Ireland has a rich golfing heritage, boasting world-famous courses and world-class players. Portrush, Portstewart and Portmarnock; McIlroy, McGinley, Maguire. But for every County Down there is a Corballis or Cruit Island, and for every Padraig Harrington there’s a Harry Bradshaw. Names you may not be familiar with, but names that deserve a chance in the limelight. So what better way to celebrate St Patrick’s Day than to highlight five of the best Irish golfing greats.
Joe Carr (1922 – 2004)
With Paddy Harrington recently being announced as entering the World Golf Hall of Fame, our thoughts drifted to trailblazer Carr, who was inducted in 2007. At 10-years old Carr was adopted by his aunt and uncle, who were stewards at Portmarnock, allowing the nipper to play heaps of golf on an outstanding track.
At 19, he won the East of Ireland Amateur, a trophy he would lift 11 more times, alongside 12 West of Ireland titles, six Irish Amateur Close Championships, four Irish Amateur Opens and three South of Ireland titles. Once he had completed Ireland, Carr moved on to Britain. He landed the British Amateur three times, and took the low amateur prize at The Open twice, including an eight place finish in 1960. He made the semi-finals of the US Amateur in 1961, made 11 Walker Cup appearances and was part of the first Irish team to win the European Amateur Team Championship in 1965, a feat the repeated two years later.
Carr was the first Irishman to play the Masters, the first Irishman to be a member at Augusta, the first Irishman to captain the R&A, the first Irishman in the Hall of Fame, and the Irishman and non-American to win the Bob Jones Award for ‘distinguished sportsmanship in golf’. That’s quite the record…
Fred Daly (1911 – 1990)
Born in Portrush, Daly started playing at Mahee Island, before moving to Lurgan and the City of Derry GC. After early forays and a win in the Ulster Professional Championship, he landed a fifth place finish at the Irish Open and was the top Irish player. After the War, Daly competed in various amateur events before turning professional and winning the Irish Open.
In 1947, he became the first Irishman to win the Open, at Hoylake, and went on to have a solid run in the event; finishing second to Henry Cotton in 1948, and tying for second in 1950, fourth in 1951 and third in 1952. He was also the first Irish player to win the News of the World Match Play, and the first Irish player to compete in the Ryder Cup.
Harry Bradshaw (1913 – 1990)
Golf runs in the Bradshaw genes. Dad Ned was a pro, as were all four brothers, which must have created some stern competition in the family foursomes. Harry won the Irish PGA 10 times, which ties Christy O’Conner Senior’s record at the event. He also added two Irish Opens, and teamed up with the aforementioned O’Conner to win the 1958 Canada Cup in Mexico. In that event the County Wicklow native finished runner-up in the singles portion of the championship, despite suffering nosebleeds due to the altitude.
The two-time Dunlop Masters Champion was a whisker away from becoming 1949 Champion Golfer of the Year, losing a playoff against Bobby Locke at Royal St George’s, but displayed laudable sportsmanship that will be long remembered. His drive came to rest against a broken beer bottle on the fifth hole, and while Bradshaw could well have argued for a free drop, he chose to play it as it lay. He could only advance it forward a short way and dropped a shot, which caused him to tie with Locke in what was then a record score at the Open.
Philomena Garvey (1926 – 2009)
Garvey paved the way for those to come when she became Ireland’s first ever professional women’s golfer. She landed a spectacular 15 Irish Women’s Amateur Close Championships – and it probably would have been more had she not missed some for Curtis Cup practice and injury.
She won the British Ladies Amateur in 1957 at Gleneagles, and was a finalist on four other occasions. She represented her nation 18 times at the Women’s Home Internationals, and suited up for Great Britain and Ireland seven times for the Curtis Cup. She withdrew from the event in 1958, when remarkably the Union Jack was chosen as the sole emblem for the GB & I team.
Jimmy Bruen (1920 – 1972)
I have a bit of a thing about Bruen, because I find his swing so enthralling. Straight inside and over the top, then back round with tremendous power. People still talk about the massive distances he could hit and the spots he would find - all the while wearing what look like driving gloves with worn holes in the palms.
Bruen was the first Irish winner of the Boys Amateur, claiming it on his second attempt, before going on to win the Irish Amateur Close at Ballybunion and finishing as the leading amateur in the Irish Open. He then got into the Walker Cup team, went ahead and defended his Irish Amateur Open at Castle GC, and then teed it up in his first Open Championship at St George’s. After an opening round of 70, which had him as joint leader, he carded an 80 which forced him to miss the cut. At St Andrews the following year, Bruen came tied 13th and was the leading amateur, despite taking a nine on the sixth hole in his final round.
After WWII, Bruen landed the Amateur Championship at Birkdale in 1937, becoming the first Irishman to win the prestigious event. His powerful swing broke three irons during the week! Due to work commitments, he was unable to play any other major events that season. He played in two more Walker Cups, but his progress was hampered due to a wrist injury. He finished his career with three achievements revered in the amateur ranks: Boys Amateur Champion, Amateur Champion, and low am at The Open.