Brennie stuck in midsummer Mastermind chair


AGAINST THE ODDS:TRADITIONALLY, the midsummer Mastermind for the Minus Minusson Trophy was contested on the Tuesday closest to the summer solstice. By rights, this should have been June 19th but as the remnants of Trap’s battered and banjaxed army were retreating from the Eastern Front that day, Vinny Fitzpatrick’s suggestion they postpone the occasion for a week had been passed without demur.

The breather was welcome as Clontarf’s “Fab Four” had been on their last legs, and zloty, when they slipped back into Dublin.

Vinny felt they resembled Scott’s Antarctic party of 100 years ago, only somehow they made it out of their tent and scrambled back to safety. They were unkempt, whiskered and reeked of ingrained sweat and beer.

On his return, Vinny was tied to a morning shift on the 31 and had been tucked up in bed by 10 for five straight nights, with a milky cup of Horlick’s and the Racing Post.

Slowly, he’d come back to his old self, managing a soft-boiled egg on day one, four Superquinn sausages on day two, a mustard-encrusted toasted cheese sarnie on day three before a serious test, a single of curried chips for his tea on day four.

By the fifth day, he was ready to resume his long-standing relationship with Uncle Arthur. God, he’d missed the blighter.

While his Polish pals, Lech and Tyskie, had been fine companions, there was nothing like a pint of stout, with all its divine creaminess, to welcome you home.

For this year’s midsummer reunion, Brennie was in the Mastermind chair – one of the high stools by the bar – and his chosen specialist subject was the Irish Open golf championship, which was about to tee off in Royal Portrush. Inside two minutes, Brennie had to answer correctly a minimum of 12 questions put to him.

There was a few bob at stake plus the coveted Minus Minusson mug – in deference to the late Magnus Magnusson, the mastermind behind Mastermind.

Dial-A-Smile, the cheerless barman in Foley’s, was the timekeeper, which was appropriate as he knew exactly when last orders were, to the nano-second.

For a man who moved at a snail’s pace, Dial-A-Smile could whip a towel over a tap and disappear into the cellar in the blink of an eye, thought Vinny.

The stakes were modest, a tenner a man. If Brennie hit the magic number he won €30 which he put behind the bar. If he didn’t, it went behind the bar anyway. But this wasn’t about three tenners, it was about bagging bragging rights.

This year, Vinny was asking the questions. He had 18 in all – six each from himself, Fran and Macker. He’d scanned them beforehand and felt Brennie would foozle an answer or two. “Right, jockey’s up,” he said aloud, a little before 11pm when throats were nicely lubricated. “You count us down, Dial-A-Smile,” he shouted across to the deadpan barman.

“Three, two, one. Away you go,” cried Dial-A-Smile.

Vinny began. “Who was the first winner of the Irish Open?” Brennie paused, then answered. “George Duncan.”

“Correct,” said Vinny. “Who won the Irish Open when it was revived in 1975?”

“Christy junior,” said Brennie instantly. “Correct,” said Vinny.

Brennie kept his ball in play superbly for the next minute or so. He knew Hubert Green was the second American winner of the Open; that Philip Walton lost in a play-off to Ian Woosnam; and superbly named the three venues where Bernhard Langer won his Opens – Royal Dublin, Portmarnock and Mount Juliet.

He was quickly into double figures but then, as glory beckoned the twitches kicked in. He didn’t know that the 266 record low score was held jointly by Monty and Ross Fisher.

And his Minus Minusson cup was well and truly crocked when he forgot who Pádraig Harrington beat in a play-off to win in 2007 – “I’d have never got bleedin Bradley Dredge in a million years,” he whined.

When Dial-A-Smile bellowed “that’s it, time’s up,” Brennie was stuck on 11. Close but no Havana.

As he disconsolately ordered four pints, Brennie threw out a piece of paper on to the counter – it was list of Irish Open champions from 1927 to the present day.

Vinny scanned through the roll of honour. As he did, his brow became more furrowed than usual, and his great mandible-like jaw lowered its drawbridge.

Something had struck him as peculiar. He raised a pudgy hand.

“Lads, you know the way we all love the Ryder Cup? Well, I think we can thank the Irish Open as one of the reasons we do. Unless, I’m very much mistaken, you can’t have won one without the other.

“Look at the winners, look at them in the context of the Ryder Cup, and you’ll see what I mean,” he said excitedly.

The four friends studied the list of Irish Open winners before them. There was a silence before Macker spoke.

“The first thing I see is the year the Irish Open began, 1927. Isn’t that the same year the Ryder Cup was first played?” he asked.

Vinny pumped his friend on the shoulder. “Ten out of ten, Macker. Go on, there’s more,” he said.

“See Abe Mitchell, the winner in 1929. Isn’t he the lad atop the Ryder Cup?” queried Fran. “Now, you’re getting the hang of it,” beamed Vinny.

Brennie piped in. “Look at the Irish Open winners who were Ryder Cup captains. There are millions of them, Gallacher, Seve, James, Torrance, Langer, Woosie, Faldo, Monty and Olazabal this year.”

“There are others, if you scroll down further,” said Vinny. “Duncan, Charlie Whitcombe, Dai Rees, Eric Brown and Bernard Hunt were all captains too.

“Many of them had terrific Ryder Cup playing records, while Torrance in ’85 and Christy junior in ’89 were involved in final-day final-hole dramas.”

It didn’t end there. The lads hailed Harrington as a Ryder Cup regular and Irish Open winner too boot, and saluted Sergio Garcia, the winner in 1999, for flying the Spanish flag in the Ryder Cup just as Seve and Olazabal had before.

There was an honourable mention for Walton, the Ryder Cup hero of ’95, who fell a roll short in the Irish Open of 1989 to Woosie at the sun-scorched ‘Marnock.

Everywhere you looked there was a Ryder Cup connection with the Irish Open, even on the stars n’ stripes side as Ben Crenshaw, the ’76 Irish Open champion, had been the US captain at the Battle of Brookline in 1999.

Vinny was now in full flow. “Lads, if this trend continues, we could make a few bob this weekend by backing Paul McGinley or Graeme McDowell, both Ryder Cup-clinchers in the past, to come up trumps in Portrush.

“If not, Wee Rory will win before he goes on to do something magical in Medinah against the Yanks in September. There’s your three against the field. It’s an Open and shut case,” he grinned.

With that Vinny turned to the bar, only there was no one there. It was 11.35pm and Dial-A-Smile had vanished.

Bets of the week

1pt each-way Paul McGinley to be top British Irish player in Irish Open (28/1, Stan James)

2pts Tyrone to beat Donegal in Ulster SFC (5/4, Boylesports)

Vinny’s Bismarck

1pt Lay Italy to beat Germany in Euro 2012 semi-finals (7/2, Paddy Power, liability 3.5pts)

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