The secret behind the 1957 Ryder Cup victory

British and Irish golf professionals spent most of their lives in the decades following WWII playing tournaments on inland courses which were totally different to the links courses used for the Open and for many home Ryder Cup matches. Inland course fairways were really narrow, the deep rough was virtually unplayable and if you pitched on to the greens in summer you would end up in the trees at the back.

For the home Ryder Cups, the greenkeeping staff were also given orders to cut the rough right back and flood the greens with water, because it was known that this was what the Americans liked.

Left to right: Back Peter Mills, Harry Bradshaw, Bernard Hunt, Peter Alliss, Eric Brown, Christy O’Connor. Front Max, Harry Weetman, Dai Rees (Captain), Ken Bousefield

The authorities should have taken note of what happened after the 1949 Ryder Cup match at Ganton, which the US won by 7 matches to 5. The whole of the US team stayed on to play in the News of the World Matchplay tournament held on the inland course of Walton Heath in Surrey, where my Dad started his professional career.

Only Lloyd Mangrum got as far as the semi-final, when he was beaten by Henry Cotton. Some of the star US players were put out by relatively unknown club professionals.

The 1957 Ryder Cup was only held at the inland course of Lindrick because of the personality of Sir Stuart Goodwin, who overcame objections to the relatively poor hotel and other facilities in the area at the time. Instead of a committee being responsible for course preparation, Sir Stuart gave the home team a free hand.

The captain, Dai Rees, got a few of us together and it was agreed that Dai should give the following instructions to the greenkeepers:

  1. The fairways were to be made as narrow as possible – no more than 35 yards across on many of the holes. There was to be a 6-10 yards strip of semi-rough with grass which would be long enough to cover the ball and make it difficult to get any backspin on approach shots. The deep rough was not to be touched.
  2. Around the edge of the greens there was to be a narrow strip of mown grass, but at the back this was to be bordered by what the British pros knew as “jag grass.” This is grass which is about 2 inches long so that it covers the ball and penalises any approach which overshoots the green.
  3. No water was to be applied to the greens for three days before the match.

By these three simple steps we made sure that it was really going to be a “home” match for the British team, because these were the exact conditions under which we played most of our tournaments. Only later were more British courses opened out and sprinklers installed.

At Lindrick all the British team were very straight hitters in the classical English style. They hardly knocked a ball off the fairyway in the whole tournament while the Americans were taking irons off the tee and still hitting it into the rough. They were all at sea with their approach shots onto the hard greens and kept running through the back into the jag grass.

I remember watching Jackie Burke, the US captain, trying to chip out of the jag grass on one of the practice days. He had one shot at it and moved it a foot, had another shot at it and moved it another foot and then picked up his ball in disgust. To play this shot it is fatal to grip the club tightly; you have to grip the club so lightly that it almost falls out of your hand on impact. The ball should just plop out on to the green.

Burke made no attempt to find out how the shot should be played. I knew then that we had the match in our grasp.

We made a bad start, losing 3 matches to one in the foursomes. I was not playing well and asked Dai to be left out of the singles because I felt we had a better chance without me.

I spent the last day charging about the course, giving encouragement to the young players – Peter Mills, Peter Alliss and Bernard Hunt – in particular. It was amazing how the team suddenly became charged up. It was almost telepathic. They absolutely slaughtered the Americans in the singles, losing only one match out of eight and halving one.

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