Everyone of a certain age has a Brian Barnes tale. One well-repeated one is when he marked his ball with a beer can on the 18th green of the 1982 Scottish Professional Championship before putting out for the win.
Barnes is the archetypal larger-than-life character. He was also a sublime talent who could go on ridiculous runs of scoring and, on his day, was a match for anyone.
He played on six Ryder Cup teams but it was the 1975 matches for which he will be best remembered.
What do you remember of your debut in 1969?
The one thing that I remember above everything else is walking off the 18th green, after losing in the singles, and Eric Brown telling me I had 20 minutes before I went out again against Mike Hill.
I played like an idiot and lost again. Most of the teams always lost and that was the only situation I had a chance of winning so I always wonder if I had more experience, could I have won, and could I have made a difference.
What about the famous concession of Nicklaus?
I remember Tony Jacklin and Jack walking off the 18th and Jack saying ‘you’ve just won the Open Championship, I wasn’t going to give you the opportunity of missing that putt.’ It needed a very special man to not give Tony the opportunity to miss. Had he missed, the Open Championship win (of a few weeks earlier a few miles up the north-west coast at Lytham) would have meant nothing.
Not only is Jack the greatest golfer who has ever lived, he is also the greatest thinker and he had the presence of mind to do the right thing.
Is it true that Eric Brown told the players not to look for the American balls?
Eric was a Scotsman and, as far as he was concerned, you win at all costs. He was a good captain but was from the old school. He might well have done but he never said it to me.
How dispiriting was it to always play on losing teams?
There was pride in your own ability. You knew full well that, at the end of the three days, you were going to lose. The most important thing was to go out and try and beat the so-called gods of golf.
I have always maintained that you had to play your own game. I would never worry about the rest of the team while I was out there playing. I hated to be in a situation where the rest of the team would come out and watch me. I would tell them to piss off. I didn’t need them to give me the extra oomph.
Who was the best partner you played with?
Bernard Gallacher and I played well together – he had a wonderful short game, was a great putter and iron player and a rubbish driver.
He will be the first to admit it. He would always insist that I drove off the 1st tee and we would always be in the first match (in the series) so I was the poor little sod who had to go and hit the first shot of the whole thing.
We got on very well together and have known each other for years. He was a lousy driver of the ball but he knew that I was strong enough to get him out of trouble. Because of that he didn’t get me into trouble.
What were you like as a partner?
As far as I was concerned it was a way to get round the golf course and you chatted to people. Bernie was a little bit more intense which is why he finished as a Ryder Cup captain.
Would you have liked to have been offered the captaincy?
It would have been nice but they decided to pick other people and they have been proved right. Every captain they have chosen has been great.
Tony put everybody in the position they are now with the first-class flights, clothing and the whole damn shooting match.
You used to feel like a poor relation. The Americans would turn up with leather bags and cashmere sweaters and we would have canvas bags and ordinary wool sweaters.
So you would feel two down before you got on the 1st tee.
What do you remember of your clashes with Nicklaus in 1975?
I suppose the only reason it is so famous is that we had no bloody chance of beating the Americans. Jack and I had known each other for many years prior to that so when it came to the Ryder Cup Arnold Palmer went to Bernard Hunt and asked who we had who might give Jack a bit of a game.
Bernard knew me well enough and that I had played quite a bit with Jack so I wouldn’t be quite so in awe of him. We played the first round and did nothing but talk about fishing all the way round and, as luck would have it, I beat him 4&2.
And your rematch was then decided by the captains?
I went into the press tent and I was very surprised with all the hullabaloo.
One of the last questions I was asked was: “What chance would you have of beating him this afternoon?”
And I remember saying: “Lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice.”
Unbeknown to me Jack had gone to Arnold and said we’ve only got one point to win so there’s only one match that they want to watch which would be a rematch of our morning.
Arnold went to Bernard and they agreed to change the pairings and that was the only time this had happened.
We walked on to the 1st tee and Jack said: “Well done this morning, Barnesy, but there ain’t no way you’re going to beat me this afternoon.”
And you did…
He birdied the first two holes and I thought I was in for an early bath. Plus I was knackered as this was the sixth match in a few days. But I managed to turn things around and I beat him 2&1.
In the evening Arnold, in his speech, joked that he didn’t realise the Americans were playing against 13 people because Jack had joined the British side.
Brian Barnes’ Ryder Cup career
Ryder Cup appearances: 6 (1969, 71, 73, 75, 77, 79)
This interview originally appeared in National Club Golfer magazine in 2012 and has been repurposed for online. Brian Barnes died on September 9, 2019.
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