Ryder Cup takes trip down memory lane at Wentworth Club

10/24/2013 1:09:24 PM
Tony Jacklin, Michael Parkinson, Peter Alliss, Bernard Gallacher and George O'Grady  (EuropeanTour)
Tony Jacklin, Michael Parkinson, Peter Alliss, Bernard Gallacher and George O'Grady (EuropeanTour)

By John Whitbread

THE memories came flooding back from across more than half a century for Peter Alliss as Wentworth celebrated the 60th anniversary of staging the Ryder Cup, with a glittering gala night.

Alliss, now 82, is the sole living survivor of the Great Britain and Ireland team who, over two misty days in October 1953, battled bravely against a powerful United States line-up before  finally going down 6.5-5.5.

He was joined in a fascinating walk down memory lane by former Ryder Cup captains Tony Jacklin and Bernard Gallacher, plus the European Tour's Chief Executive George O'Grady.

And, under the astute promptings of arch interviewer Sir Michael Parkinson they kept a packed audience of members and guests enthralled with a host of intimate recollections and reflections on one of sports' most enduring and iconic contests.

Alliss recalled how the 1953 match on the famous West Course proved a big attraction for an austerity hit post war England, with excited crowds of 7-8,000 each day,  and how Wentworth  set a template for the future by being the first major golf event in Britain to have a tented village, complete with bank, post office and catering facilities.

Alliss, whose father Percy was also a Ryder Cup star, recalled how he and Bernard Hunt (who sadly died at his Woking home in August) had been brought into the side as young rookies following Great Britain's heavy defeat in America two years before.

He joked: "We had a selection match and 15 of us put 50p in the kitty and whoever managed to break 80 got in the team."

The Wentworth match was not one of the finest moments in Alliss's eight Ryder Cup appearances, he admitted. "We had a wonderful chance to win but I and my dear old chum Bernard  failed to finish the job off. We were both one up going to the 16th but Bernard ended up with a half and I went 5,7,6 to lose by one hole.

"I think I took it a lot worse than Bernard, who was a very stoical character."

One of the biggest cheers of the evening was reserved for Wentworth's favourite son , Bernard Gallacher, former Head professional and club captain, making his first public appearance since suffering a near fatal heart attack at a similar speaking engagement in Scotland.

"I feel incredibly lucky and truly humbled by the overwhelming support I have received during my recovery," he said before joining his fellow stars in producing insightful and candid views on a fascinating range of Ryder Cup topics.

They included how  the decision to expand  the team to include Europe helped save the matches when  lack of interest in America threatened to end them; and how the tide of fortune finally turned in Europe's favour.

Tony Jacklin, who began the transformation, explained how he had demanded his players should get the best of everything, including first class Concorde travel and top of the range cashmere sweaters.

"In previous years we had gone into the matches with more hopeful bravado than real confidence. The Americans always looked like movie stars, with an air of supreme self assurance, which often meant they went to the first tee already two up. We had to make our players feel like they were the stars they really were by making everything five star."

Jacklin also described how he persuaded Seve Ballesteros (described by Alliss as "a lovable genius but also a bit of a rascal") back in the fold after his controversial omission from the 1981 team.

The mistakes that Nick Faldo made in his losing captaincy; the way some players like Ian Poulter play well above themselves in the Ryder Cup and the chances of Rory McIlroy returning to top form were also covered before George O'Grady summed up the night declaring : It is a vital task of the European Tour to build and improve on the foundations set by these three great stars and many others. It is our heritage and our duty."