Walker Cup: When Tiger and the USA were taken down in ’95September, 2015
Twenty years ago, the former World No 1 was on Walker Cup duty at Royal Porthcawl. Mark Townsend picks up the story
In 1993 Great Britain & Ireland were thumped 19-5, the highs of Portmarnock two years previous to that a distant memory.
In 1995 the competition came to Wales for the first time and Tiger Woods was the star turn. Two thirds of the way through his hat-trick of US Amateur victories, he led a team expected to produce the same result as the vast majority of the previous matches.
Of the 34 meetings between the sides, GB&I had only prevailed three times.
But the home approach was different; they prepared at length to acquaint themselves with the links at Porthcawl and were given advice on what to eat and drink. And they had an unbreakable spirit which was helped along by the captain Clive Brown, a 43-year-old accountant from Gwynedd who hadn’t played in the matches but was an experienced Welsh international.
The omens looked good – his mother was vice-captain of the GB&I Curtis Cup team that won in 1986 and his grandfather was chairman of the PGA when GB&I won the Ryder Cup in 1957.
We spoke to Gordon Sherry (GS), the hosts’ star name after capturing the Amateur Championship earlier in the summer, and Jody Fanagan (JF) who was fresh from his victory over Padraig Harrington in the South of Ireland Championship.
In Wales they would be partners and Fanagan, now the managing director of the family funeral care business, would have the week of his life.
Tiger was only 19, he was a very nice young college kid
JF: There were a group of about 20 of us who played there twice before selection, then they picked eight of the team after the European Championships in Belgium. They then selected Gary Wolstenholme and myself three weeks before the matches.
It was more thorough than before, they put a lot of effort in and have continued that since.
GS: I remember the R&A flew Stephen Gallacher and myself down on our own the year before and there was plenty of practice before on the course.
Bernard Gallacher was there when we were for a bit of support and he passed on some Ryder Cup stories.
GS: Stevie and I played together at boys, youths, European Team Championships, Home Internationals and we were good pals so it was a no-brainer. We barely lost a game together. We actually lost both our foursomes at Porthcawl but we both won our singles which was important.
JF: Padraig and I played an awful lot together for Leinster, Ireland and GB&I – he was great, very straight off the tee and his short game was ridiculous. He was an extraordinary putter and could get up and down out of a trash can. I was pretty straight and had a good short game so we were difficult to beat.
GS: When you’re there you don’t feel it. It was a bit of a whirlwind but I wasn’t sitting there in the media tent reading press cuttings, I never really felt the pressure other than from myself.
I was first out in all four matches, Clive Brown decided that and I was happy with that as I was playing pretty well. He wanted to put his strongest man out and he felt that was me. The reality was that all 10 guys were capable of beating anyone else so it was almost irrelevant where you played and we talked about that.
I was very nervous on the 1st tee, hitting the first shot for GB&I, thankfully I had Stevie next to me cracking jokes and at one point I couldn’t stop giggling because of something he said to me.
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JF: Tiger was only 19, he was a very nice young college kid. We had a brief chat in the bar the day before the matches and he was a very nice fellow. Padraig and I played him and John Harris on the second day’s foursomes and when the gun went off there wasn’t much chat – it was raining so we were busy trying to keep ourselves dry, plus his partner didn’t play great and he was a bit grumpy.
After the matches finished Tiger didn’t come down for dinner as he wasn’t very well with some food poisoning. He had never played links golf before and it took him a while to get his head around it. Thank god he wasn’t ready for it but he was a good lad.
GS: I first met Tiger at the Eisenhower in 1994. He was clearly phenomenal and it was an honour to play with him even then. I was the Amateur champion at Augusta in 96 and he was the US Amateur champion, and a year later he won the Masters by the biggest winning margin.
His golf was amazing, now he is struggling a bit but he’s been doing it for a long time. Every great player has dips.
We never became ultra-pally but we had a laugh and would tell jokes. As the years went on and he got better he became protective and was almost like in Faldo mode in the attempt to win more Majors and he did. People were scared to go near him though I would still go and say hello if I saw him or have a coffee. He’s a nice guy.
GS: We had a great team spirit and we all thought we could win. We had four Scots – I met John Harris at the Masters and I’ve not seen him since 1995. He said there were two things about Porthcawl that he would never forget.
One was my hands, he said I had the softest hands around the greens. The other was on the practice ground when I pulled out a tartan hat with ginger hair attached to it and the four of us Scots had the same wigs on. He thought it was the best thing he had seen. It relaxed everyone, and golf is mental, and that was probably a factor of why we did so well.
JF: I don’t think anyone expected Padraig to go on and do what he did but he won every strokeplay event for two years in Ireland. He probably didn’t win as many matchplays as he might have done but his record over the four or five years was exceptional. That said his matchplay record for Ireland and Leinster was exceptional.
GS: If you asked me if he could win three Majors then I would say no chance. He used to say that he’d love to hit the ball like me. So I said what you need to do is go and see Bob Torrance. He toyed with the idea and I met him at Slaley Hall in 1997 and he said I need to change my swing and he connected with Bob at the Scottish Open.
Bob said if you’re prepared to work hard then we can do this. Padriag would admit that he was never a good ball striker and Bob transformed him to a world-class striker because of the information he gave him.
And he worked extremely hard, Bob had never seen anybody work as hard and the two things worked well.
His short game, putting and mentality was always so strong, he was an unbelievable competitor and you would wonder how he halved some holes with you.
Bob had a huge role in getting him to hit it properly, how to move his body and improve his leg action, his transition. Bob got him doing things he had never done before as he had never been taught this.
JF: Clive Brown was a great lad, very diligent and conscientious and he took his role seriously. It was a beautiful, sunny breezy day on the first day. Everyone remembers the second day for the rain but we won both days 7-5 and I think we would have won anyway even if the weather was OK.
That was the first year that we could bring our own caddies and I had my caddy who was a friend from my club.
It was the same with the other lads and that was very significant.
GS: Clive was a lovely guy, he gave us everything that we wanted and he managed us all pretty well and told us that we were all there on merit.
The pairings kind of looked after themselves; Mark Foster and David Howell, Stevie and I, Barclay Howard and Graham Rankin, and Jody and Padraig. They were all in place from the Home Internationals.
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