey said upon his resignation in January 1969.
Players responded to Dey’s hiring with enthusiasm and widespread support.
“I’m so happy we have secured a man of Dey’s stature,” said 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby, “but I just couldn’t believe he would take the job at first.”
Billy Casper asserted, “I don’t think professional golf could have picked a better man.”
Nicklaus believed “Dey was the only man who could handle the job.”
Palmer declared, “I’m as happy as can be.”
Despite the ringing endorsements from the locker room and elsewhere, the job as first commissioner would be an enormous challenge. Dey didn’t claim to have all the answers to the PGA’s problems, and, as Golf World noted, he would be “dealing with men who have caused much grief for past administrators.” Dey didn’t expect trouble from the players, though. “I have known most since they were kids,” he said.
In the beginning, Dey would focus on rules uniformity, improvement of tournament courses, and the conduct of tournament play. Splitting time between offices in New York City and Palm Beach Gardens, he would attend some tournaments but not impose himself on Jack Tuthill, who was returning to the PGA to serve as tournament director.
After months of acrimony between tour pros and the PGA honchos in Palm Beach Gardens, the new Tournament Players Division with the highly respected Dey at the headquarters and the able Tuthill in the field was off to a good start. By the end of January, after teeing it up in Los Angeles, Napa, Pebble Beach, and San Diego, tour pros were looking ahead to events in the California and Arizona deserts.
However, the matter of the 1969 Ryder Cup at Royal Birkdale and its many important details had not been settled. More than four months had slipped by since the London postponement and still no meeting between British and U.S. PGA officials had taken place. Based on the most recent history of the matches, one might wonder if the Americans would bother to cross the Atlantic.
Copyright © 2014 by Neil Sagebiel