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An Excerpt From 'Draw In The Dunes: The 1969 Ryder Cup And The Finish That Shocked The World'

This excerpt appears in the ninth chapter of 'Draw In The Dunes: The 1969 Ryder Cup And The Finish That Shocked The World' by Neil Sagebiel. The author also joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game. See our interview and book review


Page 19 of the Official Souvenir Programme explained how the eighteenth Ryder Cup would unfold over the three days of competition. A total of thirty-two matches would be played as follows:

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18
Morning: four 18-hole foursomes matches
Afternoon: four 18-hole foursomes matches

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 19
Morning: four 18-hole fourball matches
Afternoon: four 18-hole fourball matches

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20
Morning: eight 18-hole singles matches
Afternoon: eight 18-hole singles matches

A total of 16 1⁄2 points was needed to win the Ryder Cup. In the case of a tie, the United States would retain the Cup since it had won in 1967. However, in the seventeen previous matches that spanned more than four decades, the Ryder Cup had never ended in a tie. Despite the fervent hopes of British fans, press members, and a first-time captain, there was a sober recognition of history and a sense of realism when it came to the important matter of wagering. Leading British bookmakers had installed Great Britain as up to a 4–1 underdog. Transported by U.S. PGA president Leo Fraser, the Ryder Cup trophy would make a weeklong visit to England, its origin, but it required a kind of sunny optimism that money interests wouldn't risk to believe the Cup’s brief homecoming would turn into a more permanent stay.

In addition to the program, the Daily Draw Sheet was available for sale to spectators for a shilling as they arrived at Royal Birkdale on Thursday, the same day pop-culture phenom Tiny Tim, famous for his falsetto- and-ukulele rendition of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” got engaged in America. The draw sheet listed the captains and players of both teams. More important, it listed the “draw,” the four morning foursomes matches and the first points at stake in the three-day event:

MORNING FOURSOMES

Neil Coles–Brian Huggett (GB) vs. Miller Barber–Raymond Floyd (USA)

Bernard Gallacher–Maurice Bembridge (GB) vs. Lee Trevino–Ken Still (USA)

Tony Jacklin–Peter Townsend (GB) vs. Dave Hill–Tommy Aaron (USA)

Christy O’Connor–Peter Alliss (GB) vs. Billy Casper–Frank Beard (USA)

The draw for the four Thursday afternoon foursomes matches would be announced at midday. The draw sheet was tantalizing, for it not only listed who would play the opening matches but also revealed which players would sit out the first session. Brian Barnes, Peter Butler, Alex Caygill, and Bernard Hunt would be idle for Great Britain. The sidelined Americans were Dale Douglass, Gene Littler, Dan Sikes, and the greatest surprise, if not a total shock, Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear had waited seven years to make his Ryder Cup debut. Captain Snead had seen to it that Nicklaus would have to wait a bit longer.

“Sam, as a person, I loved,” Raymond Floyd said decades later. “We became really close friends through the years.”

At the time, though, Floyd was stunned that Captain Snead didn’t have Jack Nicklaus in the lineup that first morning. “For a man to bench the best player in the world . . . because he wasn’t playing good in practice— that was just Sam’s way. Jack didn’t play that opening match, and we all looked at each other like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ ”

According to Sports Illustrated’s Gwilym Brown, Nicklaus was “shocked” to be sitting out on Thursday morning. When someone joked that he was washed up at age twenty-nine, he returned the jab, saying he indeed was finished if being 12 under par for his last 27 holes in practice meant he was through. Ryder Cup veteran Littler was also a nonstarter.

What was Snead thinking?

• • •

Sam Snead had certainly been around his share of Ryder Cups, seven to be exact, including a pair of appearances as a playing captain in 1951 at Pinehurst, North Carolina, and in 1959 at Eldorado in Palm Desert, California, two more in a string of decisive U.S. victories. Snead’s Ryder Cup career had begun in 1937 a short distance from Royal Birkdale. The 8–4 triumph at nearby Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club was America’s first Ryder Cup win on British soil. Rookie Snead, like Nicklaus, sat out opening foursomes. The next day, in singles, he handily beat Englishman Dick Burton 5 and 4. Snead played in two more Ryder Cups in England—at Ganton Golf Club in 1949 and at Wentworth in 1953, where he and Lloyd Mangrum humiliated Eric Brown and John Panton in foursomes. The Slammer’s Ryder Cup playing record was a splendid 10-2-1. As a player and a captain, he had never been on a losing team.

Snead was also one of the few American golfers of his era to venture across the Atlantic for the British Open. In 1946, playing in the first Open after a six-year interruption due to World War II, Snead captured the Claret Jug at the home of golf, St. Andrews. Sam knew links golf, and he knew about winning.

“[Snead’s] knowledge of English courses and style of play in years of competition should give a technical edge in planning a winning strategy,” Professional Golfer wrote in September 1969.

Except there was no discernible strategy, as some U.S. team members remembered. They simply went out and played golf. This was not meant as a knock on their captain. That’s the way it often was in those earlier Ryder Cup days and, in particular, in 1969.

More than forty years later, Frank Beard could remember only one U.S. team meeting before the matches began. It might have lasted five minutes. Captain Snead wanted one bit of information from each of his twelve players. “He asked us to write down on a piece of paper who we didn't want to play with,” Beard said. “So that was it. That was the whole meeting.”

Presumably, Snead used the player input to form his pairings, but even those were a bit of a mystery. It was an era when the players were honored to make the team and usually willing to play with any of their teammates. It wasn't something players questioned or even thought about, although Beard was uncomfortable going out the first morning with Billy Casper, mostly because he was in awe of Casper.

With ten rookies on the squad, one might expect the veteran captain to offer some sage counsel on links golf, match play, and the Ryder Cup itself, but Beard struggled to recall Snead saying much of anything.

“I don’t know. He may have said, ‘Come on, boys, let’s get out there and hit some balls and practice’ and maybe ‘if you’ve got any questions.’ It was not a rah-rah meeting. It was not organized. We didn’t talk about the old days and how we used to play the Ryder Cup. Nothing.”

Tommy Aaron remembered Snead “as being a good captain, but not really too concerned about the matches, figuring we would win with ease.” Aaron, who would play with Dave Hill in the first foursomes session, had no clue about Snead’s lineup—or anything else the captain was doing, for that matter. “I don’t think he got into it that much. I don’t think he gave it much thought. He never talked to me about who I wanted to play with. I would have been okay playing with anyone.”

Rookie Ken Still was of the same mind. “There was nobody on the team I wouldn’t play with. We were a pretty close-knit team.”

Sports Illustrated’s Brown, while admiring Snead’s greatness as a player who was still competitive at the age of fifty-seven, was critical of his captaincy, writing that Snead was “about as capable of leadership as Ebenezer Scrooge.” He used adjectives such as “crude,” “sullen,” and “cantankerous” to describe the golf legend. The writer would say that a few of Captain Snead’s lineups must have pleased Captain Brown. Thursday morning’s didn’t please Jack Nicklaus, though.

“Maybe in Sam’s view I wasn’t playing well,” Nicklaus offered decades later.

Nonetheless, at least a handful of U.S. players held their captain in high esteem. “I thought he was top drawer,” Still later said. “He was a player’s captain. He knew what was going on. I don’t think we had any problems with him at all. I didn't anyway, and I haven’t heard any negatives from anyone else.”

“Sam was good,” agreed Casper, who also mentioned that Hogan, in 1967, was “the captain that really stood out. The other captains weren't as powerful or as strong, but yet each one brought something, too, that the others didn't bring.”

“I played more golf with Sam than a guy my age probably ever deserved,” Beard later said, chuckling. “He was a good guy. I didn't know what to do with him except just adore him. He was Sam Snead!”

Snead was known to dispense his own folksy brand of wisdom, even if little of it was forthcoming at Royal Birkdale that week. One of his most enduring quotes was three kernels of advice: 1. Keep close count of your nickels and dimes. 2. Stay away from whiskey. 3. Never concede a putt.

• • •

Hardly a breath of wind caressed the two flags as they slowly traveled up the flagpoles on Thursday morning. The Stars and Stripes was raised first during the playing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Then up went the Union Jack to “God Save the Queen.” Many Ryder Cup players are unprepared for the strong emotions felt at the opening ceremony. Each man knows he is playing for his country long before he arrives on the scene, but as he watches his country’s flag raised and hears his national anthem played, he knows it like never before. It can stir a heart, tighten a throat, and upset a stomach.

“You put the coat on, they play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ ” said Beard, who recalled unexpected tears at the opening ceremony. “The impact of this whole thing is beginning to hit you, playing for the country.”

“All that is quite emotional,” Tony Jacklin recalled, “and then you have to go straight to the first tee, as it were. It captures your attention, that’s for sure.”

“The flag goes up and there’s a feeling in the pit of your stomach,” Neil Coles said four decades later. “You are playing for your country. You are playing for your team. You are trying not to let your fellow team members down. So obviously that creates its own nerves, but personally I enjoyed that Ryder Cup feeling.”

Billy Casper didn’t just enjoy it; he loved everything about it. “I felt like it was the greatest experience I ever had playing professional golf. It was something I wanted to play in as many as I could possibly play.”

Brian Huggett felt both pride and pressure when he heard “God Save the Queen.” “Playing in the Ryder Cup was more pressure than playing for yourself and family. It was your toughest week for two years, despite being beaten most of the time. You had to play with a lot of self pride, not just national pride.”

“You’ve got the pressure of representing your country and all your peers and there’s going to be a different feeling,” Floyd said. “That was my first one, and I always remember that feeling.”

“It was an honor to be on the team and to represent the United States of America,” Still said. “I’ll cherish it to the day I die. In fact, I may be buried in the dark blue [Ryder Cup] jacket.”

• • •

No matter what emotions were swirling around on the inside, the outward appearance of the twenty-four players and their captains was sharp thanks to their stylish uniforms. Both teams would wear cashmere sweaters and wool sports shirts designed by Pringle of Scotland. Over the three days, the Brits would wear power blue, Guardsman red, and, on that first morning, a light yellow shade called Corn. Underneath their sweaters they wore pumpkin-colored long-sleeved shirts. Their socks, courtesy of D. Byford Ltd., were noticeable because they matched the players’ colorful tops rather than their dark slacks. The British players also wore brown-and-white Lotus golf shoes that complemented their outfits. British companies took pride in clothing and supplying the team: trousers and blazers by Daks, hats by Richards & Thirkell Ltd., golf gloves by George Jefferies, and rainwear by Morton Knight Ltd. Their handsome white golf bags were made by Ben Sayers.

The Yanks would look patriotic in their cardinal red, navy, and white combinations, with various shades of gray and blue to round out their uniforms. On that first day, azure blue slacks and white long-sleeved shirts were a prominent part of the American ensemble.

On the contrary, the twenty-four men who would carry the players’ fancy leather Ryder Cup golf bags were unhappy about their caddie wear, coveralls made of nylon that were dubbed “boiler suits.” “We look like house painters and milkmen,” one complained. Their larger concern was sweating to death.

The caddies threatened to strike. The British PGA counterthreatened to recruit two dozen other caddies, if needed. Caddies spokesman Alf Fyles, on Peter Butler’s bag, and Willie Aitchison, who worked for Lee Trevino, slipped on the suits for a trial run. They and the other caddies determined the suits were tolerable and chose to go along with the PGA. The men—none of whom was American, since caddies didn't typically travel with players, especially overseas—were on the job Thursday morning.

Stewart Logan was on young Gallacher’s bag. Jimmy Cousins was Alliss’s longtime caddie. Willie Hilton carried for Jacklin. They and the other caddies for the British players wore all-white suits. Casper’s bag man was Jock Allen. “He always caddied for me when I went to England,” Casper later said. Allen, Aitchison, and the other caddies for the Yanks wore royal blue suits. All twenty-four caddies wore white bibs over their coveralls with the Union Jack or the U.S. flag across their chest.

• • •

Speeches made, flags raised, and anthems played, the opening ceremony concluded. It was nearing 9:00 a.m., time to play golf. The men would have to gather themselves. This was not a simple matter for Miller Barber, called “X” by his teammates. One half of the pairing to lead off the matches for the favored Americans, Barber cried during the national anthem, but as he later told Golf Digest, “The song ends and now it’s time to play.”

“In that day,” said Floyd, Barber’s partner that morning, “we did the opening ceremony in the morning and the first match went to the first tee.”

The two rookies had devised an alternate-shot strategy to take advantage of the strengths of their games. Barber would tee off on the odd- numbered holes. Floyd would hit first on the even-numbered holes, which included three of Royal Birkdale’s four par-3 holes.

The moment had arrived; the two men were standing on the tee of the opening hole, a 493-yard par 5 with out-of-bounds on the right. The home-country gallery horseshoed itself around the teeing ground.

More than four decades later, Floyd recalled the opening moments of his Ryder Cup debut. “Representing the United States, Miller Barber and Raymond Floyd.”

One of the American rookies has to hit the first shot of the Ryder Cup. As previously agreed, it’s supposed to be Barber.

“But X had gotten so excited or upset that he couldn't tee,” Floyd said. After the anthems played, emotions were scrambled. Barber’s had completely taken over.

“We go walking to the tee,” Floyd said, “and X says to me, ‘I can’t hit it. I can’t hit it.’ I said, ‘Pardon me?’ He said, ‘I can’t hit it. I can’t hit it. You gotta go. You gotta go.’ ”

The new PGA champion didn’t want to abandon their strategy before the first golf ball was airborne.

“What do you mean, X?” Floyd asked. “You’re playing the odd—”

“I can’t do it. You gotta go. You gotta go.”

Barber wanted no part of the first shot.

“He wouldn’t go up there,” Floyd added. “He said, ‘I can’t do it.’ ”

• • •

Captain Brown, who had five rookies on his squad, revealed an unmistakable pattern with his morning foursomes lineup. The Scot opened and anchored the first set of matches with experience. Coles and Huggett would face Floyd and Barber in the first game, while old guardsmen O’Connor and Alliss would take on Casper and Beard in the morning’s final match.

“[Eric Brown] was very good in the team room,” Coles later said. “He consulted you a lot, obviously—where you wanted to play, who you wanted to play with.” Having played a lot with Bernard Hunt in past Ryder Cups, Coles was happy to go out with Huggett. “I was quite comfortable with Brian. He was quite a little tiger, a terrier.” Huggett enjoyed the international competition, later describing his strengths as “very good driver and short game with good temperament for the big occasion.”

Four of Brown’s talented youngsters—Gallacher, Bembridge, Jacklin, and Townsend—populated the middle two matches. It was a sound approach. Great Britain needed a strong start in foursomes to bolster their chances against the Americans, something they had often failed to do in previous Ryder Cups.

Captain Snead, meanwhile, was sending out his droves of first-timers on Thursday morning because, except for Casper and Littler, that was all he had. He sat down his most talented Ryder Cup rookie of all, Nicklaus, presumably to save him. Ward-Thomas wrote, “By leaving out Nicklaus, who will probably partner Sikes, Snead has shown that he wants them, in particular, for the fourball matches tomorrow.” Still, benching the Golden Bear at the outset produced head scratching and invited criticism.

Snead apparently had his reasons, or maybe, as Aaron suggested, he didn't give too much thought to the draw. The United States had waltzed through most of these matches, and the current stockpile of talented rookies and two veterans had amassed more than 130 victories on the PGA Tour. Five of the twelve U.S. players had won major titles. In 1969 alone, the dozen Yanks had collected twenty wins and banked $1.25 million. On Great Britain’s side, only Jacklin had experienced noteworthy success in the States and won a major, the recent British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Perhaps it made little difference how Snead sent out his men onto Royal Birkdale. If they were indeed better players, they would surely win.

If nothing else, the two captains resembled each other in one way: their physical appearance. Although Snead was thirteen years older than the forty-four-year-old Brown, they looked to be about the same age, both of them bald with the same amount of hair covering the sides of their heads. At some point before the battle began, wearing neckties and blazers, the captains sat down together for tea and coffee and pastries and smiled for a photographer. Being the fierce competitors they were, both men appeared to be smiling for the prematch photograph through clenched teeth—especially Brown. “There was no love lost between Eric and Sam Snead,” Jacklin later said.

Paul Trevillion was on hand when the picture was snapped and knew something about the moment that others didn’t.

“It was difficult to get Brown to smile,” Trevillion later said. “He just bared his teeth, and the Snead smile was not one welcoming you to join them for a cup of coffee.” The reason, according to Trevillion, was that “under the table was a can of fishing bait, which Brown had asked Snead to give to Jack. Nicklaus hadn’t won a tournament since [February] of that year. This was vacation for Nicklaus, fishing and hunting.”

The mind games had begun before the first shot was struck.

Brown brought fire and urgency to the opening matches. “We have got to give the needle to the Americans on the first tee,” he said months earlier. “We have got to get off to a good start. They are great when they are up, but not that great when they’re on the receiving end.”

The veteran of four Ryder Cups felt he had learned from what he called “horrible mistakes” and would do everything in his power to prepare his players accordingly. One crucial element was attitude. “My contention,” Brown said, “has always been that our fellows, or most of our fellows, have stepped on the first tee with an inferiority complex.” The captain was determined not to let that happen on Thursday morning, or anytime thereafter.

“Eric was a hard man. Played in four Ryders, never lost a single. I never met a tougher competitor,” Trevillion said.

“He didn’t like being beaten,” Townsend said.

Brown made a conscious effort to prepare Great Britain’s players in a different manner than in the past. He wanted them to be relaxed, confident, and in “fighting form.” He told them not to play safe but to go for broke, to go after birdies. “Never leave a putt short,” he exhorted, “even if it means leaving your foursomes partner with 4-footers to putt back. Stay firm and play like hell in the crises.”

“He was a fiery person,” Gallacher recalled, “and we certainly didn’t answer him back. He especially didn’t take any nonsense during Ryder Cup time, and if you hit the ball into the rough or missed a putt, he’d let you know about it.”

Barnes was different. The captain’s exhortations “didn’t work as far as I was concerned. It made no difference to me what anybody said. I had my own way of going about it.”

Jacklin had a similar perspective, later recalling his captain gathering the players “in the corner of the locker room. ‘C’mon boys, come around here and we’ll go over here and strategy and all that.’ ”

Peter Willis detected something else that week. “By the time I arrived at Birkdale in time for the first [matches], I could see in the way that Brown walked and presented himself that he had succumbed to the Trevillion magic. Brown had joined the Golf Illustrated–Trevillion bandwagon, and he, too, was walking around telling people, ‘We are going to win!’ ”

This excerpt is part of chapter nine of Draw In The Dunes: The 1969 Ryder Cup And The Finish That Shocked The World' by Neil Sagebiel.

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