I was recently looking at a list compiled by Brian Keogh of the all-time top 100 Irish amateur golfers. Naturally this list is a very subjective one but it was based on successes in championships and the number of international caps received. It is a fascinating piece of work.
7 of the golfers mentioned in the top 100 had played much of their golf at my home club Little Island in Cork and interestingly for me, I had at one time or another over the years played golf with 6 of them. The one I didn’t play with was Redmond Simcox who had played with my Dad. What really interested me was that I knew well and had played with the top two Irish golfers. Second on the list was Jimmy Bruen from Cork and the top golfer was Joe Carr who played his golf at Sutton in Dublin and the nearby Portmarnock.
I am not going to go into their achievements here but what I do know is that whilst wonderful golf appeared to flow from them, they were two of the hardest workers at their games of all time. Both spent much more time on the practice ground than they did on the golf course. Both of them were also great examples of how to control the golf ball in flight.
I played just once with Jimmy Bruen but I knew him quite well as he and his wife Nell were friends of my parents. Jimmy ran his own insurance brokerage business in Cork and was a very quiet and unassuming man.
I remember when I was starting to play golf, getting a lesson from Jack Higgins the professional at Cork who was also Jimmy Bruen’s teacher when he was starting off. He told me about the hours that Jimmy spent working on his short game. Jack would give him a lesson in the morning and would go home for his lunch and he would leave Jimmy practicing away chipping and putting around the 18th green and when he returned Jimmy would still be chipping and putting and often for another few hours after that.
Everyone talks about Jimmy Bruen’s unique loopy swing and his incredible length but according to those who played with him it was his short game that was his greatest asset. The late Dick Lord who played much golf with Jimmy said he only saw him 3 putt once in all the times he played with him.
My little story about Jimmy Bruen happened one day when I was on the practice ground at Little Island hitting iron shots across to a stump of a tree that was then close to the 14th fairway. Jimmy was himself hitting a few shots that day and he wandered over when he was finished to chat with me. He said nothing for a while and then quietly he asked me what I was doing. Surprised by his question I said “I am hitting shots trying to get as close to the tree stump as possible”. He then asked “Are you hitting them all the same way?” “Yes” I agreed “that is what I am trying to do”.
He then gave me a valuable five minute lesson before walking away. He took out one of his own clubs, an 8 iron and said “When you have the chance to practice use the time well. He said there are at least four different ways that the golf ball can land close to the target and the shot you decide to hit should take into account the lay of the land and wind conditions.
“Let’s say there is trouble like a bunker on the right of the flag you might want to cut the second shot from left to right to keep it away from the bunker as it lands on the green” and he showed me how. Then he showed me how to draw the ball from right to left, if say the wind was coming from the left. He then showed me how to play a low shot into the wind and a high shot to get the ball to land softly.
Thanks for the lesson Jimmy. My problem is that I still can’t hit the straight ones!
Joe Carr was I think the correct choice to be 1 on the all-time list as he was an outstanding golfer for such a long time. He was also a great match player and very difficult to beat. He was a bit of a rascal too!
I played with him once in 1983 at Cork Golf Club, in a so called friendly four ball that naturally cost me money. We were playing the 4th hole where the River lee on the right is out of bounds. Joe hit it straight splash into the river. He took out another ball and said “that was really careless as I had no need to go within 50 yards of the river” and he proceeded to aim his next shot down the rough on the left of the hole and we watched as the ball cut back gently back onto the middle of the fairway. He hit a similar drive at the 5th where again the river was in play and in fact for the remainder of the round he just played a series of the most incredible shots just to show us what was possible. It was an amazing experience to play with him to watch him controlling the golf ball.
It was a great honour for Joe and for all his fellow Irish Golfers when he was invited as a guest to play as an amateur in The Masters at Augusta in 1967, especially when he was paired with the great Jack Nicklaus for the first two rounds. Joe made the cut for the final two rounds but surprisingly Jack didn’t.
The following year he was again invited back and was paired with Arnold Palmer and again Joe made the cut. This time it was Palmer who went home after two rounds. That Friday evening according to golf writer Dermot Gilleece, Joe recalled sitting with a group in the club house at Augusta with Clifford Roberts the notoriously autocratic chairman. “Well now”, Roberts said to those gathered “we’re thinking of inviting Carr back again next year but who in the name of God will play with him?” The following year he was invited back again and was paired with Sam Snead. This time neither of them made the cut!
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