When nothing, not even darkness, got in my way

 

When I left home to compete in the 1958 British Amateur at St Andrews, Dor was expecting our son Gerry. And I remember feeling so confident at the time that I promised I'd give her a ring between the morning and afternoon rounds of the final.

The way things turned out, the baby didn't arrive until about a week later. We called him Gerald Andrew, the first name after my great friend Gerald Micklem and Andrew after the scene of my second Amateur win.

That was a time when I felt I couldn't be beaten. And it was all down to a decision I made the previous year. I won my first Amateur in 1953, but when I failed to win again over the next three years, I decided to take serious action. I would work so hard on the game that I would give myself a priceless edge.

So, if I was to think of magic moments, they would all be rolled up together into the year that allowed me to reach my golfing peak. That was 1957 when nothing, not even darkness, could stand between me and practice.

Sutton GC was basically my own back-yard. And for the hours when it simply wasn't possible to go out on the course, I had 2,000- watt floodlights beamed from my house, Suncroft, onto the second green. As a bonus, the club in- stalled a four-bay driving range, which I believe was the first of its kind in Ireland.

With those facilities, I can remember putting on a track-suit over my pyjamas and going out to sit on the railway gates outside my house, waiting for the sun to come up: we couldn't use the floodlights at that hour. Andy Doherty, who was in our business at the time, would set up 200 balls for me to hit, immediately it be- came light.

Then I would go for a run to Howth and by the time I came back, Andy would have gathered the balls, ready to be hit again. I would then attend to my work, though I had a great partner in Freddie McDonnell, who made things very easy for me.

In the afternoon, I would head for Royal Dublin and more practice. Then, after what we called high tea in those days, the lights would be switched on outside my house and I would practise some more.

Those were the times when all my work (in the clothing business) was tied into golf. For instance, I can recall being driven in a van to Galway where I would meet up with Willie Forken, who ran one of the big fashion houses there.

When I arrived, Willie would have the cases of samples brought in and he'd tell the girls: "Look at those samples and write an order. Joe and me will be back in about three and a half hours." And off we'd go to Galway Golf Club. And if the call happened to be in Sligo, myself and the customer would head for Rosses Point.

But in 1957, practice was what mattered most. And I loved every moment of it. Success at golf meant everything to me and if this is what it was going to take to realise my ambitions, I figured I might as well enjoy it.

It was unbelievable the lengths I went to. After analysing what it would take to win at St Andrews, I concluded that all I needed was to drive the ball fairly straight, hit good eight- or nine-iron shots and putt well. So, that's what I concentrated on.

In those days, Sutton Golf Club was a lot quieter than it is now, and I generally had the course to myself in the early morning. Any- way, I worked so hard with the eight and nine irons that I had to have them re-grooved by the time the Amateur came around.

I also practised at Portmarnock, and I can remember the secretary/manager, Commander Murray, being concerned that I wasn't leaving any room on the practice ground for the rest of the members. By the end of that year, I had myself convinced that I couldn't be beaten.

Of course I was to be beaten many times, but as we all know, confidence is the number one ingredient in golf. I don't think it was a coincidence that, apart from winning my second Amateur, I won the West and the East in 1958. And my form remained good the following year, when I went close to winning the Dunlop Masters at Portmarnock.

These days, I hate the sight of a practice ground. But I couldn't think of any place I liked better 41 years ago.