A Friendship With Norman Von Nida

It was July 2000 and, on the eve of what would be Tiger Woods’ first of three Open Championship victories, I was preparing to head to Brisbane for my regular radio spot on the Radio TAB network.

18 months earlier I had made the decision to leave Graham Marsh’s golf course design company and head into the unknown world of golf media and one of the earliest gigs I secured was as golf betting analyst for the Radio TAB network’s morning sports show which had been established to cater for, and capitalise on, the growing sports betting market.

The role involved twice-weekly appearances (normally ten minutes and by phone) assessing likely chances in professional golf events along with wider golfing issues but if a major such as the Masters or Open Championship was being played I would venture to the Brisbane studio for a longer segment.

Just as I was to leave home on the Gold Coast for Brisbane on the Thursday morning of the Open Championship at St Andrews that year, the producer of the show, Graham Rigby, called to inform me that Australian golfing icon, Norman Von Nida, would be joining us by phone to discuss his thoughts on the event and relate some of his experiences at The Open.

I was delighted that such a figure would be included in our discussion and was quickly onto the net which was still in its infancy at that stage to research just how Norman had played at the Open Championship and how he had done at St Andrews. He actually finished 4th behind Sam Snead there on debut in the event in 1946.

I was a little concerned as I had never met Norman and I felt sure he would be unfamiliar with just who the hell I was. I had a perception of Norman as a feisty character and expected to receive a cold shoulder when introduced to him on air. How wrong I was to be.

When Rigby, who was hosting the show that morning in the absence of regular host, Mark Forbes, introduced Norman to our audience on the phone he also introduced me to Norman.

I expected a vague acknowledgement by Norman of my role but to my absolute shock he spoke in very favourable terms of what had been my role on Radio TAB to that point as he had been a regular listener.

Immediately on finishing our half hour segment I called Norman to thank him for his kind words which he reiterated and suggested we should get together for a game at Royal Queensland some time soon.

At that stage of his life (86) Norman was legally blind but thrived on regular games at Royal Queensland where, of course, some 75 years earlier he had developed his passion for the game by caddying for members at that same course.

We did play that game in August of 2000 and for the next seven years of his life Norman Von Nida and I became great friends. I look back now as being blessed to have gotten to know so well one of Australian golf’s greatest players and characters and perhaps its most significant trailblazer.

Until his death in May of 2007 at the age of 93, Norman and I attended numerous functions, golf events, luncheons or just coffee chats (not that he drank coffee) with he and his wife Elva. My then partner Marilyn and I enjoyed being able to accompany them as they sought to escape an increasingly routine lifestyle in an Aged Care facility on the Gold Coast.

Norman’s regular exposure to actually playing the game in his twilight years had been thwarted by an accident he experienced in 2001 while still living at Scarborough in Brisbane’s bay-side suburbs. It denied him the great pleasure he had of playing at Royal Queensland with his mates and anyone else who wanted to sound him out about his great knowledge of the game.

He had been crossing the road to post a cheque (he told me it was to his bookie) one day when a car struck him and broke his arm. At that stage of his life the injury would effectively prevent him from ever playing again other than the occasional few balls he would hit. (more on that later)

Norman in 1952 – Courtesy of Getty Images

So moved by what I was learning of this very special man and his achievements (three Australian Opens, four Australian PGA Championships and countless European titles, the latter during a period when he was blazing the trail for players such as Peter Thomson and others to follow, that I made the decision in 2003 to put together an audio tribute to him.

I collated, narrated, and essentially produced (with a little help from the aforementioned Graham Rigby) the 38-minute piece. I contacted many of those who were players of his era and those who had benefited from his willingness to help his fellow golfer and fellow man.

Included in the piece were contributions from Norman himself, Gary Player, Peter Thomson, Bruce Crampton, the fine Welsh player, Dave Thomas, and even figures from outside golf such as jockey great Scobie Breasley and legendary Australian boxer, Johnny Famechon.

They all spoke at various lengths on what Norman Von Nida had meant to them. The piece won an award and given my relative inexperience in the production of such things I was very proud that I had been able to capture and record such a significant piece of Australian history from such a wide ranging line-up of Australian sporting greats.

For those interested the piece may be listened to by clicking on the audio bar below. I would encourage you to do so.

There were many outings enjoyed by Norman and I during those seven years wherever we went, whether it was to the Carbine and Tattersalls Clubs in Brisbane, to the launch and playing of golf events on the Gold Coast or Ipswich, or to any golf related function. Norman was always the centre of attention and he loved the chance to have his say and to assist those who sought his help and advice.

As the time between his accident and his gathering years grew, however, Norman was becoming increasingly frustrated by not being able to play his beloved game.

One day in the winter of 2005 it came to a head and he called to ask if I could find somewhere where no-one would know but where he could have a hit to see if there was any possibility of him playing again at any level.

I arranged to take him to Lakelands Golf Club on the Gold Coast one lazy Sunday mid-winter afternoon. We stood on the first tee and his deteriorating eyesight would mean that I needed to guide him in the right direction.

He struggled down the first fairway and it was clear he was embarrassed by the experience. I tried to make him aware of how long it had been since he had actually hit a ball and suggested things weren’t really as bad as he might have thought.

Norman was, however, a very proud man and like all of us golfers we all want to play to the best level we can. Imagine, therefore, how it must have been for him, given the great heights he had reached in the game.

I convinced him to play another hole but after his tee shot on that hole he declared he had had enough and to my knowledge that would be the last time he would attempt to play golf on a golf course.

That final tee shot in 2005.

‘‘I’d never contemplated being a good player again, but when I’ve been a reasonably good player it was embarrassing to see an old geezer trying to do what I did,’’ he told a local newspaper at the time.

The drive back to he and Elva’s aged care facility was an awkward one. Clearly, he was feeling the impact of being resigned to bringing to an end of his love affair with playing the game. Anything I was about to add was not going to make any difference to an incredibly poignant moment.

In May of 2007 Norman Von Nida passed away peacefully in his rest home on the Gold Coast. It was the end of one of the greatest stories in Australian golf, from a childhood caddie at Royal Queensland in the 1920’s to the illustrious career which saw him win nearly fifty professional titles.

I was extremely proud to be asked, by his daughter, Kerry, to speak at his funeral, attended by hundreds of Australian golfing dignitaries and others. My role was to finish proceedings and I immediately thought of the last minute or so of the audio tribute I had created on him four years earlier.

In that segment (which I introduced on the day of his funeral) I had asked Norman what it was that had made him so keen to help others in his amazing life. His voice, speaking over the speakers in the church to close the celebration of his life, was a surreal moment.

His response (below) captures the essence of Norman Von Nida beautifully. He certainly backed his own judgement and was never afraid to voice it but, perhaps because of his upbringing, he knew that there were people out there he could help because of his success.

I feel blessed that his friendship and encouragement helped me also.

 

 

I pose (L) with the fabulous ‘Von Bronze tribute’ at Nudgee Golf Club in Brisbane having hosted the unveiling several years earlier (R)

 

 

 

 

Betting: Travelers Championship Stacked Full of Class and Value

With the 2020 PGA Tour now back in full swing, this week’s event in Hartford in Connecticut tells the story of professional golf on the way back to at least some level of normality.

With this in mind, I take a look at the Travelers Championship from a betting angle and try and source some of the likely chances to do well.

The Travelers Championship at the TPC River Highlands is being played in its normal time slot after what would have been the US Open, although this year the event has benefited from its position in the schedule rather than perhaps suffering from being the week following a major.

With PGA Tour members being starved of competitive golf over the past three months or so until their return in Fort Worth two weeks ago, the opportunity for tournament golf has seen an impressive entry list this week with only Adam Scott and Patrick Reed of the World’s top ten missing from the event.

As is always the case in a PGA Tour event, the winning possibilities are endless but in order to narrow it down and to find a bit of value I am considering the following.

Of the more favoured players, and there are many of them, Bryson DeChambeau stands out for the following reasons.

DeChambeau has been in outstanding form in 2020, his last five finishes being inside the top ten and four of those inside the top five. He has been 8th and 9th in each of his last two starts at the TPC River Highlands and so at $13.00 represents some better value amongst the more favoured players.

DeChambeau returned after the break with a 3rd place finish at Forth Worth and last week was again in the mix when 8th at the RBC Heritage Classic. There is a lot to like about those credentials.

Despite the field being stacked with such high-quality players, there appears to be a lot of value around the $30 mark, such players including Sungjae Im, Bubba Watson. Collin Morikawa and Joaquin Niemann.

Im is in his second PGA Tour season after being named the Rookie of the Year in 2019. He did miss the cut last week, admittedly, but he finished 10th at Fort Worth two weeks ago and on his debut in this event last year recorded a final round of 66 to finish 21st. He is a much-improved and more experienced player since then and it would not surprise to see him in the finish this week. At $34.00 he appears good value.

Watson is a course specialist here having won the event on three occasions and finished runner-up on one other, a phenomenal record. He finished 7th two weeks ago at the event at the Colonial Golf Club and, although well back last week, at $29.00 this week over a golf course that clearly fits his eye, he appears a great chance.

Morikawa, like Im, is a rapid mover in professional golf. He had one bad round when on debut here last year but other than that played the course well. He did finish runner-up at Fort Worth two weeks ago and although only average last week he is putting himself in the mix so often now he could well feature again. Morikawa is at $31.00 to win the event.

The final player in my ‘value’ category is Joaquin Niemann who is his only start in this event last year finished an impressive 4th and in his return to tournament golf last week at Hilton Head finished 5th. He is at $34 to win the event and well worth a few dollars given his effort here last year and his impressive last start.

There are 100 players or more who could possibly win this event but we can’t pick them all and so hopefully, amongst the group I have selected, there is someone to give you a good run for your money.

Good luck.

 

 

 

 

 

The 1994 US Senior Open – One That Got Away

Grainy footage from the TV coverage shows Graham Marsh and I on the 72nd hole.

As 1990 drew to a close, so too did my involvement in the dual role as caddy / assistant to Graham Marsh, a role which had involved caddying on the Japan Golf Tour amongst other business-related activities.

As Graham’s golf course design company, Marsh Watson, began to grow and secure more work, a larger structure was required to service that work but such matters can be akin to the chicken and egg syndrome, namely, which comes first?

Marsh and his then business partner, Ross Watson, expanded the company’s team but it would then become important to secure on-going work to justify the increased workforce.

A consultant was engaged to restructure the company and I was offered to role as Sales Manager for Marsh Watson which would involve a move from Perth to the company’s head office in Robina on the Gold Coast.

While disappointed to be giving up the caddying side of the role and the time in Japan I had been involved in for the previous 20 months or so, the position that had been created was particularly attractive in terms of my own future prospects.

I left for the Gold Coast in early 1991, took up residence on there and began my time sourcing work for the company by regularly traveling through Asia and the Pacific. I will go into greater detail on that role and my own view of the golf course design industry during those times in a later piece.

I caddied for Graham in a one-off event, The Four Tours Championship in Adelaide in late 1991, but that aside it would not be until 1994 when I would caddy again.

In late 1993 and just prior to turning 50, Graham, despite his significant success internationally, was required to go through the very difficult task of qualifying for the US Senior Tour and managed to secure one of the very few cards available for 1994.

I often chuckle when I hear golfers of all sorts of skill levels telling me that once they have reached the age of 50, they intend to play senior golf at a professional level. My experience has highlighted just how tough it was to even get a tour on which to play at that level and the exceptional standard of play required to survive once there.

Graham had, though, remained competitive on the Japan Golf Tour right through to the age of 50 and that would stand him in good stead for what lay ahead.

In his rookie season I expressed a desire to Graham that I would enjoy the chance to travel to the USA to take a few weeks off my role with his design company and caddy for him in a few selected events.

It was agreed and I left for Nashville in June of 1994 for events in Nashville, Dearborn (near Detroit) and finally the US Senior Open at Pinehurst in North Carolina.

The first event was at the Larry Nelson designed Gaylord Opryland Resort just outside of Nashville, Graham finishing 8th behind Lee Trevino.

We then headed to Detroit and, more specifically, Dearborn just outside that city, the home of the Ford Headquarters where a Jack Nicklaus designed layout, the TPC Dearborn, would host the Ford Players Championship.

Graham finished 14th that week behind the winner Dave Stockton and for me there was the thrill of being paired with Nicklaus himself in the final round. I recall it being in an era where caddies and players hardly exchanged pleasantries after a round, as is the case now, but Nicklaus made a point of doing so.

I had, admittedly, caddied in the same group as him previously and would again at Congressional Country Club near Washington DC the following year, but it further confirmed the high regard in which I held the then greatest player of all time.

From Dearborn we headed to Pinehurst in North Carolina, flying down to Raleigh and then driving the hour or so to the outstanding multi-golf course destination.

Graham and I leaving Raleigh for Pinehurst.

I had caddied at Pinehurst # 2 in 1979 in the then Colgate World Hall of Fame Classic, named because the Hall of Fame stood at the end of the 4th hole there. It has been more recently relocated to St Augustine in Florida and is now owned by the PGA of America.

My earlier visit, however, had been at a time in my life when my appreciation of golf course design was perhaps not at the level it was when arriving there in 1994.

On arrival and checking into the delightful Carolina Hotel nearby the golf courses, Graham indicated he would take the afternoon off and we would meet for dinner later. I said I would head out onto the golf course to refresh my knowledge of the layout and do the yardages for the front nine and complete the balance early the next morning.

The Carolina Hotel – more salubrious than some of my previous caddie digs

Once on the golf course, however, I simply fell in love with what I was seeing. This was the same layout later used for the 1999 and 2005 US Opens and was before the major alterations by Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore in 2010.

I found a pay phone on the golf course (it was before the prevalence of mobiles) and called Graham to tell him that I might be a little late for dinner. So taken was I with the golfing environment and the golf course itself that I decided to stay on and do all 18 holes before heading back.

To use a term I often use when describing a golf course that moves me, it smelt of golf as indeed does the village of Pinehurst itself which thrives on golf tourism. While very different in their heritage there are similarities between what Pinehurst means to American golf and what St Andrews means to golf elsewhere.

I immediately had a great feel for the place and really felt it was the sort of golf course on which Graham could do well and so it would prove.

It was a week interrupted by the summer afternoon storms so prevalent in that particular region part of the US and on three occasions the field was required to return to the golf course in the morning to complete a round from the previous day.

By Sunday morning, after the completion of a delayed third round early that day, Graham trailed Zimbabwe’s Simon Hobday by six shots but was alone in second place and played with Hobday and American Jim Albus in the final round.

Hobday was feeling the pinch throughout and appeared to be falling apart at the seams with the prospect of winning such a significant title. By the time the trio reached the 18th tee on Sunday afternoon, Graham and Hobday were tied at 10 under par one ahead of Albus.

If these names seem a little unfamiliar to you, then a look at the first page of the leader-board which included the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Dave Stockton and Tom Weiskopf might help in assessing the quality of play needed to be in the position in which the leaders found themselves.

The video below captures the final stages of the dramatic day beautifully, but Graham drove first at the 18th and split the fairway although Hobday would also drive it well.

Video footage of the final hole

The par 4 last hole at Pinehurst plays uphill and, on this day, there was a stiff breeze into the players’ face as the trio were about to play their approaches.

Graham had 169 yards to the flag and, as we stood over the ball, he quizzed me by thinking aloud. This was in an era long before the dramatic increase in distances the last 25 years has seen come into the game. I was thinking a 5 iron and Graham appeared as if that was his thinking as well.

There were a couple of circumstances we perhaps did not think through enough. The breeze was sheltered a little by the clubhouse behind the green, the accepted rule of thumb, especially when under pressure, is to hit the lesser club (6 iron) in order to release the club properly and stay committed to the shot and the adrenaline factor needed to be considered.

As to where a shot with a different club might have finished we will never know, the approach by Graham finishing exactly flag high, admittedly, but it was a shot that was always right of the green as he perhaps eased off on the shot a little.

Hobday, who was by that time 4 over for the round, somehow found the green albeit some 35 feet behind the hole.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the television coverage – Hobday was comically showing the world the pressure he was feeling

I stood alongside the ball as Graham surveyed his shot. I really felt it was a pitch a run across the green with perhaps a wedge to negotiate a gentle tier some 20 feet short of the hole but echoing in my mind was a conversation Graham and I had had a couple of weeks earlier in Nashville.

When I had then asked him how things were going with the American caddies he had regularly on his bag he made the comment that they were good but there were times when they wanted to tell him how to play particular shots.

As he grabbed the 56-degree sand iron from the bag, I felt it was the wrong type of shot as to my mind he needed to get the ball running but I will admit, especially given his comment three weeks earlier, I was reluctant to say anything. He had not sought my advice and at this crucial moment I was not about to offer it without him asking.

As the video shows, the pitch from a slightly uphill lie was not struck well, failed to negotiate the tier and finished 12 feet short. He would miss that putt and, somehow, Hobday two putted while admitting himself to ‘choking’ as he referred to his own open and visible display of nerves.

Hobday shakes hands with Albus and Marsh

So Hobday had beaten Graham and Jim Albus by one. It was an opportunity lost as it was hard to imagine Hobday could have held on the following day in an 18-hole playoff.

I headed into the locker room and waited for Graham to finish his media commitments, wondering how he might accept what was a missed opportunity for a senior major in his rookie season. He had after all won in his rookie season on the regular PGA Tour in 1976 and this would have made a nice double.

“I think we might have hit the wrong club at the last,” was his comment (referring to his 5 iron approach) when he walked in to find me packing up the bag.

“Yes, and I think there were two wrong clubs hit on that hole,” I replied.

We dined together that evening at one of the many restaurants in the Pinehurst village and as we headed back to the hotel we walked past a noisy gathering in one of the other hotels. It was Hobday and a group of his friends and hangers-on having a great old time.

I suggested to Graham we should join them for a drink which we did and Hobday, as only Hobday could and in a light-hearted manner, told Graham that he thought it was he (Hobday) that was choking up the last.

He was of course referring to the fact that he had held on despite the pressure being applied and, in the end, it had been Graham that had stumbled at the final hurdle. It was all in jest of course and treated that way.

We stayed for a couple more drinks and the interlude had broken the ice on what had been a long and tiring day and ended my three weeks on the US Senior Tour with at least a bit of frivolity.

Simon Hobday kisses Pinehurst’s 18th green after winning

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Japan Golf Tour – A Very Special Experience

Graham Marsh and I study a putt in Japan – the blind leading the blind – perhaps 

My previous memoir included the last event in New Zealand in which I would caddy. It brought one chapter of my involvement in professional golf to an end but another was about to open up.

In September of 1986 I made the decision to move to Australia from Nelson in New Zealand, not having caddied since the 1983 New Zealand PGA Championship in which I caddied for the winner, Graham Marsh.

I joined with my then partner Corals D’Ott who had moved to Sydney to establish an import/export business five months earlier and I took up a sales role with the New Zealand travel company Newmans Tours, a position which had been offered to me before leaving New Zealand.

In August of 1988 I was made Newmans’ Brisbane manager where I would be responsible for not only the Queensland sales of Newmans’ New Zealand product, but also the growing tourism  inventory they were developing in Australia.

It was a very enjoyable role in a very social industry but once again the lure of professional golf was calling. I travelled down to one of the early Palm Meadows Cup events at Palm Meadows on the Gold Coast and caught up with Graham Marsh who asked if I might be interested in caddying for him in Sydney a few week later.

That event would be the Tour Players Championship at Riverside Oaks and it was there when Marsh raised the possibility of a working for him in a full-time role.

His then golf course design company, Marsh / Watson, had been established soon after the completion of Palm Meadows on the Gold Coast in which he had been involved as the designer and the workload was beginning to flourish for the fledgling company.

Marsh felt he needed help while on the road as he continued his playing career and it was then that my earlier pursuit of work with him would yield results.

Marsh outlined a role that would require me moving to Perth and filling a position which would essentially involve  caddying for him in Japan while, at the same time, acting as a ‘Man Friday’ to assist with the many business issues he would face each day.

The role sounded almost too good to be true and, as excited as I was about the prospect, I recall trying to remain calm as I asked him if he could put something down on a fax to me (it was before the internet) in terms of the offer.

It was, after all, a chance to return to caddying while, at the same time, building some business experience so it ticked the boxes I was keen to pursue while at the same time allowing me to remain involved with one of my great passions, professional golf.

A few days later the fax arrived from Perth (Graham’s hometown) and while I had essentially made up my mind before seeing it, the more specific details made it even more attractive.

Two months later I had tied up all loose ends and had relocated to Perth where Graham’s most significant design project at the time was the Vines Resort. Marsh had played a key role for the Japanese client in both the purchase of the land and the development of the golf course and was very much ‘hands on’ in every aspect of the trailblazing resort.

It would be the start of 12 years working directly for Graham and his company, during which my eyes were opened to the golf course design industry in Asia and the Pacific and to the Japanese Golf Tour.

I settled in Perth but within three weeks we were off to Japan where our first event together would be in Kumamoto. First, however, was a dinner business meeting with golf course clients in Tokyo on the night of our arrival and a rushed trip to Sendai the following day for the opening of a golf course in which Graham had played a role in designing.

Graham and his then partner Ross Watson and I kicked on after the business dinner and in the back streets of Tokyo I soon became aware of the profile Graham had established for himself in his (to that point) 20 + year career in that country.

With the owners of a bar recognising Graham, we were ushered inside where we celebrated the successful earlier meeting and for the first and only time in my life, drank whisky. To say the least, the trip to Sendai on the bullet train the next morning was hard work.

It was the first taste of many such business activities while working for Graham and his company but I have never drunk whisky in its pure form again and never will!!

On the Tuesday morning we flew south to Kumamoto on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu for our first event together in Japan, the Mitsubishi Galant. It was the first of 25 or so events over the next 18 months, two of which resulted in victories in addition to several other near misses.

Graham finished 6th that week behind the winner, Jet Ozaki, brother of Jumbo, following up the next week in Sendai with a top 20 behind Jumbo Ozaki before winning the Sapporo Tokyu Open in the northern island of Hokkaido a few days later (see video).

It was such a thrill to have been involved in a win in just my third event in Japan, Graham at the age of 45 indicating there was a lot of good golf left in him despite being well into his forties.

He was chased home that week by one of the greats of Japanese golf, Tommy Nakajima, who would finish three shots behind in a share of second place. Nakajima won 48 titles on the Japan Tour and is still the third highest earner of money in the history of the Japan Tour behind Jumbo Ozaki and the more current Shingo Katayama. He loomed as a real threat with a few holes to go but Graham held him off.

Marsh wins Sapporo Tokyu Open in our third event together in Japan

It was therefore a great start to the arrangement Graham had put in place for me to work for him in Japan and the first of two victories there during that time. The other would come 15 months later at the Tokai Classic in Nagoya when a third round of 64 had given him the lead before play was abandoned on the final day and Marsh declared the winner.

In one of the more amusing experiences of my caddying career, I was ushered onto the stage setup in the clubhouse to be part of the official party for the presentation ceremony as rain pelted down outside. As the caddie of the winner that week in Nagoya, I was given a year’s supply (in vouchers) of Coca Cola who had sponsored the event. I liked Coca Cola but not that much!!

My time in Japan would come to an end at the end of 1990 when Graham offered me the chance to work in a marketing role for his golf course design company based on the Gold Coast.

I saw that move as a great opportunity to further my business career but have to say I was sorry to have been leaving a relatively brief but very successful sojourn caddying in Japan, a country which I had truly grown to love.

There were so many great experiences both on and off the golf course in Japan. Admittedly, I had the good fortune to be working for Graham and his company and the hotels and travel I enjoyed were at a much higher level than in my earlier caddying days but there was something about the efficiency of Japan and the welcoming nature of the people that was very special.

There were many particularly enjoyable occasions. The Australian Japan Tour regulars tended to socialise together with the likes of Brian Jones, Roger Mackay, Terry Gale, Wayne Smith and Marsh regularly meeting up for dinner and me being part of that group.

Left a fishing expedition in Hokkaido and a celebratory dinner  in Osaka.

One particularly poignant memory was when the tour played an event in Hiroshima. Staying just a few hundred metres along the road from where the Atom Bomb fell in 1945, I was drawn to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, established in memory of those who fell victim on August 6th that year. It remains a lasting, thought-provoking and distressing memory in my mind.

The Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima

Another special memory was when Graham was beaten into second place by West Australian Roger Mackay at the Sendai Classic in 1990. Graham had to head back to Tokyo that evening so Roger and I headed out on the town in Sendai for a particularly enjoyable celebration. He might have indirectly cost me money earlier that day, but I managed to be on the receiving end of some of his generosity that evening.

Mackay won eight times on the Japan Tour, was an Australian Amateur Champion and would also win the 1987 Australian PGA Championship. Despite that success, his career was curtailed by back issues but in late 2001 and 2002 he would face even bigger demons.

Mackay would pass away in 2002 at the age of 46 from complications caused by his battle with grade-four lymphoma. He was a great bloke to be around, his dry sense of humour making time in his company very entertaining but his loss was felt by all, especially given the speed of his demise.

That night in Sendai, celebrating the second of his eight victories in a country where he excelled, however, remains forever in my memory.

Above Roger Mackay a great guy and impressive player taken far too early.

Japan provided so many wonderful memories and experiences, certainly more than I have time to write here but it also allowed the working relationship and friendship between Graham Marsh and I to build further.

I visited destinations from Okinawa in the south to Sapporo in the north during a total of eight separate trips from Perth, allowing me to see some of the best of Japan.

It would also provide a greater understanding of Graham’s golf course design business and the background which I had been seeking in order to further my own goals.

It would be that experience that would ultimately provide the catalyst to my next chapter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1983 – The End Of An Amazing Ride

John Lister again thrilling a New Zealand crowd as I look on

1983 would see me caddying in my last season in New Zealand. To some extent the season was bitter/sweet in that it brought to an end a long, rewarding and very successful association with New Zealander John Lister but opened up a new chapter in my golfing and professional life with Australian, Graham Marsh.

John was coming to and end of his playing career as his playing fortunes in the USA continued to wane and we agreed that the New Zealand Open at the then Auckland Golf Club late that year (now Royal Auckland) would be the end of a journey which had seen John win ten events in New Zealand with me on the other side of the bag.

I had learned so much from Lister and he provided me with many great opportunities but as I looked ahead I was keen to make the golf industry a career and Marsh’s growing business interests appeared to me as if they might open career prospects beyond caddying.

I took two weeks off from my hotel job in Nelson and drove north to Auckland for the first of what was to be two events but eventually became three. Lister and I teamed together for our swansong at Middlemore which was won by Ian Baker-Finch, John once again having his struggles with the New Zealand Open style set-ups.

We said our professional good-byes which for both of us I am sure was an emotional moment because of the success we had experienced together and for me especially because John had opened the door to a new world for me.

I still rate him as one of the more dynamic players I have seen when he was in the right frame of mind and form. He was a great shot-maker, doing things with the golf ball that many more credentialed players could only dream about. He was blessed with tremendous length from the tee but, when he was on song, he was also a brilliant putter.

Marsh did not play the New Zealand Open but, as arranged, was there the following week for the Airlines event at Titirangi Golf Club, also in Auckland, and that was where we would team up for the first time since the Piccadilly World Match Play Championship in October of 1975.

The West Australian played well that week and, if my memory serves me correctly, finished 3rd behind Bruce Devlin in an event reduced to 54 holes.

The reason for the reduction in holes from the original 72 was that on day one weather had cancelled out the opening round. Ironically, the man who suffered most from the cancellation of play on the opening day was John Lister who recorded a round of 63 only for it to be washed out.

I am not sure what signal that was giving from Lister. I felt for John but was happy for him that he had found some form at long last after a long hard year in the US.

I discussed with Marsh that week the prospect of working for him in some capacity amongst his growing business interests and while he indicated an interest in my involvement it would be another six years before that actually came to fruition. I will elaborate on how that all transpired in another memoir.

Marsh asked during the week if I would be available to caddy the following week as he had been unexpectedly and belatedly invited to play the New Zealand PGA Championship at Mt Maunganui, about a three hour drive south.

I quickly contacted my employers in Nelson to seek approval for another week off which was given so I headed off to what is one of my favourite holiday destinations in New Zealand – the Mount as it is affectionately known.

I had caddied for Jumbo Ozaki there in his win in 1972 and for Lister when he won in 1977 and also when Lister lost a playoff to Brian Jones in 1981 so I knew the course well and was excited to be continuing my rekindled arrangement with Marsh.

Marsh would go on to win the event by two shots over Vaughn Somers giving me a 4th NZPGA Championship title as a caddie as I had also caddied for Lister when he defeated Bill Brask in a playoff at the nearby Tauranga Golf Club.

I might not have looked it but I was excited about Marsh’s win at the 1983 NZPGA

The two weeks had reconnected Marsh and I and opened the door for ongoing discussions on the possibility of working for him in some capacity at a later date.

I recall him saying to me that he felt I needed more background in sales. While disappointed that nothing had immediately come out of the decision I had made, it gave me thought as to how I might further my skills to allow myself to be more employable in the golfing arena.

I returned to Nelson and was back behind the bar two days later pouring beer and having fun, but with the memories of what would be my final event as a caddie in New Zealand to the front of my mind.

A photo accompanying an article on my return to Nelson

It would be another 4½ years before I caddied again, after relocating to Australia. In the meantime, however and after a few more months in the hotel industry, I would work in the Aquaculture Industry in the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand and, for a few months before heading for Australia in 1986, in the Kiwifruit Industry in the Nelson area.

They provided further background for what lay ahead but, while fascinating, I never really felt they were what I wanted in the long term.

And so, my journey with John Lister was over but what a journey it had been. We had worked together in some seventy five events in New Zealand, Australia and the US, 55 or so of those in New Zealand in which there had been ten victories and two or three runner-up finishes.

There had been so many highlights but perhaps the Garden City Classic in Christchurch provided some of the greatest memories, John winning on four consecutive occasions and sharing the runner-up position behind Bob Shearer when attempting to win five in a row in 1976.

Lister could win from anywhere and often did. One of his victories in Christchurch came in 1974 when beginning the final round nine shots behind the lead of Tasmanian David Good.

It was heady stuff at times, his sheer brilliance thrilling the crowds and leaving so many, including myself, in awe of his power and deft touch.

He provided me a start in the game for which I will be forever grateful and have nothing but the upmost admiration for his ability to, at times, produce the seemingly impossible.

It was a fun ride.

Lister and I during one his his four consecutive victories at the Garden City Classic.

 

 

 

The USPGA Tour – Yet Another Great Adventure

John Lister – who gave me the opportunity to caddy in the US

After three seasons in Europe, my caddying in 1976, 1977 and 1978 had been restricted to Australia and New Zealand and, even then, on a part time basis.

Although there had been several highlights, including three consecutive wins by John Lister in New Zealand in late 1976 and early 1977, a runner-up finish by Lister at the 1977 Australian Open and the match against Seve Ballesteros in 1977, I was beginning to look further afield to satisfy my caddying appetite and lust for travel.

I had worked in various roles including a period in 1978 on a horse stud near Auckland and while the thoroughbred breeding industry was, and still is, a field in which I have had interest, the lure of caddying on the PGA Tour contained more appeal.

I talked with John Lister at events late in 1978 and it was decided that I would caddy for him in the US in 1979. John had been on the PGA Tour since 1971 and given the good rapport and success we had experienced together in New Zealand and to a lesser extent in Australia we were both keen to join forces in the US.

It was too good of an opportunity to turn down. After all, the prospect of caddying on the holy grail of professional golf was, to a caddie, what playing that tour was to a professional golfer.

John’s Lister’s best performance in Australia – runner-up against a strong field at the 1977 Australian Open

It was decided that I would not leave until late April of 1979 and join John at the Byron Nelson Classic in Dallas.

I needed a job to tide me over until departing for the US and decided to head to Nelson in New Zealand’s South Island to spend time with my close friend Corals D’Ott and her boys and seek work there.

I looked for work in the hospitality industry and managed to secure bar work at the Wakatu Hotel, a popular watering hole and a very enjoyable but brief period in my life it was. I loved Nelson and dependant on how things worked out in the States felt sure I would return there at a later date.

Sydney based New Zealander, Bob Moore, was keen to head to the US also. I had met Bob caddying in Australia and New Zealand and, after time in Sydney amongst the SP gambling industry, he was keen to escape to a friendlier and less stressful environment and so we headed to Dallas, Bob to caddy for American Mark Lye and myself for Lister.

Despite my extensive travelling experience, I had only spent a limited time in the US and so caddying on the USPGA Tour was an adjustment but one I thoroughly enjoyed despite Lister’s lack of success there in 1979.

Following the very first event in Dallas, John was ineligible for the tournament at Forth Worth the following week and so he, his then wife Diana and I drove the lengthy road trip to their home in Clearwater near Tampa on the west coast of Florida where we stayed for a couple of weeks.

If you had to spend time off anywhere, Clearwater was not a bad place to do so. John was an avid fisherman and he loved nothing more than heading down to the nearby Dunedin beach and encouraged me to join him fishing from the shore and, sometimes, up to our waists in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

It was the first of two periods of stay at the home of John and Diana and their hospitality during such a great adventure to the PGA Tour is something I will always be thankful for.

We re-joined the tour in Charlotte in North Carolina for the Kemper Open and from that point on I got to visit some great places and some fine golf courses and, as a 25/26-year-old, had a lot of fun.

John was unable to reproduce some of the heroics he would so often display against, admittedly, weaker fields in New Zealand and it remains a mystery to me how the amazing talent and skill set he so often displayed at home was unable to be replicated in the US.

He had won the Quad Cities Classic in 1976 but his best finish in 1979 was at the Greater Milwaukee Open in Wisconsin where he finished 5th behind Calvin Peete and his career in the US never saw the true talent of the real John Lister.

From that point of view the season was a disappointment but I loved my time on the PGA Tour, my knowledge of the game, professional golf and the golf industry in general building on what I had developed while caddying in Europe and Australasia.

Amongst the places I visited while caddying in 18 events that season were courses such as Pinehurst #2 for the Colgate Hall of Fame Classic, Inverness in Toledo in Ohio, where Hale Irwin won his second US Open, Glenn Abbey near Toronto for the Canadian Open and Westchester Country Club north of New York City where the wealth of the American country club set became apparent.

I would revisit Pinehurst 15 years later to caddy at the US Senior Open and fall in love with the place even more, the reason to be expanded on in another memoir.

A special memory was standing alongside the great, but enigmatic and eccentric, Moe Norman, while he was hitting balls on the driving range at Glenn Abbey. He was 50 at the time and visiting with one of the players in the Canadian Open and had been asked to hit a few.

He did so with very formal clothing on but I recall a series of 7 irons being hit almost on a string. I was aware of his reputation at the time but he was not all that familiar to me. I have subsequently become aware of just how much of a legend he was.

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Moe Norman – seeing him casually hit balls in Canada was a treat.

While the higher profile courses were interesting, in many respects just because of the fact they carried profile, it was often the less familiar places we visited that provided great opportunity for fun.

Columbus in Georgia, Pensacola in Florida, Sutton in Massachusetts, Davenport in Illinois, Milwaukee during Summer Fest, Valley Forge in Pennsylvania and Endicott in New York State, amongst others, all hosted PGA Tour events and rekindle memories of great times and experiences on and off the golf course the USPGA Tour provided.

The BC Open in Endicott in New York was always a highly anticipated week for the caddies as, on the Monday following the tournament, the caddies’ championship was held on the En-Joie Golf Club and sponsored by several of the players. Not that I played well in it but the chance to play a PGA Tour layout in tournament conditions for a bit of cash was a real attraction for the caddies.

On one two occasions when John Lister had either failed to make the field in the era of Monday qualifying or was not playing for another reason I had the opportunity to caddy for other players and one that sticks in my mind was when working for Gene Littler in Atlanta.

One of the game’s finest golf swings and what a gentleman – Gene Littler

Even at the age of 49 that week, Littler was a beautiful player and a fine gentleman. He would win 29 PGA Tour titles including the 1961 US Open and was beaten in a playoff on eight further occasions.

He was blessed with a magnificent, classical and uncomplicated golf swing and his capacity to plot his way around the golf course stuck in my mind. He made the cut that week but finished only midfield although to have experienced this iconic American golfer at such close quarters was one of the treats of my time on the PGA Tour.

Littler and I got on well and during the week I talked with him about the idea of playing in New Zealand. I had an ‘arrangement’ with Air NZ who had provided a little support for my visit to the US and the New Zealand Airlines tournament was to be played in Wellington later in the year.

I promoted the idea to him and he would eventually travel to New Zealand to play the event which of course was overshadowed when one of Air New Zealand’s fleet crashed into Mt Erebus in the Antarctic on the eve of the tournament, killing 257 people.

My time in the US would come to an end at the Pensacola Open in Florida and it would be another 15 years before I got back there when the opportunity to caddy for Graham Marsh on the then US Senior Tour presented itself.

I will write a piece on those experiences later but to have caddied on the 1979 PGA Tour was yet another eye-opener and played a role in providing the sort of experience that would lead to ongoing roles in golf as the years progressed.

As I write this I cast my thoughts back to Bob Moore with whom I travelled for much of the time I was caddying in the US. Bob was a great looking guy with a relatively carefree attitude to life and was fun to be around. His looks made him a very handy ‘Wingman’ when we ventured out at night.

On several occasions Bob and I would drive Mark Lye’s van between events and meet Lye at the next venue, one sleeping while the other navigated and drove his way through large parts of the USA.

John Lister also got me to drive his Lincoln Continental between events on one or two occasions, one a lengthy trip after dropping John off at O’Hare airport in Chicago for him to attend a corporate day and meeting him at Valley Forge near Philadelphia the next day. To say the least, driving alone and over long distances on the great US freeways provided a great sense of freedom and escape.

I was devastated to learn years later that Bob had passed away while living the high life in Hong Kong, having developed seemingly successful gambling software there and lived the life of a gambler. He was found deceased in his apartment with some reports suggesting suicide.

Never quite sure how he got to the point of operating in such circles in Hong Kong but he was a wheeler / dealer and gambler although, in my experience, a great guy to travel with. He was always a mysterious and intriguing character, his passing perhaps a reflection on the high life he was leading there.

I loved my time in the US. The caddies were generally very welcoming, the weather warm, although at times oppressive, each week a new adventure and the chance to see some of the greats of the game I had not always encountered in my time caddying elsewhere.

In a later memoir I will discuss my return to caddy in several events on the US Senior Tour in the mid nineties.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Great Days Against Seve Ballesteros

Seve Ballesteros, myself, John Lister and Eldon Carswell

As outlined in my previous post, 1975 was a year of mixed results for those of whom I was caddying. There were both highlights and lowlights but as the year progressed, I would get to experience my first exposure to a young man who would go on to become one of the greats of the modern game.

I had seen Seve Ballesteros at several events in 1975, effectively his rookie season in Europe, but I had not seen him at close quarters as such although that was about to change. He had already recorded four or five top tens in European Tour events and was, even then, being considered one of Europe’s great future stars.

In September of that year, an event would be played at Turnberry in Scotland, the Double Diamond International, which would involve teams of five from the Americas, The Rest of the World, Continental Europe, Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales.

I did not appear likely to get one of the bags in the event as my regulars were not playing.  Given that the Americans, with one or two exceptions, were unlikely to be travelling with their caddies however, I decided to try my luck in securing one of their players.

I targeted Jim Colbert, an impressive player who had at that stage already won four events on the PGA Tour and from what my due diligence had indicated he would not be bringing his caddie to Britain.

My good friend Michael Glading had been caddying in Europe with me for much of the 1975 season which had included a win on the bag of South African, Hugh Baiocchi, at the Dutch Open. He was planning on returning to New Zealand via the United States to caddy for Baiocchi at the World Golf Hall of Fame event at Pinehurst and for Irishman, John O’Leary, at the Ryder Cup at Laurel Valley the following week.

Michael agreed to speak to Colbert at the Pinehurst event and to my delight he was more than happy to have that part of his visit to Scotland sorted ahead of time.

I arrived at Turnberry on the delightful Ayrshire Coast for the second time having first caddied there for Billy Dunk at the John Player Classic in 1973 (see here). It was arranged that I would meet with Colbert on the Tuesday morning of the Double Diamond. When I arrived at the course on the Monday to do my yardages, however, I was advised by one of the Scottish caddies that Colbert was already on the course and had taken a local for the week.

Still unsure whether his comment was in jest or a deliberate act to unsettle me given I had one of the more significant bags for the week (some of the Scottish caddies were capable of doing just that) I did some more checking. Then, armed with the knowledge he was not on the golf course, I eventually headed across to the beautiful Turnberry Hotel on the hill.

The Turnberry Hotel where I first caught up with Jim Colbert.

Reception told me Colbert had only just checked in and when they called his room he was happy to come down to meet me for a coffee in the lobby of the hotel.

He was a delight, certainly a confident sort of character but he was great to me and I could tell even from our initial discussion that we would get on.

Jim Colbert

That would turn out to be the case as he would go on to win each of his five matches, playing a key role in the success of an American side which included Colbert, Johnny Miller, Lou Graham, Dave Hill and Mark Hayes.

One of those matches was when he tackled the 18-year old Ballesteros who was a member of a Continental European side which included he and fellow Spaniards, Manuel Pinero, Francisco Abreu, Salvador Balbuena and Antonio Garrido.

Certainly Ballesteros impressed that week and, already, it was evident that he would become a fine player. It was, though, hard to imagine back then just what an impact he, his golfing skills, charismatic appeal, creative imagination and artistry would have on the golfing world over the next 25 years.

On reflection, however, it is nice to be able to look back and recall being so close to him so early in his professional career and being on the bag when Jim Colbert defeated him.

Ballesteros – 1975

Two years later I had worked in the real world back in New Zealand for a couple of years although that world was not exactly feeling too real for me. So, at the end of 1977, I headed to Australia for a few events including the West Lakes Classic, the Australian Open and the Australian PGA Championship where I would again team with John Lister.

Lister would finish runner-up to David Graham at the Australian Open at the Australian Golf Club that year but the remainder of the events in Australia and those in New Zealand were not so lucrative for the player who had dominated New Zealand golf events in recent years.

Lister had won the Otago Charity Classic in Dunedin (the first event back in NZ after Australia) on two occasions in earlier years but in 1977 it would be tournament invite, Seve Ballesteros, who would win by three strokes over American Bob Byman, who the following week would win the New Zealand Open in Auckland.

Following the event in Dunedin, an exhibition had been arranged in the North Island tourist city of Rotorua by cigarette company Benson & Hedges and Air New Zealand. The participants would therefore involve two of the most recent winners on the New Zealand Tour, Ballesteros and Lister, in a face off at the Springfield Golf Club.

Now, it just so happened that I had been a member of Springfield as a 17 and 18-year-old in the early 1970’s. My mother also lived in Rotorua so I had taken advantage of an earlier trip to my Mum’s place to grab some yardages on the golf course well ahead of the day.

Lister, Ballesteros and I flew from Dunedin to Auckland on the Sunday evening immediately following Ballesteros’ win at the Otago Charity Classic and were put up in a hotel near the airport in Auckland ahead of a flight down to Rotorua the following morning.

We flew the 45 minutes down to Rotorua to be met by those organising the exhibition and representatives of the club.

Lister en route to defeating Ballesteros

The spectator numbers that had assembled that day were impressive and I have subsequently heard from a number golfers who have said they travelled from many parts of the North Island of New Zealand to be there.

Ballesteros was, after all, developing a growing reputation in world golf, highlighted of course by his runner-up finish as a 19-year-old to Johnny Miller at the 1976 Open Championship the previous year.

Lister had won on the PGA Tour the previous year, had finished runner-up at the Australian Open a few weeks earlier and was the leading force in New Zealand events of that era. There was, therefore, every reason for the event, despite it being an exhibition, to attract a good crowd.

This was in an era when, typically, players did not bring their caddies across the world and so Ballesteros teamed up with the Club Champion at Springfield, Eldon Carswell. Carswell would no doubt have been excited at the prospect of guiding such an emerging star around his home course that day.

Lister and Ballesteros in Rotorua

It was not all plain sailing for Eldon, however, Ballesteros letting him know in no uncertain terms when he persisted on calling him ‘Steve’ instead of ‘Seve’. Things were tense for a while but in my memory and eventually, I feel sure, that of Eldon, the day overall was a great and memorable one especially, for me, when Lister managed to defeat Ballesteros.

As a sideline to these experiences was that twenty years later, I met up with Jim Colbert (who had beaten Ballesteros in 1975) once again when I ventured to the US to caddy for Graham Marsh in a few events on the then US Seniors Tour.

Colbert by then was not only a very successful golfer having won multiple times on the Senior Tour in addition to his 8 wins on the PGA Tour, but he was a very successful businessman as a prolific golf course owner and developer.

Because of their mutual interest in golf course development Marsh and Colbert had a lot in common. When he offered Graham and I a ride in his own Sabre jet from Atlanta to Washington DC it was agreed we would leave immediately after the Nationwide event in Duluth in Georgia for the US Senior Open to be held at Congressional Country Club.

Jim Colbert, Graham Marsh and I about to board Colbert’s jet in Atlanta

No sooner had the doors closed on the jet as it readied ready for take-off and Colbert had opened beers for us four passengers on board, than he was quickly into conversation about Ballesteros, asking if I recalled the day he beat him at Turnberry.

Ballesteros had of course, in those twenty years since, won 70 tournaments world-wide including three Open Championships and two Masters titles. He had also been responsible, along with the likes of Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer, for changing the fortunes of Europe in the Ryder Cup.

I think it was a real source of pleasure and pride for Colbert to be able to say he had beaten the brilliant Spaniard so early in his career and so it should have been.

If I had a dollar for every time I have since heard people, many of whom never had the opportunity to see him play, describing the brilliance and legend of Ballesteros I would be a very wealthy man.

To have gained a taste of it first hand and seen him at such close quarters at such an early stage of his career, however, is yet another of the many memorable golfing occasions I have been fortunate to experience.

 

 

Europe 1975 – A Season of Mixed Fortunes

Graham Marsh and I during 1975 European campaign – click to open

The 1974 year had proven to be a good one in my caddying adventures. Not only had I caddied for the wins of Bob Charles and Simon Owen in their respective victories in Switzerland and Germany, but, on my return to New Zealand John Lister had continued his domination of New Zealand scene with yet further wins at the Otago Charity Classic and the Garden City Classic.

As the year ended I began to think about whether another trip to Europe in 1975 would be of any value but the thrills I had experienced there in 1974 got the better of me and I again contemplated a couple of months’ work ahead of a return to the European Tour in late April.

The caddying arrangement with Bob Shearer had come to an end at the Dutch Open in August of 1974 and for the remainder of that year in Europe I worked for Simon Owen and, when he played in Europe, Graham Marsh.

It was arranged that I would again work for Owen and for Marsh in Europe and instead of a paying job, I spent time on the horse stud of friends in the Waikato of New Zealand before heading to Britain.

L-R Travelling companions Michael Glading, Merv O’Brien and myself in 1975

This time, I would have travelling companions, Michael Glading and Merv O’Brien, with me, making the trip even more enjoyable although Merv’s rather bizarre and comedic tales require and will get a write-up of their own as we move forward.

Compared to his rookie season the previous year it was a disappointing year for Owen in 1975, finishing 86th on the Order of Merit compared to his very impressive 9th in his debut season in 1974.

To add insult to that injury was that Bob Shearer, who I had made the decision to split with the previous year, was developing into the golfer that he had promised to be and finished 5th on the Order of Merit. I was however happy for Bob that he was beginning to realize his significant talent.

Simon Owen and I – Carroll’s Irish Open Bray 1975.

The year and my spirits would be boosted, however, by the efforts of Marsh who would play seven events in Europe that season and, although he did not win any, he performed very well when 6th at the Open Championship, runner-up after a playoff to George Burns at the Scandinavian Enterprise Open and 4th at the Dutch Open.

Marsh’s effort at the Open that year was particularly impressive recording a final round of 71, one of only four rounds under the par of 72 that day in conditions which allowed the fabulous Carnoustie to really bear her teeth.

Marsh finished in 6th place alone, only two shots from the playoff between Tom Watson and Jack Newton with Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller and Bobby Coles tied for 3rd just one shot behind the leaders and Marsh another shot back.

The playoff in Sweden was agonising as, having played so well to make the playoff, Marsh blundered with a horror first extra hole to allow US rookie Burns, a standout during his amateur career, his first win in the professional ranks.

Marsh would also play the Benson & Hedges event in York the week after the Dutch Open where he finished 12th. His brother, Rod, and legendary Australian cricketer and commentator, Richie Benaud, had travelled across from nearby Leeds where the third Ashes cricket test was being played to witness the final day at the Fulford Golf Club.

Rod was of course the Australian wicketkeeper in that era, but as was the tradition in test match cricket back then there was a rest day and so he took advantage of the opportunity to watch Graham playing at the nearby event.

I asked Graham if Rod could perhaps get me tickets to the remainder of the test match as it was delicately poised and while in the region I too had thought it a great opportunity to see a match of such significance.

It would become of even greater significance the next morning when vandals / protestors dug up the pitch and poured oil onto it, thus causing the match to be abandoned with Australia needing some 230 further runs to win with seven wickets in hand and Rick McCosker on 95 not out.

The protestors had been campaigning to free armed robber George Davis from jail. My one and only opportunity to watch test match cricket in England had therefore been foiled.

It would not be the last of rather intriguing experiences in the remainder of the season for me.

I will outline in another piece, caddying for Jim Colbert against Seve Ballesteros at Turnberry in a head to head match in September of 1975 but, at the Dunlop Masters in early October, another unusual occurrence took place.

Marsh had returned to Japan after the Benson & Hedges to play further events there and the next time I would see him would be at the Ganton Golf Club near Scarborough on the north coast of Yorkshire for the time honoured Dunlop Masters.

Arriving late from Japan, where he had played the Japan Open the previous week, Marsh had just one practice round over the fabulous Ganton layout before the event got under way but that did not stop him putting together an outstanding effort to lead after an opening round of 70 on a very demanding day.

With the prospect of another crack at the World Match Play the following week, for Marsh to have been in this sort of form was exciting to say the least and after a couple of beers with a few of the boys in Scarborough that evening I was off to bed early looking forward to an early second day tee time and feeling pretty happy with things.

I woke early and was off to the golf course to get the pin positions as were forced to do in those days. Some bright spark would later realise that making the pin positions available to all on the first tee was a much better way of controlling caddy movement on the golf course early each day.

On my way to catch transport to the course I walked past a newsagent and there, in bold print on a board outside the shop, was the headline “Marsh Disqualified”

Now I looked at it for a few seconds, not quite comprehending what I was seeing and initially thought it was referring to something else – perhaps a footballer or whatever.

On closer inspection and having bought the paper I realised that Marsh had, indeed, been disqualified from the event after leading the opening round for inadvertently signing an incorrect scorecard.

On the closing nine at Ganton there are two very similar par 4’s and Marsh’s playing partner, David Chillas of Scotland, had marked down a 3 where Marsh had actually had 4 and 4 where he had 3 and so while the total added up to 70, because Marsh had signed the card with individual hole numbers out of sync he was disqualified.

Marsh first heard of the mistake when a golf writer had noticed the discrepancy while going over his final spiel later that evening and saw that the scores, which had come in from the scorers on the course during play and were posted on the big scoreboard in the media centre, differed from that on the card.

The journalist then contacted Graham at his hotel and advised him on what appeared to be a scorecard issue and so Graham headed out to the course to confirm and had no choice other then to disqualify himself.

I was not staying in accommodation anywhere near as salubrious as that of Marsh’s and in the days of no mobiles he had been unable to contact me to inform. I went over to his hotel and joined he and his wife Julie for breakfast to discuss the situation and when we would leave for London.

David Chillas was an outstanding young man and was devastated by the error he had played a role in although Marsh took full responsibility for not paying enough attention to the details of his card. The similarity between the two holes meant that the indiscretion had gone unnoticed to Marsh’s tired and perhaps jet-lagged eyes.

And, thus, it was on to Wentworth where Marsh would face Open Champion Tom Watson in the opening round of the Piccadilly World Match Play. He would bow out by the margin of 2 down at the 36th hole, the most significant moment in the match coming when Watson drove it out of bounds at the 16th in the morning round and still managed to halve the hole after Marsh failed to get up and down from just off the green.

It brought and end to a rather roller coaster season in Europe, some good, some bad, but back in New Zealand, John Lister, would again add lustre to the year with yet another win (his 4th in succession) at the Garden City Classic.

One of my travelling companions, Michael Glading, experienced a great thrill of his own when on the bag for Hugh Baiocchi when the South African won the Dutch Open and so it was a year which, despite its ups and downs, had added significantly to the adventures we were experiencing.

Marsh during his 1975 World Match Play loss to Tom Watson – my last event in Europe

 

Late 1975 – Lister wins again in Christchurch

 

 

 

Back to Back N.Z. wins in Switzerland and Germany

Simon Owen tees off in the playoff for the 1974 German Open

Following a surreal finish to my initial year caddying on the 1973 European Tour (outlined here) I returned to New Zealand, by then fixed on the idea of returning to Europe in 1974.

I had met a fascinating lady on the evening of the final round of the World Match Play which certainly played a role in my desire to return to Britain but the excitement of the World Match Play and the chance to caddy for Graham Marsh in the three or four events he would play in Europe in 1974 was perhaps more of an influence.

I would also re-establish the working arrangement with Bob Shearer who I had last caddied for in early September of the previous year although I, of course, had seen him during the events in New Zealand.

Back in New Zealand, I and Michael Glading, a new-found friend from the 1972 New Zealand Tour, hit the road to caddy in events in Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, Auckland and Tauranga.

After several years living in South Africa, Michael had appeared at the Otago Charity Classic in Dunedin late in 1972 to caddy for family friend, Bob Charles, and we hit it off straight away and became travelling companions for the 1973 / 1974 New Zealand events and have remained friends since.

Michael experienced his first taste of winning as a caddie when Charles won the New Zealand Open at Palmerston North that year and my boss, John Lister, won both the Garden City Classic (Christchurch) and the Otago Charity Classic (Dunedin) so we were having a lot of fun.

Once the New Zealand circuit was completed, however, I began to think how I could earn some money to underwrite my return to Britain in late April and, with a sister and her husband living in Invercargill in New Zealand’s south, I decided to explore the possibility of work at the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter near Bluff.

Tiwai Point – not exactly fun but the money was good

I managed to secure a gig there for 10 weeks and headed south. Again, the role was hardly an exciting one as I essentially laboured on the potlines, but the money was brilliant and the opportunity to work a double shift on occasions further assisted in that regard.

I headed for Britain in late April with my first event in Worthing on the south coast of England. There, I caddied for Australian, Stewart Ginn, but on Bob Shearer’s return I caddied for him in Coventry, Harrogate and Dublin before the arrangement Graham Marsh and I had discussed to team up at the Open Championship eventuated.

Marsh played in practice rounds with Jack Nicklaus, Miller Barber, Bruce Devlin and David Graham amongst others at Royal Lytham & St Annes and many were considering him a great chance to win, so well was he playing prior to event getting underway.

Any such hopes were soon put to bed however when he opened with a round of 79 and although he played all 72 holes, he finished well back. I think it was a case of over-preparation (too many practice rounds ahead of the event) and have often thought since that there is a real danger in that.

During that week Bob Charles had spoken to me and asked if I was available to caddy for him in Sweden and Switzerland in the following two weeks and, although I had initially been unsure about heading to Sweden, when he asked me to do both events I jumped at the chance.

I spoke to Bob Shearer about it all as there was the thought that I would be caddying for him, but he very kindly gave me his blessing as he had not been playing well. It was arranged that Shearer and I would join up again in Germany three weeks later and, so, the day after The Open I was on a ferry / ship from Harwich on England’s east coast to Esbjerg in Denmark.

On landing in Esbjerg, we drove the car of one of the players, whose caddy had been tasked with delivering it at each of the destinations for the events in Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Holland, across Denmark to Copenhagen and onto the ferry (there’s a bridge there now) across to Malmo in Southern Sweden.

Charles finished 6th there behind the 11-shot winner, Tony Jacklin, and so we were again on the move via a ferry to Puttgarden in the north of Germany and the long drive across Germany and through the mountains by train to Crans-sur-Sierre in Switzerland.

Crans-sur-Sierre is a stunning alpine ski resort alongside the more familiar Crans Montana. It sits high above the Rhone Valley with simply breathtaking views from every angle. I had seen it, first, the previous year but despite being raised in New Zealand’s South Island where spectacular scenery prevails, I was again captured by its majestic surrounds.

In the winter the golf course acts as beginner slopes for the ski resort and in the summer it has played host to the Swiss Open or its equivalent since 1939.

A typical backdrop from the Crans sur Sierre Golf Club

Charles began well but trailed the halfway leader, Dale Hayes, by five shots heading into the weekend. A third round of 67 had him sharing the lead with Hayes and Belgian Donald Swaelens and one ahead of the 1969 Open Champion and 1970 US Open winner, Tony Jacklin.

Hayes dropped away in the final round and it would be Jacklin who provided the biggest threat. Charles led by one playing the last and I can recall him asking me how far it was for his approach at the last and after being told it was 129 yards he would say when it was in the air; “Well that feels to me like 129 yards.”

It finished six feet or so exactly pin high and right of the hole and although he missed the putt, he had done enough to win by one over Jacklin with Hayes three shots further away in 3rd place.

As a New Zealander, whose early golfing hero was Bob Charles, to have caddied for him in winning an event in Europe was amazingly pleasing but more was to come.

The final hole of the Swiss Open – It was a great thrill to caddy for a childhood hero in such a significant win

As I sat around waiting for Charles to wrap up his media commitments, I began to think about what I might do the following week. Shearer had advised he would not play in Germany but, rather, he was to head back to London to spend time with his girlfriend and now wife Kathie and would see me next in Holland for the Dutch Open.

I had thought of the idea of taking a week off in Germany but soon realised I was getting a little carried away and saw New Zealander, Simon Owen, and asked what his plans for a caddie the following week were.

Owen was in his first season in Europe and had been doing quite well but, although he was making cuts, he was not making any big cheques and had reached a point where money was becoming an issue.

I had caddied for him in an Under 25 event in Bristol earlier in the year where he did well and had actually shared an apartment with he and Australian Peter Croker in Knightsbridge in London for a while. So we knew each other well but he was unsure whether he could afford a ‘tour caddie’ and would think about it and let me know.

Twenty minutes later he sought me out and we agreed on a fee that would cover at least some of my expenses and so it was off to Krefeld in Germany, again via car and the train line through the mountains (we put the car on the train), for the 1974 German Open.

Owen began the event brilliantly and led through 36 holes. As a sideline, in those opening two rounds he played with a young German kid (then 16) who would turn out pretty good (Bernhard Langer), although that week, in his debut in his national open, Langer missed the cut by many, many shots.

Owen kept the momentum going in round three and took a one-shot lead over Dales Hayes into the final day although European Tour superstar, Peter Oosterhuis was lurking three off the pace.

This was a day full of pressure for Owen as not only did he have a potential title at stake he had the chance to cement his place in Europe for the immediate future and I have to say I was so full of admiration as to the way he went about his business especially for one so relatively inexperienced.

Oosterhuis was closing fast, however, and signed for a final round 66 in the group ahead to set the mark and when Owen stood in the middle of the final fairway he asked me if I could confirm the situation as even though the leaderboard said one thing, Simon wanted to be sure.

I advised he was now tied for the lead and when he hit a lovely shot to the middle of the green and two-putted he was into a playoff against the Englishman.

Despite his incredible success, Oosterhuis had a bit of a reputation for blocking shots under real pressure and that is exactly what he did when attempting to follow a superb drive by Owen at the first extra hole. He found the trees and when the 23 year old Owen went on to birdie the par five it was all over.

Owen hits his tee shot at the opening playoff hole – he would birdie and defeat Oosterhuis (left)

It was a most satisfying moment for me to have been able to caddy for two different New Zealanders in consecutive weeks in their respective wins in Switzerland and Germany.

I was somewhat disappointed when I later found an excerpt from The World of Professional Golf for 1974, written by Michael Williams, which was so blatantly wrong

It read: “The New Zealander handled the 14th safely but failed to get his birdies on the long holes and was not helped as he stood over a 20 footer for birdie on the last green by his caddie’s observation that he needed the putt to win. He missed and went into a playoff with Oosterhuis.”

Neither Simon nor I recall anything of the sort. That is journalistic license for you, I guess. Never let the truth spoil a good story.

Don’t think for a moment I was getting wealthy as a result of this dream run. It helped, for sure, but when Charles won in Switzerland he earned a first prize of around £4750 and Owen £2670 for his victory.

Victories in equivalent events now are worth nearly 100 times that amount. While there is a certain level of relativity in the disparity of those figures between then and now, the growth in prizemoney in world golf since, has been exponential.

And, so, it was off to Hilversum in Holland for the Dutch Open and the return of my regular bag, Bob Shearer.

That is a whole new story and one I will go into in another piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dream Finish to First European Season

Having outlined in my previous piece how my European caddying adventures came about and began in Bournemouth, this story outlines how the rest of 1973 unfolded and culminated in one of the most exciting experiences I have enjoyed in golf.

Working for Bob Shearer for much of the season, I had travelled to many different parts of Great Britain and Ireland as well as to France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland before arriving at what was to have, initially, been my final event of the season in Birmingham in early September, the W.D and H.O Wills Open.

Shearer had not played well for much of the season and had failed to get starts in the late season events so I had been free to pursue other options in an attempt to extend my time in Europe.

Not one to ignore potential opportunities I was aware that Australia’s Billy Dunk had been invited to play the John Player Classic at Turnberry and the Dunlop Masters in Wales and had written to him (snail mail) earlier in the year in the hope that I might be able to have his bag for those two events.

In mid-August I received advice from Dunk confirming my involvement in the two events thus ensuring that my time in Europe would be extended until early October at least.

The week before Birmingham I had caddied, in the absence of his regular caddie and for the first time, for Bob Charles in the Double-Diamond teams event at the Princes Golf Club near Deal in Kent and afterwards he asked whether I would be available to caddy for him in two practice rounds a week ahead of the John Player Classic as he had to head off for a few days just before the event.

My end of season schedule was, therefore, building nicely but it was to build even further and in the most dramatic of ways in the week ahead.

Following Birmingham, the South African golfer, Dales Hayes, loaned me his car while he headed back to South Africa, my side of the deal being to get it to him at Turnberry more than two weeks later. Things were indeed falling into place as I enjoyed the sporty Vauxhall Firenza over the two weeks and arrived at Turnberry the week prior to the John Player Classic.

The stunning Turnberry – a few good things happened there that week – Getty Images

I spent a couple of days caddying for Charles in practice rounds and while there ran into Australian Graham Marsh who I had met in New Zealand although I couldn’t say I knew him well.

I had known him well enough, however, to write to him in Japan earlier in the year to investigate any opportunity of caddying for him at the Piccadilly World Match Play Championship in mid-October to which he had been invited as a rising star and as the winner of the Scottish Open in June.

On asking Graham if he had received my letter he said yes but that the guy from St Andrews who had caddied for him in his Scottish Open win three months earlier would be with him at Turnberry and at the Dunlop Masters and the World Match Play. I figured that would be the case but that it had been worth the inquiry anyway.

Marsh, too, was at Turnberry well ahead of the John Player Classic as he had business to attend to in Southern France for a few days ahead of the tournament and wanted to get in a couple of practice rounds before heading off. He asked if I wanted to work those rounds to which I, of course, said yes.

I began to finalise my plans for heading home to New Zealand after the Dunlop Masters but you can imagine my delight when, on Marsh’s return from France, he advised he had received word from his Scottish caddie that he was unable to make the John Player and the following two events were in doubt because of an illness to his wife.

Graham found me at Turnberry and asked if I was still available for the World Match Play. I was beside myself as the event at Wentworth was one of the great events of the season and the opportunity to caddy in my first season in Britain in a field where only eight of the world’s best players were involved was almost too good to be true.

The opportunity also existed to caddy for Graham at Turnberry and in Wales and, on reflection, I probably should have but felt an obligation to stick to the arrangement to caddy for Dunk and so organised for my friend, Lee ( General) Wilkins, who had been on the bag of the highly successful Peter Oosterhuis in recent seasons, to work the two events for Marsh prior to Wentworth.

Dunk, who rarely played in Europe, performed below his best in the two events, perhaps not helped by me leaving his umbrella in the pro shop ahead of one of the rounds at Turnberry. Dunk was capable of getting fired up at the best of times but when a huge rainstorm hit on the 17th hole that day and he asked for his umbrella I was looking for a rock to crawl under.

In Dunk’s defence, however, it was my blunder and overall he was good to work for. He was a brilliant iron player and never really showed the world just how good he was. He won twice in Japan and countless titles in Australia and New Zealand but he did not enjoy travelling and so seldom did.

And, so, it was on to Wentworth and the chance to caddy in a dream event. Compared to other events we were well looked after by the tournament. Beautiful jackets were provided to each caddie in addition to a per diem in addition to whatever our respective players chose to pay us.

Access to the clubhouse in Britain in those days was never available in regular tour events but in this event not only were we allowed in the clubhouse but to eat the table of our bosses.

Graham faced the Masters Champion that year, Tommy Aaron, in the first round and won comfortably.

His opponent in round two was the Open Champion that year, Tom Weiskopf, and despite losing a ball up a tree early in his 36 hole match, Marsh would go on to win 4&3 and had therefore made the final where he would face four time winner, Gary Player, who had accounted for Johnny Miller in their semi final match.

The semi-final against Weiskopf

For me as a just turned 20-year old it was almost surreal as I headed down the practice fairway on the Saturday morning to fox balls for Marsh. I saw a television crew coming down the fairway towards me.

I could not work out why but as I picked up the balls (yes in those days we had to fox the balls ourselves), it soon became apparent they wanted to have a chat with me which was the beginning of a day like no other I had experienced to that point and since.

The match was tight all the way. All square through 18 holes, a still tied through 27 although Player grabbed a two-hole advantage with four to play. It seemed all over but Marsh birdied the 33rd and when Player three putted the 34th, the contest was set to go to the wire.

As the pair stood on the 35th tee I was standing a little below Graham and noticed that Player was ahead of the markers. It was totally inadvertent but Graham had noticed it also and as Player was getting set over the ball he advised his opponent.

Player was clearly not impressed but when he lost the hole to a birdie and went one done with one to play he was even less so.

As the players walked from the green, Player shook his finger at Graham and said; “Man I’ve got to tell you I teed my ball up in exactly the same place as you back there on the tee but as far as I am concerned I don’t worry about petty things like inches so we’ll forget the whole thing.”

Rather than me explain that incident further and how Player managed to get himself out of jail and win at the 4th extra hole, the longest final in the history of the event, the video below highlights how it all unfolded and Player’s amazing tenacity and grit under pressure.

Despite the agonising loss, this was an unforgettable day and experience for me and brought to a close my first year on the European Tour.

Those final few weeks had provided the incentive to return in 1974.

 

The 36th hole