No greater hard luck story than Harry Bradshaw’s

Published 8:16 pm Tuesday, July 7, 2020

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My introduction to the British Open championship came about from reading historical accounts of Bobby Jones and his remarkable Grand Slam year of 1930 when he won the four major championships of his day—the U. S. Open and Amateur and the British Open and Amateur.

To do that, he had to cross the Atlantic by ocean liner, a journey of 4-5 days, and win twice when the summer weather in the United Kingdom often had the bite of a New England November.  Jones won the British Amateur on May 31 at St. Andrews and the Open June 20 at Hoylake.  He returned home in time for the U. S. Open in July.   He claimed the third leg of the Grand Slam on July 12 at Interlachen in Edina, a suburb of Minneapolis, which set up his Grand Slam opportunity at Merion in Philadelphia in September.  He pulled off the remarkable feat of winning golf’s four majors on Sept. 27.

You could have slammed me off my feet with a feather if you had told me that I might someday meet Bobby Jones, that I would be able to interview his caddie, Howard Rexford, who was on his bag at Merion to win the Slam.   Never could I have imagined that I would play Hoylake and St. Andrews.

Reminiscing abut the past can be fun, and I take great pride in being able to reach out and touch such history.  Part of the fun is getting there and then underscoring enterprise to soak up every possible experience.  In 1981, I arrived in England in early July with the ultimate objective to attend the Open championship at Royal St. Georges at Sandwich, England.

Before that, I had allowed time for a stop at Stratford-on-Avon to connect with the heritage of William Shakespeare with the good fortune of seeing the BBC production of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  

After spending a couple of days with a young English couple, I subsequently embarked on a trip from London to Dover where a Hovercraft took me across the English Channel to Calais and the coast of France. I hired a car, as the Europeans say, and drove to Normandy for my first visit there.  Simply Overwhelming.

Then, it was back across the Channel for the Open, grateful for the side trips that always enhance the travel experience.  The Kent countryside is soul-stirring.  The train rides though the small towns, or villages, causes your affection for history to run rampant.

When enjoying a sporting event such as the Open, the history, the people and the customs give you a fresh perspective.  I couldn’t get enough of the pubs, the gardens and the landmarks of the quaint burg that is Sandwich and its championship venue, Royal St. Georges Golf Club.

At the golf course there was enough history to turn your head, trumping the need to make birdies and bogies exclusive for your musings of the playing of the British Open. Author Ian Fleming was a member at Royal St. Georges which was the setting for James Bond’s heralded match with Goldfinger.  Viagra was produced at a nearby lab which made proper English ladies blush when that factoid was broached in casual conversation.  The countryside is perfect for an artist and the spirit of the natives is hearty and uplifting.

It meant something to the members that St. Georges was the first English golf club to host the Open.  All previous Opens, prior to Sandwich in 1894 had been held in Scotland. There could be no greater hard luck story in golf than the 1949 championship when Irish professional Harry Bradshaw lost to South African Bobby Locke in a playoff at Sandwich.

In the second round, Bradshaw’s tee shot on the fifth hole came to rest in the bottom half of a broken bottle which had washed up from the sea.  He probably would have been given a free drop if a rules official could have been summoned as the case would be today.  Unsure that a drop was permissible within the rules, Bradshaw played the ball as it lay.

“I had to turn me head away when I hit it and glass went in every direction,” Bradshaw told me later in a recorded interview.  “The ball went about 15 yards.  I knocked the ball on the green the next shot and made six.”  A five as it turned out would have won the Open.

A couple of years later on my summer trip to the Open, I found my way to the Portmarnock Golf Club in Dublin Ireland and tape-recorded Bradshaw for over an hour.  He was generous with his time.  He was the head pro a Portmarnock.  After the interview, we each drank a bottle of Guinness and talked about his career memories, focusing on his misfortune at Royal St. George.

In the playoff with Locke, Harry’s game faltered.  The South African won easily, but after they putted out on the last hole, Bradshaw and Locke headed, arm-in-arm, into the clubhouse, causing Locke to exclaim, “My God Harry, you wouldn’t know who won this thing.  You are smiling as if you won it.”

Bradshaw’s reply is a reminder that there is nothing more gratifying than an accomplished and successful athlete who is a preeminent sportsman.  “I said, ‘Bobby, I’m delighted to be playing with you in this Open and what other way could I take it but to come up smiling.’”