Tom Craddock - great player and supreme gentleman

 

In a special ceremony in their clubhouse last July, Mullingar GC dedicated this year's Scratch Trophy to Tom Craddock, by way of honouring his wonderful loyalty to the event over a period of 30 years. Though he travelled to the function with his wife Nola, Tom was surprised, even embarrassed, that the club should have considered him worthy of such a thing.

His humility touched all of us who were present for what proved to be his last appearance at such a gathering. Yet it was no more than we might have expected from this most remarkable of sportsmen, who died yesterday after a long illness.

Born on December 16th 1931, Tom followed his brother Joe onto the greenkeeping staff at Malahide GC as a 16-year-old. Though he started golf with a left-below-right, hurling grip, he made rapid progress in the game.

Through Joe's persistence, Tom agreed to adopt an orthodox grip and within a few years, was playing off scratch as a member of the Irish Artisans' Association. With their own handicapping system at that time, artisans were precluded from strokeplay events under the auspices of the GUI. So Tom's competitive opportunities were quite limited.

In fact he was still using borrowed clubs when, in September 1951, he won the Leinster Artisans' Championship. Then, having moved to the greenkeeping staff at Sutton, he gained the breakthrough of being accepted into the 1954 Irish Amateur Open at Royal Dublin, where he reached the semi-finals.

The Irish selectors were so impressed that they made him a nontravelling reserve on the international team. A year later, when he was on the greenkeeping staff at Howth, he gained the distinction of becoming the first artisan to play amateur golf for Ireland.

After an outstanding performance in the Home Internationals at Royal Birkdale, Malahide made him an honorary member, then an honorary life member of the club. And his new status meant he was eligible for all GUI competitions.

By 1957, he had left greenkeeping and gone into the insurance business. Towards the end of the decade, he had become established as one of the country's leading players, winning the Irish Amateur Open in 1958 before going on to gain a marvellous, 38th hole victory over Joe Carr in a classic final to the 1959 Irish Close at Portmarnock. He also won the East of Ireland on three occasions - 1959, 1965 and 1966 - and the prestigious Lytham Trophy in 1969.

An international from 1955 to 1970, during which time he played 91 matches, he gained somewhat belated Walker Cup honours in 1967 and 1969. He also contributed to Ireland's first European Team Championship triumph in 1965, yet these achievements never deflected from his loyalty to Malahide.

His most memorable victory in a club context, came at Royal Dublin on May 8th, 1959, when Malahide faced Sutton in the Leinster Final of the Irish Senior Cup. In the top match, Craddock, as the reigning Irish Open champion, faced Carr, the reigning British Amateur champion.

In the event, after driving out of bounds at the long 11th, Craddock went four down. But he responded magnificently by sinking a 10-footer for a winning birdie two at the 12th. And while covering the last seven holes in three under fours, he also won the 13th, 14th, 16th, 17th and 18th for a two-hole victory. Small matter that Sutton happened to win the match overall.

Looking at his career, it is important to note the limited nature of his competitive activities when he was at the peak of his formidable powers. For instance, he made only one appearance in the South of Ireland Championship, losing in the quarter-finals to Pat Mulcare; he competed in the West of Ireland seven times and never played in the North of Ireland.

Meanwhile, the lateness of his Walker Cup recognition could be partially explained by the fact that he played only twice in the British Amateur, when it was at Royal Portrush in 1960 and at Royal Co Down 10 years later. Quite simply he had neither the time nor the money to go further afield.

In recent years, he continued to make a significant contribution to the Irish game as a golf-course architect in partnership with Pat Ruddy, designing such outstanding layouts as Druids Glen and the Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin.

Christy O'Connor once remarked: "What a wonderful swing Tom has. Any aspiring champion should certainly take a look at his flowing, easy backswing and really classy follow-through." Sadly, such observations must now remain the stuff of memory.

We extend our sympathy to his beloved Nola, his son Christopher and to his brothers Joe, Mick and Paddy and sisters Kathleen and May. A great player and a supreme gentleman has gone from our midst. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.