Thought for the Day
How do you know when you’re out of invisible ink?
You may not recognise the name of Dave Hill, who died at the end of last month, but he was one of the most accomplished shot-makers the American Tour has ever seen. He was also one of its most outspoken (and therefore frequently fined) members, a man of genuine wit and one of the participants in the single most bad-tempered Ryder Cup match ever seen – one that nearly caused a riot.
It happened in 1969 and, although the chief culprit was Hill’s fourball partner, Ken Still (who could start an argument at a convention of pacifists), Dave Hill and their opponents, Bernard Gallacher and Brian Huggett, nevertheless played their part. It is ironic that this Ryder Cup is best remembered for the Jack Nicklaus putt that he conceded on the final green to give Tony Jacklin a half because what preceded that remarkable gesture was the most spiteful single match in the competition’s history. The week got off to a bad start when the GB&I captain, a bantam cock of Scottish intransigence called Eric Brown, gave his team the shameful instruction not to help- look for American golf balls if they were lost. Ken Still then put on a show of spiteful temper and bad sportsmanship in his first outing, when he and Lee Trevino were beaten by Gallacher and Maurice Bembridge, so when he faced Gallacher again, alongside Huggett, who never took a backward step in his life, it seemed pre-ordained that fur and feathers would fly.
Huggett later said: ‘If there was going to be a scrap, it’d be with our four – none of us were keen to lose. In fact, the one thing we wanted to do was beat them buggers and there was trouble right from the start.’
An understatement. There were niggles, glares and downright gamesmanship from as early as the third hole – much of which, it has to be said, because the Americans didn’t know fourball matchplay rules half as well as their opponents did. For example on the eighth, Ken Still was effectively out of the hole but his putt was on his partner’s line, so he wanted to putt first to confirm what the line was. Knowing this, Gallacher picked up the ball, conceding the putt, and Ken Still went ballistic.
The situation was almost out of control, with players snapping and glaring each other and the gallery, which had overheard all the acrimony, almost a baying mob. The two team captains had to be called out and eventually helped restore a semblance of order.
My apologies to the memory of Dave Hill for recounting this story but when reflecting on his career the issue of temperament is never far from consideration. Like Tom Weiskopf who would follow, Hill was capable of such superb ball-striking that he could never come to terms with anything less than perfection and as a consequence he never learnt the essential pro skill of winning ugly – he once shot 63 and moaned afterwards that the round contained only one good shot. He nevertheless won 13 times between 1961-76, made three Ryder Cup teams and was runner-up in the 1970 US Open.
Oh, and those run-ins and fines from the Tour came about because if you asked a question, he gave you an honest answer. So when journalists enquired what he thought about the Hazeltine course, venue for the US Open where he came second, he replied: ‘‘It lacked only 80 acres of corn and a few cows to be a good farm.’
On another occasion he was fined $500 by his own Tour for an injudicious remark and wrote out a cheque for twice that amount. When officials questioned this he said: ‘It’s okay, I’m planning to say something else.’
Perhaps, though, he should be best remembered for the achievement of which he himself was most proud. In 1969 he won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest stroke average of the season and it gave him tremendous pride to know that, week in and out, he was the best.
Money still talks
A press release almost slipped past my radar this week – one of many saying not very much that it’s easy to overlook. It simply announced that Sun Mountain, best-known for making golf bags, would be the official supplier of ‘outerwear’ – which means rainsuits – to the USA team in the forthcoming Presidents Cup.
Yes, this is the same Sun Mountain whose rain gear was so inefficient at the Ryder Cup just over a year ago that American team captain Corey Pavin had to buy a whole set of ProQuip suits from the Celtic Manor pro shop.
Do you think the America President Cup players were consulted about who their rainwear supplier might be?
As of October 10, 2011, Tiger Woods is ranked 52nd in the world
Quotes of the Week (all from Dave Hill)
‘To be a successful pro golfer you’ve got to hate everybody. Nobody hates anybody, really. But for me, and most others, that’s what it takes on the tour.’
‘If you ask me a question, I am going to answer it. If the answer offends you, that’s not my problem. I say what I feel. If you bug me, I’ll insult you and then forget about it.’
‘Golf is supposed to be an art, and I have yet to see a course longer than 7,000 yards that calls for artful execution.’
‘The golf swing is like sex: you can’t be thinking of the mechanics of the act while you’re doing it.’
‘I tell you, that putt was quicker than a fart on a hot skillet.’