‘Butten Scheme’ attempt to produce British Open winner

At one of the tournaments in 1964 I overheard Dai Rees talking to Ken Bousefield about a millionaire management consultant called Ernest Butten, who had started a scheme to train selected young professional golfers to win back the Open Championship for Britain.

What a great idea, I thought. Dai was trying to persuade Ken to take the job of training the boys. A salary of £3,000 a year was mentioned, but Ken didn’t seem to be very keen. This Mr. Butten was up for the tournament and staying at a nearby hotel.

Butten Scheme 1964/65. Left to right Tommy Horton, Alan Ibberson, Max, Ernest Butten, Iain Clark, Brian Barnes

As soon as I heard it I knew that this was just what I wanted to do. What could be better than the last British winner of the Open training the next one?

Without saying a word I went straight up to my room, put on my best suit and telephoned Mr. Butten’s hotel. I told him that I was very interested in his idea and he invited me to come round at once.

He must have seen how enthusiastic I was because we bargained about the salary straight away. I told him that I wanted £5,000 a year or I wasn’t interested, but that I would give him half of my tournament winnings. (I would regret this later, as I had a good year in 1965, coming 10th in the Open.)

“I’ll let you know,” he concluded. “I have some other applicants to see but I’ll contact you if I want to take it any further.”

Two or three weeks later he rang to make an appointment, and we had lunch together with our wives. Although we chatted about details, he would still not definitely commit himself.

In the meantime I learned that he had sacked his existing manager, who was not a golfer and too easy-going on the boys. I had to wait another two months before he offered me the job.

Butten got all the boys together and asked them: “How would you like Max Faulkner to be your new manager?” I am glad to say that they were delighted because that was my cue to walk through the door.

Excellent prospects

I started in October and got on well with the boys straight away. Eldest and longest serving was Tommy Horton, then 23, followed by Alan Ibberson from Cambridge, 22, British Youth’s Champion Brian Barnes, 19, and Iain Clark, 17. A few months later 22-year old Mike Ingham joined us.

I thought they were all excellent prospects. Tommy Horton and I were the only ones under 6 feet in height.

The life of a young professional golfer at that time still hinged around the shop. Although he would do his share of teaching and playing round with the members, it was inevitable that he would spend long hours in the shop when he should be out practicing if he had set his heart on becoming a tournament professional.

The Butten scheme allowed the boys to concentrate full-time on developing their tournament-winning ability. They were paid a salary of £15 a week and all their trournament expenses were covered, but the outlay would be recoverable from future tournament winnings.

Under their contracts, 70% of any winnings went back into the scheme with 30% being retained by them as an incentive. Butten said that the scheme was costing him £15,000 a year, which was a great deal of money in 1964/65.

Free hand

I have never been happier than I was during those winter months. We worked long hours together but I was revelling in it. Ernest Butten was in America and I had a free hand.

Using his business management expertise, he had developed an excellent schedule and there were ideal facilities at his consultancy centre at Sundridge Park, Kent.

Oscar Heidenstam, from the London Polytechnic, came out once a week to supervise our weight training and gym excercises.

The boys had training from consultants in public speaking and even our diet was carefully regulated. Every evening we would work up a sweat by playing football in the gym before having a shower and rub down.

We had our own doctor, who came every week to have lunch with us. His job was to assess the boys’ temperaments and he and I would have a private meeting. I would tell him how I thought they were progressing and we would plan what could be done to get them thinking on the right lines.

We nearly stopped the boys smoking altogether. We had a machine at the centre which charted lung pressure. When Brian and Alan blew into it, the needle nearly went off the top of the paper.

But I had smoked 20 or more cigarettes a day for most of my life and my graph was little better than that of Ernest Butten, who, at 64, was 16 years older than me. This made a big impression on the boys.

The boys and I never had a cross word – except on the golf course. I soon found out that I had to be tough with them.

If they were not playing well they were swearing and throwing their clubs about. The first thing I had to do was calm them down and get more consistent play out of them.

They had to be taught etiquette. While I was taking a putt on a green they would be taking practice shots, or when one of them was driving off, the others would be waggling their clubs. I told them to emulate Bobby Locke, who would never move a muscle even if his opponent had a 4-inch putt.

We would be playing golf in all conditions, even snow. If the Sundridge Park course was really a quagmire, I would take them to a driving range and they would be hitting 100 shots each.

I had an early battle with Brian Barnes. He hit the ball an immense distance but was vulnerable to a hook when under pressure. I told him he had to be prepared to sacrifice 20% of his length in order to develop a ‘power fade’ system with a very strong left hand.

After a month of trying this, he came to me and said “It’s not working, Sir.” (For the first two months they called me “Sir” until I stopped it.)

I gave him an ultimatum. Either he continued to follow my advice or he was free to leave the scheme. I am delighted to say he chose the former and soon became much more consistent. I knew then that we had a future tournament winner and Ryder Cup player and possibly even an Open Champion.

The turning point

I had to take my hat off to Butten, for having the idea in the first place and getting all the experts together. If only he had stayed in his office to supervise progress and had left the golf to me, the physical training to Oscar and the psychological training to the doctor, we would have really gone places.

The trouble was that he himself had taken up golf at the age of 60 and after five years had got his handicap down to six through practice and rigorous exercise. It was a fantastic achievement, I have to admit. He had little natural talent but made up for it by fanatical determination and will power.

Half way through the 1965 tournament season he began to interfere directly with all the arrangements and particularly with my golf teaching.

He was a very strong character, as you have to be to make a million in business, and would never accept that he might have got something wrong. As he was paying the boys’ salaries, they could not ignore him.

At the root of the trouble was his impatience for results and particularly his demand for an Open Championship victory within a year.

I knew it was an impossibility to achieve this. I thought that one of the boys, and probably Tommy Horton because he was the most experienced, might win a tournament in 1965 but I reckoned that it would take another five years to produce and Open Champion. I kept telling him this but he would not have it.

Mental steel required

You don’t really need my experience of the profession to work this out. A look at various issues of the Golfer’s Handbook or similar record book will confirm that the Open is one tournament that you cannot win out of the blue; you have to progress steadily towards it.

Very rarely has there been a winner who has not finished in the top ten of a previous Championship. You will find that most have already had the experience of being either in the lead or close to it with one round to go.

We didn’t see much of Butten when he first came back from America. But the rot set in when he began to follow the boys around at the early tournaments. They were not having much luck at this stage and his presence was making things worse.

To be fair to him, he was probably realising that the scheme was going to cost him more than he had bargained for but he didn’t seem to have any idea of how badly he was affecting their morale.

The boys would see him on a shooting stick at the back of the green and it would frighten the life out of them. When they were putting they would see him with his head bowed, praying thet they would get it in the hole. Then he would get his notebook out and mark it all down.

Most of the time he would be very pleasant to them but then at other times they would suddenly get it in the neck.

He took to hiding in the trees as he went from hole to hole but the boys would always spot him. “Christ, there he is,” they would say. They would spend more time looking to see if he was around than in concentrating on their golf.

Mechanical putting

He started going over my head on their putting. First he put two straight sticks on the ground in parallel, pointing towards the hole, to mark the line which the head of the putter should take. These were later replaced by a machine with two parallel wires which made a buzzing noise when the wires were touched.

I was not happy with this approach but it did not seem to be all that harmful, although I stipulated that you needed something on top as well to prevent them lifting the head of the putter too far off the ground on the backswing, which is a fatal flaw if you want to putt consistently.

The system would then ensure that the putt could not be done by wrists alone; the movement had to be from the shoulders so that the hands were taken back as well.

But then he and his management consultants worked out that the putter should be taken back 4 inches for a putt of a certain distance, 6 inches for a longer distance etc., and they put rulers down on the grass.

This was bad enough but he and I really began to row when he started insisting on a follow-though. Obviously the head of the putter has to come though the ball, but this distance should never be more than three to nine inches, except on very long putts.

To start anyone worrying about a follow-through encourages the most dreadful putting stroke of all: when the ball is pushed rather than hit towards the hole.

The mechanical system soon put paid to Iain Clark, who was a marvellous putter when he was 17. His ‘problem’ was that he took the putter back like Bobby Locke, with an inside to out loop.

Although the putt was hit dead straight, he kept touching the inside wire on the backswing.

This would not do for Butten, although it is a perfectly good method. Bobby Locke is probably the finest putter the world has ever seen. Brian Barnes, who was my best putter, was also a bag of nerves after a week or two of this.

I told the boys to stop using the gadget, except when necessary to keep the boss happy.

Automaton golf

Butten tried to influence the way they swung the club but even he realised that he didn’t know as much about a golf swing as I did.

He demanded a dead straight drive, a straight approach to the stick and one putt. He thought it was only a matter of hitting thousands of balls a day before a player would become like this. He didn’t seem to have any idea of how the human mind worked.

He tried to prevent me teaching the boys how to fade or draw a ball, saying that if the ball was always hit perfectly straight, such an ability would not be necessary. I asked him what you were supposed to do if you hit the ball perfectly straight and found yourself behind a tree.

He was not all that interested in me teaching them bunker play, again because you would not get in bunkers if your approach shots were dead straight.

Butten thought that if he could get down to 6 handicap through sheer persistence, it should be no trouble at all to manufacture an Open Champion using similar methods.

Inspiration for winning


Max with key ‘Butten Boys’ players Tommy Horton (far left) and Brian Barnes (far right). Also in picture Bernie Gallacher (second left)

Adopting an aggressive and demoralising approach to your staff in order to urge them to better things may be a good idea in business – although I doubt it. It might even be good for a boxer, but it is death to a young tournament pro.

I owe my success to my father, who was constantly telling me that I was a better player than anybody else. I knew that I always had his support and he gave me the confidence I needed.

Winning tournaments is a matter of inspiration; you don’t have to play that well. Often you might have only just qualified but find you are among the leaders in the early rounds and feel in the right frame of mind to hang on until the end.

All anyone can give a potential champion is tips and constant encouragement. There is no way you can manufacture a champion golfer using book methods.

I tried my best to cram my thirty years of experience into the boys in one year, helping them with their swings and even altering their clubs if I thought it necessary. I was aiming for a step-by-step improvement in their methods and confidence so that they could hold it all together for a 72-hole tournament.

First success

Our first real success was in the Silent Night tournament at Moortown in June 1965. Tommy Horton needed a four at the last hole to win but took 6 and finished second.

I thought it was a great experience and invaluable experience for him; he wouldn’t make a mistake the next time he was in that position. Only one of the boys failed to qualify and two were well up in the money.

The boys were on top of the world as we drove home and I was pleased as punch myself.

The next morning we cheerfully assembled outside Butten’s office but as we walked in he was looking grim and proceeded to give them – and me – a tremendous roasting.

“You are a disgrace to the profession,” were his exact words and he went on to talk of our “terrible performance.”

The boys went as white as sheets and I stuttered out that I thought they had done remarkably well. I was pretty shaken myself. Even in the RAF I had not been slated like that. One or two of the boys were almost crying as we came out.

I was humiliated because I felt it was a terrible thing for him to do, to tell me off in front of the boys. If he was unhappy he should have come to me first so that we could have a one-to-one talk about it.

From then on, it was only a matter of time. Not only was he confusing the boys, he was beginning to upset my game as well, coming back from his travels with one crackpot idea after another.

Mass resignation

I resigned at the end of August of that year. It was clear to me that I was never going to be left alone to get on with my job and by that time I would be doing the boys a favour by leaving the scheme.

They were worried about new 7-year contracts they were being asked to sign and I wanted no part of it. It was getting to the stage where Butten would be doing permanent damage to their games.

In the ensuing turmoil, my two best players, Tommy Horton and Brian Barnes, resigned with me to play full time on the tournament circuit. Allan Ibberson, Iain Clark and Mike Ingham stuck it out for some months longer but the scheme was finally wound up.

Epitaph

It was a tragedy that the scheme folded as it did. Tommy and Brian have had very successful tournament careers, both representing Great Britain in the Ryder Cup, winning tournaments and going on to achhieve great success on the Seniors Circuit.

But it was Tony Jacklin who pulled off the next English victory in the Open, when he won at Lytham in 1969. At the time of the Butten scheme Tony had already won the Assistant’s Championship and was the protégé of Bill Shankland at Potters Bar.

After Tony it took 16 more years to achieve another British victory, when Sandy Lyle won at Sandwich in 1985.

If I had been left to run the golfing side of things my way, I believe the scheme could have soon become self-supporting. Tommy Horton had already won £2,000 from tournaments by the time he resigned.

I feel that Alan Ibberson, Iain Clark and Michael Ingham could have reached Ryder Cup level, but whether or not the scheme could have produced an Open Championship victory from Tommy or Brian is another matter.

Tommy could have done with another few inches in height and 20lb in weight and his temperament was perhaps a bit too fiery.

I have never understood why Brian has not won it. Comparing Brian with myself, I think he is a better hitter of the ball but on the other hand he has not had the magical patches with his putter which I had from time to time.

When I won the Open I took less than 30 putts in each round. In my second round of 70 I only took 24 putts. I never three-putted and had single putts at 12 holes. If I had also been striking the ball well, I would have won by 10 shots.

US success vital

A problem for both of them in the 1960s and 1970s was the complete dominance of the US circuit. If I had continued with the Butten scheme, I would have been urging him to sponsor our best players on the US circuit, which would of course meant him outlaying a great deal more money.

Only by achieving success over there could the boys have gained the necessary confidence to avoid feeling intimidated by the Palmers, Nicklaus’s, Watson and Trevinos.

Brian could have had this success. On his first 6-week tour, in 1970, he ended up finishing third in the Doral Open in Florida. But he decided, as I had done 20 years earlier, that he preferred the British way of life and thereafter made only occasional US visits.

By relegating himself to the second division, I think he found it very difficult to give himself the psychological boost when the big guns came over here to contest the Open.

But he still showed what he was capable of in the 1975 Ryder Cup match in the USA, when he beat Jack Nicklaus twice in one day in the singles matches. Jack was needled by being beaten in the morning and persuaded captain Arnold Palmer to put him against Brian again in the afternoon, only to get another thumping. This achievement was blasted all over the US but got surprisingly little publicity back here.

Although the Americans now share the world rankings with Europeans, Australians and others, it is still necessary for a player to beat the Americans on their home ground to prepare himself psychologically for the big ones.

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