Simon Owen tees off in the playoff against England’s Peter Oosterhuis 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.
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.