The status of being an Open Champion

From the day of my victory at Portrush, my life was changed. I had already played in the Ryder Cup, had won the odd tournament and had always been popular with the press because of my larking about on the course. But suddenly I was a household name. I was set apart from the rest and would have this title behind me for the rest of my life.

I think the Portrush Championship was the first time that the winner’s speech was broadcast, because my family heard it on the Surrey farm near Godalming. It was the easiest speech I have ever had to make.

I talked about my early life and career and managed to keep the crowd entertained in the drizzling rain. I remember the sea of umbrellas in front of me. I would have gone on for ever if I had not felt a discreet tap on my arm.

I have never been much interested in the business side of life but it was remarkable how the whole world seemed to beat a path to my door. I was suddenly receiving £100 and even £150 for playing in an exhibition match instead of just £25.

The essentials of a tournament golfer’s life, picking up prize money and keeping the gallery entertained.

I was signing contracts for my name to be used on balls, clubs, shoes, shirts, sweaters, trousers, waterproofs, raincoats and other items, and the manufacturers were keeping me supplied with whatever I wanted. I was in demand on radio and TV and there were offers (which I promptly accepted) of expenses-paid tours in the USA, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand.

The prize money at Portrush had been £300 but Dunlop alone doubled this because I had stuck with them the previous year. While I was still at Royal Mid-Surrey, Henry Cotton had decided to change to Penfold balls and this meant that all the assistants at the club would have to play with Penfold.

I was not strictly Henry’s assistant because I kept what I earned, but there was no getting out of this one. Henry was very nice about it and didn’t try to influence me one way or the other. But I was happy with Dunlop so I left the club and was ‘unattached’ at the time of my Open win.

Although I did well financially, my business affairs were usually in a bit of a tangle. There is no doubt in my mind that I could have made several times as much as I did if I had had a proper business manager. But it was not until the late 1950s that Arnold Palmer entrusted his affairs to Mark McCormack and together they put the profession on an entirely different footing.

1970 Dinner for Open Championship winners. Top row from left: Arthur Havers, Gene Sarazen, Dick Burton, Fred Daly, Roberto deVicenzo, Arnold Palmer, Kel Nagle, Bobby Locke, Henry Cotton, Peter Thomson. Front row from left: Densmore Shute, Bob Charles, Max Faulkner, Jack Nicklaus, Tony Jacklin, Gary Player

Need to consolidate the win

Although I got plenty of publicity in 1951, there were still several critics who thought that my win was a flash in the pan. I was soon able to sort them out.

In October of that year I spread-eagled the field in the Dunlop Masters invitation tournament on the ‘Burma Road’ west course at Wentworth. Although my putting was not the same as at Portrush, I felt supremely confident after my Open win and played immaculate golf. My long game was fantastic. I won by four strokes with a score of 281 when the strict par for the course was 73. In other words I was 11 under par.

It is easy to forget that there were some doubts about how Severiano Ballesteros won his first Open at Lytham in 1979, although he went on to become the world’s number one golfer in the early 1980s.

Despite his brilliant short game, the wayward driving into manicured rough and car parks stuck in the gullets of amateurs, who knew that they would never have been able to play a clean approach to the green from such positions on their own courses, even if they had been able to find their ball.

Lost ball? We used to lose our clubs

I have some sympathy with this view because I remember playing Lytham and the other championship courses in the 1930s. There would only be a token trimming of two or three yards of rough, the rest being left to grow to a hay crop which would please any farmer.

I particularly remember a late evening practice round at Lytham for a tournament before the war, when my partner and I were both carrying our clubs. I hit a wonderful drive at the 11th hole to carry the high and cavernous bunkers. But then I hooked my second shot into the savage rough.

I dropped my clubs where I thought the ball was and, without much hope, began to quarter the area. To my surprise I found my ball buried in the grass some way back and put my handkerchief down as a marker. But when I turned round I realised that I had now lost my clubs. There was just a sea of waving grass.

I used to hit the ball hard but if we had had modern conditions I would have really belted the ball. There were no fairway sprinklers in those days so the ground would be hard and you had a job to find your ball if you were only 2 inches off the fairway.

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