I was last match out in the singles at Pinehurst, North Carolina, in the 1951 Ryder Cup match and my opponent was the US Captain Sam Snead. After the morning round I was 4 down but managed to get back to one down in the afternoon before Snead had four birdies in a row and I lost 4 and 3.
I was playing good golf, hitting the ball a long way and felt that I had given him a run for his money. I think the gallery was also impressed because an American came up to me afterwards and said that he had bet $10,000 – an incredible amount of money in those days – that I would finish ahead of Snead in the North and South Open, which was to be held at the Pinehurst course the following week. All the British team were staying on to play in it.
For the first two rounds I was teamed with Snead and the 1940 US Amateur Champion Dick Chapman. Dick was a fine player and I got on well with him. He liked the way I swung and booked me for a lesson each day at $100 a time.
I got him hitting balls near the clubhouse right in front of all the yank pros; I don’t know what they thought about a limey teaching one of their top amateurs.
In the first round Snead did 72, I was 73 and Dick was 75. In the second round however Dick scorched up the course while Snead went to pieces and was getting more and more sullen.
When we came to the 18th tee, Dick needed a four for 68 and had a big bet running that he would equal or beat 68. I needed a four for 72 while Snead was heading for a 78.
It was Dick’s honour. As he addressed the ball there was a sudden gust of wind and he stepped back.
“Do you mind if I wait a bit?” he asked. “Why don’t you hit off Max?”
I was just about to move forward when Snead walked quickly over, kicked Dick’s ball off the tee, teed up and hit his own drive, hardly bothering to address it. He then walked straight forward off the tee and down the fairway without saying a word.
This made Dick angry and I could see he was going to make a mess of this hole if he was not careful.
Dick had to recover his ball from the long grass by the side of the tee. But both of us hit good drives. By the time we reached our second shots, Snead had already played out of turn and was walking forward to the green. We hit good approach shots and were set for our pars.
As we walked on to the green Snead had already putted up and had the flag in one hand while he was knocking in his last putt with the other.
He walked over to Dick, handed him his card, which I suppose he had already signed, and said: “Fill it in yourself; I’ve had enough.” He stalked off the green and into the clubhouse and drove straight back to his hotel.
Dick got his 68 and won his bet but reported Snead for his behaviour. The authorities ordered Snead back to the club.
Later on, when I was stripped in the shower room with a towel round my waist, I heard a heated argument in the club lounge next door. Dick was shouting,Sam was shouting and even Dick’s wife, who had witnessed the whole business, said her bit.
No sooner had I decided to keep well out of it than the shower room door burst open and Sam stormed in.
“What’s this about you reporting me?” he asked.
“It wasn’t me who reported you but if you want my opinion then I think Dick was quite right,” I replied.
I was pretty fit at the time and had done a lot of boxing in my younger days so I was perfectly prepared to take him on, which was looking likely. But after recommending in a colourful way that I mind my own business, he stormed out again.
I am sorry to say that this is the worst behaviour I have ever seen on the golf course. Sam never did apologise to me or to anyone else as far as I know.All of us get upset after a bad round but put it behind us once we come out of the dressing room.
I was sorry that Sam let it get on top of him like this, particularly as he was the US Ryder Cup captain. But he had already made it clear how he regarded the captaincy. “I just told my men to be on time at the first tee,” he had said to the press.
There was further criticism during the Ryder Cup week when the teams were invited by the local university to a buffet meal before watching the North Carolina/Tennessee American football match. The whole of the British team were there but only three of the Americans appeared. Snead himself had passed this up in favour of an exhibition match which earned him $600.