Four decades may have passed since The European Tour’s inaugural event but there is still a man patrolling the fairways this week who has good reason to remember the 1972 Open de España
Guy Hunt has been refereeing on The Tour for over 20 years, travelling around the world and working in the game he loves, and but for a missed six footer all those years ago it could have been his name on the trophy everyone is competing for this week.
Looking back at that first official event of the European Tour at Pals Golf Club, Hunt struck a solid four wood into the final green expecting to see it chase back to the flag, but a soft bounce left him a lengthy putt of some hundred feet with the title on the line.
“I was a long way from the hole,” recalled Hunt. “The first putt came up a little short, around six feet or so, and I had a feeling it might have been for the win but there was no way to tell.
“I didn’t hit it great, but it certainly wasn’t a bad putt. I walked off the green and was obviously not very happy about it.”
Upon recounting the experience all those years ago it was clear that he felt things could have been very different if that putt had gone in. As it turned out if he had made it he would have been in a play-off against eventual winner Antonio Garrido and Valentin Barrios, and that’s why Hunt sees it as an opportunity missed.
He said: “On reflection even though I went on to play Ryder Cup in 1975, it took me another five years to eventually win after that (Dunlop Masters, 1977
). It was still my best year on The Tour though as I finished second on the Order of Merit thanks to two seconds, a third and one other strong result.
“I think if I’d won earlier it would have made a difference to my career but you never know , some people win young nowadays and are never heard of again. But as I walked off the 18th green Brian Huggett came over and said: ‘You hit a good putt Guy. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t’.”
After a successful playing career Hunt went on to rediscover his love of coaching as a club professional and dabbled in course design before a fateful trip to The Open Championship in 1990 that would change his life.
While walking towards the PGA’s exhibition tent at St Andrews he was greeted by a very familiar face, that of Chief Referee John Paramor, who upon seeing Hunt made him an interesting offer.
“He came up to me and said, ‘You were a good player Guy, fancy doing some refereeing?' It was something I had never considered but with the Committee looking to get more ex-players involved it was a good opportunity.”
Hunt immediately began working on his new trade, travelling to events over the next few months to learn the rules of the game before eventually sitting, and passing, his R&A exam.
Since qualifying he has worked across all three Tours, and has enjoyed the unique atmosphere of each, a position that on top of his playing experience makes him ideally placed to assess how the game, and The European Tour, have developed in the last 40 years.
“The general demeanour of the players has always been good, golf breeds honest sportsmen, and thanks to this the game fits well with a lot of company marketing, which in turn has helped bring more money into the game,” explained Hunt. “When the European Tour started it gave players an opportunity to play full time, they no longer had to work at a club and coach. It made a huge difference.
“Ken Schofield (Executive Director of The European Tour from 1975 to 2005) was very important too, and deserves a lot of praise for where he has taken The Tour.”
Clearly Guy Hunt is a man well placed to appraise The European Tour both in the past and present, but he still loves his role as a referee and believes the players respond to calling upon someone who has been where they are now.
“As an ex-player they know that they will get an empathy and understanding from me which I think they appreciate,” he explained.
“Playing golf makes you very single minded but now I work as part of a team which is extremely rewarding. It’s a great experience that I’ve always really enjoyed.”