Ewen Murray pays an emotional tribute to the late Brian Barnes who, the Sky Sports presenter reveals, wasn't anything like his public persona
Ewen Murray knew Brian Barnes for the best part of 50 years. For the past two decades they were near neighbours. They travelled the world together, Barnes helped keep Murray involved in the game when his playing days were over and they would pop round to one another’s house for a coffee and a quick chinwag. Barnes died of lung cancer on September 9. He was 74.
It was a life certainly well lived – we all know about him marking his ball with a can of lager and beating Jack Nicklaus twice in a day, but that tells very little of the man Murray knew.
In his own words the Sky Sports commentator explains the impact that Barnes had on him…
“I first met Brian when I was 16 and I was still at school, I pre-qualified for a tournament and got drawn with Brian in the third round. That was a big thing for a teenager playing with this giant of a man in Barnesy, we hit it off a little bit and we then had the same manager in Derek Pillage.
“He managed a group of players called the Caledonian Lions which came about through the airline British Caledonian and we had a deal where we would fly for nothing and we had to do so many days a year in mainly Africa as well as South America, Texas and Hong Kong.
“We would play some exhibitions and there were 12 of us who included Tommy Horton, Ian Woosnam and Malcolm Gregson. We would be dispatched to deepest, darkest Africa, we would spend a lot of time together and Brian and I had similar interests like fly fishing.
“Over the years we travelled together, stayed in the same places and Brian was like the older brother that I never had. I was 17 when I went to Africa – Tommy Horton was the father figure and, if we ever got into any trouble, then Barnesy was the brother. We got up to a few tricks here and there.
“We met president Kaunda in around 1980, he was a wonderful man and he got Zambia their independence in 1964. He was a decent and keen golfer, a gentle person and he and Brian hit it off right away. They would call each other son and father.
Many years ago striding up the 7th fairway of the Zambian State House course with Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, then President of Zambia and the irrepressible Brian Barnes. Great days, golden memories. pic.twitter.com/nPGZonyH2w
— Ewen Murray (@ewenmurray77) September 10, 2019
“Brian was more of an introvert than an extrovert, the public saw him as someone different to what he was and he was actually quite a shy man. He was at his best when someone asked him questions and he could go wherever he wanted, he thoroughly enjoyed that. He had a great relationship with the press and he had a lot of time for the media. He told me as a young kid to remember that these guys are earning their living writing about you because you’re important enough to be written about so never not give them your time. He took that all the way through his life. He was wonderful with the press, if an interview was required then he would do it and it would take as long as the journalist wanted.
“Brian was complex, he wasn’t what everyone saw, he was actually quite a shy man and he was happy to just sit and listen. He didn’t need to be the star of the show but he was expected to be that on the course and he played that role very well. Knowing him as well as I did that wasn’t the case.
“When I lost my card in 1989 you had to be attached to a golf club so you could keep up your profile on the PGA as it was then, it was OK for the European Tour but if you wanted to teach, which I might well have wanted to do, then you had to be attached somewhere. Brian had just opened a club at West Chiltington with his father-in-law Max Faulkner and Barnesy said to me to come and be the assistant. I wouldn’t have to work but, if I wanted to give lessons there, then I could do that. We moved from Surrey and we bought a house that was 250 yards from Brian’s and, 12 years ago, we moved even nearer. I would spend a lot of time at the club with him, he was getting ready to play on the Champions Tour in the States so we played quite a bit together.
“He was never a great pitcher or chipper. Had he been able to chip like, say, a Padraig Harrington then he would have won multi majors. His driving was exceptional, his long irons the same and he was actually a very good putter. People thought he just hit it a long way, being a big, strong bloke, but his finesse with the putter was wonderful. But his wedges around the green and half shots were his weakness, everything else was 9/10.
I never saw Brian hit out at a shot ever. It was always a very deliberate, graceful motion and it was almost exactly the same tempo as Max. It was always within himself and there was 15-20 per cent left in the tank if he wanted it. Brian idolised Max as a golfer and as a life coach, Brian adored him as someone to go and speak to when he needed to and Max was first on the list. There was a likeness in the way and speed that they played.
“I was commentating when he won the Senior British Open at Portrush in 1995, he holed a 60-foot putt for eagle at the old 17th and it was extra special as Max was there, the scene of his Open win in 1951. Brian was such a great player, for two or three years he hardly played before becoming a senior, he would be out fishing and he was a great reader, but when time came he was that gifted that he didn’t have to go through getting back into it, he just teed it up and started again.
“With a stricter lifestyle and better pitching and chipping he would have won three or four majors. People talk about the Nicklaus wins but he believed that he had the talent to do what he did. He was one of the most underrated golfers that I’ve seen in my lifetime. These days, if he was dedicated, he would have made a fortune. The money was quite good on the Champions Tour when he won there in the mid ’90s, the first prizes were $300,000 and I think once he had made his money he then thought that will do me and I’ll go and have a quiet life.
“The doctor who was with him when he died a few days ago got him into a clinic to help with his drinking in 1993. His worst days were finishing on the main tour and waiting for the Champions Tour, I wouldn’t say he stopped drinking but he certainly had control of it. He stopped smoking as soon as he came back from playing in the States, he threw his cigarettes in the bin and never smoked again.
“I spoke to his doctor recently, we were all close as he used to come fishing with us and he told me that Brian had lung cancer, something that his wife, Hilary, had died of as well. It was all over in four weeks really. I saw Brian after he got the news and he was exactly the same Brian as I always knew.
“Brian had already moved from the family home after Hilary died to be nearer his children, Didi and Guy, which was half an hour away. The garden and house was just too big and he just wanted a smaller place. He adored the house and the memories and the garden that Hilary created.
“His wake a week on Monday will be at the old house, Hilary’s wake was there and the owners who bought it have said why not come here and have your father’s too which is a lovely thing to do.”