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LORAN SMITH COLUMN: British Open offers stories worth retelling

Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

SANDWICH, England -- A good story is always worth retelling, and the story of how Harry Bradshaw lost the Open Championship here in 1949 is one in which you could almost make the case that Harry, if he didn't invent it, gave sportsmanship an embracing that has never been equaled.

The short story version: Bradshaw's tee shot on the 5th hole in the second round came to rest in a broken bottle that had washed up from the sea. There were no officials to render a ruling, so Harry hit the ball from its lie, advancing it only about 15 yards. That led to a double bogey and an unnerving, which had Bradshaw posting a 77 and finishing in a tie after four rounds with Bobby Locke, who birdied the last two holes of the final round to force a playoff. In the 36-hole playoff, the South African Locke defeated Irishman Bradshaw, 68-67 to 71-72.

In those days, the Open Championship concluded on Saturday with 36 holes of play. There were no on-course communications, not even walkie-talkies. Had there been, Bradshaw would have been informed he could have had a free drop.

On a couple of trips to Ireland, I made it a point to play Portmarnock, near Dublin, and visit with Harry Bradshaw, the long-time professional. Bradshaw, a modest man, also lived modestly with an appreciation for life and the good things it offers. One day over a bottle of Guinness, he said:

--- "My philosophy of life is that if you play a bad shot, just smile," suggesting that a good shot will come along sooner or later.

--- "The whole thing of life, I always say, is to be nice and pleasant to everybody and to be thankful to God to have your health."

Our conversations were warm and intoxicating. In his late years, when the money for professionals kept escalating rapidly, he made an interesting response to the notion that if he had come along later, he could have enjoyed the financial spoils of golf's television era. "I don't think so," he said with a measured smile. "I'd rather go with the players I went with -- smaller money, nicer atmosphere. Life was very pleasant in those days."

That attitude prevailed when he lost the Open Championship to Locke.

He was never reluctant to speak about his misfortune. He had a que sera attitude that was refreshing. After Locke beat him in the playoff, they walked off the course, arm-in-arm, to the 19th hole for a Guinness.

When asked to recount the circumstance of his broken-bottle story, he smilingly obliged. After explaining that his tee shot was about four feet off the fairway, the ball coming to rest in the broken bottle, he allowed at least three groups of players to play through and made the decision that he had to play the ball as it lay. I can still hear him with his accent, describing the shot: "I had to turn me head away, and when I hit it, glass went in every direction."

That led to a six, but actually more damage resulted. "The effect it had on me (was significant). I three-putted the next two greens . . . it got me a bit jumpy, and I had to slow myself down. I knocked around in 77."

The conclusion was that it was meant to be. On the last hole in the final round, his putt for an eagle hung on the lip. "I remember the next week seeing it on Movietone News. I couldn't believe me eyes--to see half of the ball right over the cup. I could have blown it in."

Bradshaw always maintained he never lost a minute's sleep over his misfortune. "We walked in (the clubhouse), and Bobby said, 'My God, Harry, you wouldn't know which one of us won. You are smiling as if you won it.'"

Then Bradshaw made this classic comment: "Bobby, I'm delighted to be playing with you in this Open, and what other way could I take it but to come up smiling."