59 years after GB&I’s last win over the USA in the Ryder Cup, Fergus Bisset looks back at an outstanding performance by Dai Rees and his team at Lindrick in 1957.
After a 10-year hiatus because of the Second World War, Rees was part of the GB&I team that suffered an 11-1 thrashing in Oregon in 1947. He played again in 1949, 51 and 53 before travelling to California in 1955 as playing captain. Although the match at Thunderbird Country Club resulted in another defeat for the British and Irish, there were glimmers of hope for the beaten side. Rees proved himself a dynamic and tenacious captain, his side had accrued more points than any before on U.S. soil and the majority of the 12 matches had been closely contested.
However, there were mutterings of discontent. Today the Ryder Cup is watched by hundreds of millions and, as such, is a profitable event. In the 1950s, (in fact right up to the mid 1980s,) the Cup was run at a loss. With the U.S. so dominant in terms of results, there were suggestions the contest was becoming an expensive damp squib and should be postponed until GB&I could field a side capable of giving the yanks a run for their money.
The 1957 Ryder Cup was in danger of not taking place at all until noted Sheffield industrialist Sir Stuart Goodwin stepped in with a personal donation of £10,000 to the PGA. One of the criteria for his beneficence was he was to have a say in the venue for the event. The choice was Lindrick, just outside Worksop to the west of Sheffield. Largely the selection was because of the proximity to Goodwin’s hometown, but it was also decided upon for strategic reasons. Most of the home side, and Dai Rees in particular, knew the Yorkshire track well, but, as it hadn’t been used before for major championships, the Americans would have no clue about it. Also, it would be possible to set the track up in the hosts’ favour. The plan was to get the fairways and greens firm and fast-running and to grow the rough through the putting surfaces. The Americans, used to softer targets, would find themselves bounding through the greens into tangled lies. The British would be wise to the threat and play to the conditions.
The Americans were blissfully unaware of the scheming on the other side of the Atlantic. Even if they’d known, they wouldn’t have been worried. They’d won the last seven Ryder Cups and, since the war, American players had won 35 of the 48 Majors contested, compared to just three by golfers from Britain and Ireland. So confident were they of retaining the Cup that the USPGA renewed the insurance coverage on the trophy before the team had even left for Britain.
The U.S. side that crossed the Atlantic early in the autumn of 1957 was, however, missing a few star names. Sam Snead and Ben Hogan were not selected because they hadn’t participated in enough counting USPGA events over a two-year period; Jimmy Demaret, Cary Middlecoff and Julius Boros were omitted because they hadn’t teed it up in the USPGA Championship. Later in October, Demaret was outspoken in his criticism of the American selection process. “I could have picked a better team blindfolded,” he said.
Still, the squad that travelled was not without experience. Doug Ford, Dick Mayer and Lionel Hebert were respective winners of the 1957 Masters, U.S. Open and USPGA Championship and five of the seven others had been, or would be, Major champions.
“But reputation is no guarantee of success,” said Bernard Darwin of the visiting side in The Times.
The British and Irish team contained just one Major champion – Max Faulkner who had won The Open of 1951. But the press at the time, and the players themselves, felt this was one of the strongest British and Irish teams to have been assembled for the biennial match.
From the Ryder Cup’s inception in 1927 until 1959, its format was four 36-hole foursomes matches on day one, then eight 36-hole singles contests on day two. With two thirds of the points available in the singles, the match could be neither won nor lost on day one. Having said that, in nine of the 11 previous matches the team leading after the foursomes had gone on to win overall. So getting off to a solid start was of significant importance.
U.S. captain Jack Burke Junior sent out what he believed to be his strongest pairing first – Masters champion Doug Ford and the on-form Dow Finsterwald.
Dai Rees also selected a formidable opening pairing in the shape of Peter Alliss and Bernard Hunt. The Englishmen had made their debuts in the 1953 Ryder Cup aged 22 and 23, but memories from that event were not good. Alliss had been one up with three to play in his singles match against Jim Turnesa, but he’d bogeyed the 16th, hit out-of-bounds on the 17th then missed a three-foot putt on the last for a half. Hunt had been one ahead of Dave Douglas on the 18th but then stumbled to a double bogey and halved the match. GB&I had lost overall by a single point.
So Hunt and Alliss were seeking redemption at Lindrick, and Rees gave them the opportunity to secure it. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out. The Englishmen walked straight into a firestorm. The Americans started with three consecutive threes, went out in 32 and were four up through 15 holes. The young Brits fought back valiantly to limit the deficit to just one at lunch, but Ford and Finsterwald put the pedal to the metal at the start of round two. Hunt and Alliss tried to hold onto their coattails, but that was the best they could do and they eventually lost by 2&1.