Golfing press changes over six decades

I played in my first Open when I was 17 in 1934 and have had more than six decades of working with the golfing press. They always treated me very well and in my turn I have done my best to give them a story on days when the news was a bit thin.

The changes in recent decades have been the obvious ones – computerisation, the internet, communications satellites, increased TV coverage, colour printing. But the further you go back, there are even more sweeping differences, and many of these relate to the way the tournaments were organised.

No golf was televised live before the mid-1950s and only the major tournaments were covered on radio, so the only way to keep in touch was by reading newspapers or the golfing journals.

You look at the record books and they show, for example, that a bloke called Max Faulkner won the 1951 Open at Royal Portrush with a four-round total of 285. Nothing startling about that. But put yourself in the position of a reporter trying to cover the event.

Start times for the final day at Portrush in 1951. Max 9.30am, 1.30pm. Cerda 10.30am, 2.30pm

Nobody had yet thought of the bright idea of putting the leaders out last. We played four rounds over three days: one on Wednesday, one on Thursday and two on Friday, the final day. The idea was that the pros should be back at their clubs teaching the members over the weekend.

The qualifiers for the final day went out in any order, so it was perfectly possible for the eventual winner to be teeing off first. There were no radios or telephones, so confusion reigned.

People would be running about and reporters would be hearing cheering from all parts of the course and would not know which way to turn. The less energetic would overcome the problem by resolutely staying in the bar and asking everyone who came in what was going on. Rumours would be flying that so-and-so was scorching up the course but there was no precise information.

This happened to me at Portrush because I was out early and had an agonising 45-minute wait. It was perfectly possible for Antonio Cerda of Argentina to catch me. It was only when I heard that he had taken 6 at the par 4 16th that I knew the tournament was mine.

I remember this wait, because I had only the press, Dai Rees and Ken Bousefield to keep me company in a small tent. I cannot describe what it was like. This was the most important event of my life and I was only half conscious of what was going on around me. In my mind was the thought that this precious cup, to which I had virtually devoted my life, might even than be snatched away from me.

Faster play

When I won the Dunlop Masters on the Burma Road course at Wentworth in the same year, I spreadeagled the field because I felt so confident. We played the four rounds in only two days. We certainly had to be fit.

One thing is for sure. We did not spend time poncing about on the greens examining each putt, or studying yardage on the fairways. We did not have the time. We had to sum up the shot by eye and get on with it. The pace of play was far quicker and in my opinion this was no bad thing. Taking five hours or more over a round is ridiculous.

But from a reporter’s point of view, the fast play and shorter time span meant that the drama was more concentrated. Today, reporters have a pretty good idea who the eventual top three will be by the 10th hole on the last round, so they can concentrate their attention on getting the necessary background and colour for these three players and ignore the rest. Only very rarely can they be caught out.

Gentlemen versus players journalists

When I first started in the 1930s, there were plenty of ‘Bertie Wooster’ types of amateurs with private incomes and no need to work. There were also ‘gentlemen’ journalists and ‘player’ (professional) journalists.

Some of the gentlemen journalists were very good, such as Leonard Crawley and particularly Henry Longhurst, but some of the others had plummy voices and used to get up my nose.

One of the latter wrote a report of the 1951 Open for one of the monthly golf magazines. The first page deals with the charms of the Portrush course and it is only half way down the second page, after he has covered crowd control and the weather, that there is the first mention of any of the pros involved.

On the other hand, in this same magazine the player journalists set out an excellent four-page report, in the form of perceptive photographs and long captions, which fully convey the drama involved. To the player journalists I was “Max;” to the gentlemen journalists I was “Faulkner.”

Another weekly report. Max with (right) Ian Wooldridge

Leonard Crawley was a double Cambridge blue, a county cricketer and had played in the Walker Cup. He was a big man and a straight hitter, although his swing was a bit stiff. I played with him many times and he was the only journalist whose opinion persuaded me to change my style.

In the late 1940s I had adopted a very crouched putting style with both elbows out. During a practice round for a tournament at Lytham, this was clearly exasperating Leonard. “Faulkner, you look like a monkey f*****g a sack of nails,” he boomed. Chastened, I adopted a very upright putting stance with a long, slender putter which won me the Open a few years later.

Henry Longhurst was in my opinion the best writer. He had a wonderful turn of phrase and was humorous with it. Tom Scott, the editor of Golf Illustrated in the 1950s, was a solid, reliable reporter and a nice man, if a bit dour.

Picture taken for Sunday Pictorial article

Other journalists of that time who I respected and got on well with were Geoffrey Cousins, Ronald Heager, Bob Rodney and Mark Wilson. Ian Wooldridge used to ghost write a weekly column for me and I enjoyed his regular telephone calls; we had many laughs together and he was a fine writer. Peter Dobereiner arrived on the scene late in my career.

Desmond Hackett of the Daily Express used to irritate me by always referring to me as “Maxie Faulkner, the clown prince of golf,” while Peter Wilson once did a double-page spread on me in 1950 for the tabloid Sunday Pictorial, the largest circulation Sunday paper at the time, which was complete fiction.

He got me chopping up logs on the family farm, swinging from fruit trees in the orchard because I was a physical training instructor during the war, and also running up and down a lane with the caption that this was a daily three-mile run. It opened my eyes to what tabloid journalism was about.

Before the computer age, the daily newspaper journalists used to have to phone through their report before an evening deadline. It would be taken down in shorthand by a ‘copy taker’ and then typed out for sub-editing. I know all this because my elder son became a journalist in the 1960s and used to ghost write articles for me, Brian, Bernie Gallacher, Malcolm Gregson and the American Miller Barber.

Most of the reporters would use pocket-sized notebooks and it used to amaze me to watch them dictating an apparently fluent report, while constantly flicking pages backwards and forwards in their notebooks.

Driftwood putters

Some of the putters I used in tournaments I had made out of driftwood I had found on the beach. I love sea fishing and had plenty of opportunity to walk along the shore. I would look for hard wood, saw off a block and rasp it to shape in a vice, hammer the face to harden it and drill holes in the bottom to add lead for weight and drill an angled hole to take a hickory shaft.

Although I never won a tournament with one of these putters, it provided a good story on days when news was thin.

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