In honour of the 100th anniversary of the KLM Open, former Ryder Cup Captain Brian Huggett, who at 82 years old is the event’s oldest living champion, writes a very special Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
My first round in Holland? That was 60 years ago, back in the 1959 Dutch Open at Den Haag. It was a tremendous course, right by the seaside, and we played in the most horrendous conditions – I’d say we were up against 35-mile-an-hour winds, on a very narrow course. I was playing towards the end of the field and when I came to sign my card in the Scorer’s Hut I started to walk away when I was stopped. An official said to me ‘will you check your card again, please sir’. It was the first time I’d ever been to Holland, let alone played there, and although I was surprised, I quickly replied ‘yes, yes that’s correct, why have you asked me to check?’ He said, quite politely, ‘well you’ve seen the conditions today, are you sure you shot 69? Did you miss a hole? The nearest player to you made 73!’ That shows you how nice the Dutch are, he was so quick to offer me a second chance when he thought I’d made a mistake. In fact, I finished the day with a four-shot lead, so that was a fantastic way to start my Dutch Open career.
The Dutch Open was an event you really, really wanted to win. It was always played the week after The Open, and it was already 40 years old when I started playing in it, so it was already one of the longest running and most prestigious tournaments in Europe. It always attracted a very strong field, and I always relished the chance to go and play in Holland. I was really disappointed to miss out in ’61 but Brian Wilkes was a very good player and was by far the better player on the day.
When I won in 1962 I was delighted as it was my first international victory – but I felt so sorry for local player Gerry de Wit – as he’d come so close so many times. He had finished as a runner-up four times, and had lost two play-offs, before I pipped him to the title in ’62 at Hilversumsche, which was his home course. He had a very good reputation as he had won a lot of titles around Europe and was a lot older than I was; we were paired together going into the final round. There were a few thousand people watching and, quite fairly, there were rooting for Gerry as they really wanted him to get a Dutch title. I was the man standing in the way, and I shot 65 in the final round which meant poor Gerry finished second again. Although I was very happy, I couldn’t help but feel for the Dutch people who were so desperate for Gerry to win. There were no problems, though, and they couldn’t have been nicer to me. It was a very special win for me as Holland has such an array of wonderful courses – so many things still stick in the memory. I always remember Kennemer as its clubhouse had a thatched roof, something you never saw in England at the time, and Den Haag had a beautiful grand piano in the clubhouse. My best friend on Tour at the time, Donald Swaelens, spent more time on the piano than on the practice ground that week!
After that victory my career really took off. I finished tied third at The Open Championship in ’62 then came back to Holland in ’63 and almost defended my title. I was pretty consistent for the next 15 years, normally picking up a tournament a year, so it really got me off on the right track. I was very proud of the title and I’ve still got two Dutch trophies in my lounge, one from ’61 and one from ’63 when I finished as a runner-up. I’ve got bugger all from when I won it as they didn’t do trophies for the winner then, just cheques. It’ll make you laugh when you hear how much I won… Ready… £200. I put it straight in the bank and it stayed there for a while!
I always loved going to Holland – but I haven’t been back as much as I would have liked to since my playing days. The people were always so friendly, their English is far better than mine, and the food was always lovely, but I never went back as I always went to go and get some sun on my holidays. I was meant to come and attend a dinner this week in Amsterdam and sadly I can’t be there due to family reasons. I will be watching on television though – I watch the European Tour every week, whether live or we record it and watch it at night. I don’t miss a tournament, so I know that those commentators never mention me. Hopefully they’ll acknowledge me this week!
I love all the innovations they have at the KLM Open. It’s great to see them trying something different with the Beat The Pro, and I think it’s becoming something that is so unique and special to that event. I hear that there’s a 100-year-old woman taking part? I am really looking forward to that, it should be something really special, and it makes me feel young too!