Gene Sarazen, the US pro who won the 1932 Open, opened my eyes when I was in my ‘teens. I remember in particular standing on a mound by the side of one of the fairways at Prince’s. I watched him hit the drive way out to the right but his habitual draw curled it back so that it pitched on the right hand side of the fairway and then ran for about 60 yards to finish at my feet on the left hand side. I had never seen anyone get such run off the ball before.
Gene was only around 5 feet 5 inches tall, although he was stockily built. By playing with a flat backswing and drawing the ball, he was able to get the extra length to keep up with the players of bigger physique. Even his approach shots had some curl on them.
As he was 15 years older than me, our careers did not coincide and it was to be 39 years before I saw him again. At the 1973 Open at Troon, Fred Daly and I joined Gene to make up a three-ball of past Open Champions.
At the postage stamp 8th hole he used a 5-iron where both Fred and I pulled out 9 irons. But Gene hit a beautiful shot. There was no draw on this one; it stayed dead in line with the pin, bounced twice and rolled straight into the hole. The crowd erupted, as you can imagine, and by good fortune the moment was caught on TV.
Gene was a cheerful man with a dry sense of humour. He was not a joker and did not laugh a lot but you could pull his leg.
I admired his resolution. He first won the US Open at the age of 20. This might not sound much but I can assure you it is exceptional to win a major Championship out of the blue. Most first-time Champions have to get a taste for it by finishing second or third in previous years. Only then are they hardened anough to make the supreme effort.
Gene went on to win all four major Championships over a period of 13 years. He was the first player to do so because the US Masters was not introduced until 1934. Gene won it in 1935.