Remembering JB Carr - the finest amateur of his generation

Gene Sarazan once said: ‘If JB had been an American we’d have made him president’

If the answer to the question is "A Green Jacket" then the question must relate to Augusta National. To wear that legendary green jacket you either need to be a member of the club or have won the Masters.

Either way your jacket must not leave the hallowed confines of Augusta National - although the winner of the Masters is allowed take it away for the year in which he is the reigning champion.

There are three exceptions to the rule. When Gary Player won the first of his three Masters titles he took his back to South Africa where it still resides. Then there is the jacket won by the 1938 winner Henry Picard which graces his home club in Ohio. The third has pride of place in a special room in the clubhouse of Sutton Golf Club in north County Dublin.

It sits in the JB Carr Room, which celebrates the achievements a man who in his time was hailed as one of the finest golfers in the world - Joe Carr, or as he was known to all and sundry " JB".

And it is there with the blessing of the Augusta National Golf Club, undoubtedly in no small way due to the great relationship JB had with Augusta’s founder the legendary Bobby Jones but also with America in general. Another of golf’s legendary figures Gene Sarazan once said “If JB had been an American we would have made him the president”.

His record is phenomenal. And it must be emphasised that he achieved all he did as an amateur, combining golf with a demanding business career

JB was the first Irish golfer to play in the Masters. The year was 1967 .He was a guest of the club and was accommodated in the famous Crow’s Nest in the clubhouse. Such was the esteem he was held in he was given the honour of playing with defending champion Jack Nicklaus. JB shot 76, 74 to make the cut. Jack Nicklaus failed to make the cut.

Hall of fame

He was invited back the next year when he was accommodated in the famous Eisenhower Cabin again as a guest of the club. This time he was drawn to play with Arnold Palmer. With rounds of 75 and 73 he again made the cut. Arnie failed to do so.

The story has it that club chairman Cliff Roberts said that they while thinking of inviting JB back the following year they wondered who, after the fate of Nicklaus and Palmer would want play with him. They did invite him back and paired him with another golfing legend Sam Snead. In the event neither of them made the cut. JB did however become a member of Augusta national - hence the green blazer that now resides in Sutton.

Indicative of his place in the pantheon of world golf, JB was inducted into golf’s hall of fame in 2007, sadly five years after his death. Fittingly it was his friend Jack Nicklaus that delivered the speech inducting JB into the hall of fame.

American golf writer George Peper put the honour into perspective when he said “Since that first shepherd struck that first pebble on the links, my guess is that the total number of souls that have attempted this crazy, fascinating, frustrating game is around one billion. One billion golfers . . . and how many of them made the hall of fame? One hundred and twenty.”

That honour was well deserved. His record is phenomenal. And it must be emphasised that he achieved all he did as an amateur, combining golf with a demanding business career. Undoubtedly the highlights of his golfing successes are his three British Amateur victories at Hoylake (1953), St Andrews (1958) and Royal Portrush (1960).

In all he won 40 major amateur golf titles in Ireland and the UK. He played for Ireland 157 times and was involved in the Walker Cup as player or manager on 11 occasions.

It is no small achievement to be normal, balanced, modest and kind in private, when multitudes worship in public. It is exceedingly rare therefore to find a man whose qualities as an individual have never been impaired by his fame as a golfer"

He also managed to lead his club Sutton to an unparalleled dominance of club golf in Ireland when they won 28 All Ireland and Leinster pennants in a 17 year period. At one time during this period this nine hole club provided four members of the Irish international team.

He won many individual honours including the Bob Jones Award which is the highest honour that can be bestowed by the USGA. In 1990 he became captain of the R&A, the first Irishman ever to hold this office.

Beloved citizen

Perhaps JB was best summed up in a piece published in The Irish Times many years ago. The author was Pat Ward Thomas of the Guardian, who is considered by many to have been one of the finest golf writers ever. He wrote - "Of all the lovely places in the world where golf is played there are few to compare with Portrush when the blessing of summertime is upon it.

“Not only is the course a great examination of a golfer’s skill, but it is a place of enchanting beauty . . . such was the setting on a golden day in Maytime when Joe Carr, perhaps the most famous and certainly not the least beloved citizen in all of Ireland, reached the peak of a remarkable career.

The occasion was the final of the Amateur Championship. Carr’s golf was magnificent and having led by six at lunch he stood on the ninth tee, 10 up with 10 to play. In the final of the oldest golf championship in the world, on a great links, and all in the beauty of a young summer day. If the fact was not obvious before, it was then on that day in Portrush, that Carr is the finest amateur of his generation.

“Human beings cannot be perfect all the time, although many in the public eye are often unreasonably expected to be so. It is hard therefore to criticise a famous player for having exactly the same faults as other people, without their opportunity of concealment.

“It is difficult to retain a sense of proportion when adulation, in the modern exaggerated forms, is heaped upon one; it is no small achievement to be normal, balanced, modest and kind in private, when multitudes worship in public. It is exceedingly rare therefore to find a man whose qualities as an individual have never been impaired by his fame as a golfer. Such a man is Joe Carr.”

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