Brad always made a splash
THE idea was that a biography of Harry Bradshaw would tie in nicely with the 30th anniversary of Ireland’s historic triumph in the 1958 Canada Cup in Mexico City. And now, with the passage of a further 30 years, the challenge of matching the spoken with the written word remains a source of fond reflection.
Given The Brad’s wonderful gift for storytelling, it was decided that a perfect tribute to his life in golf would be a written biography accompanied by audio tapes of the man himself, recounting highlights of his career. At around this time in 1988, however, I became aware of serious pitfalls.
Mind you, I should have been forewarned on hearing Harry’s account of how he and his partner, Christy O’Connor Snr, were met by the local mayor at Mexico City Airport, as the last team to arrive.
“Jesus Harry, I thought yez weren’t comin’,” was how The Brad quoted the mayor. Prompting his reply: “Well Mr Mayor, where I come from, we have a saying that the last shall be first.” Which, of course, fitted beautifully with what was to transpire later in the tournament.
Anyway, the problem came to a head while I was writing an account of The Brad’s play of the short fifth hole in the second round. I noted that information which I had established as fact for the written word had been given decidedly imaginative treatment for the tapes.
What turned out to be the shot of the tournament was a short-iron recovery from a shallow, fast-running stream below the green. One could picture The Brad, surrounded by a rapt audience at Portmarnock Golf Club, describing how, with water lapping around his ankles, he was about to play a daunting recovery when, as he said, “this Mexican opened a sluice gate at the top of the hill and I had to hit the ball before this huge flood came splashing down on me.”
Though it made for a marvellous yarn, the notion of such a happening in the middle of a tournament round seemed decidedly far-fetched to me. But when I suggested as much to Harry, he was clearly offended. “Ask Christy,” he said.
Which I did. Whereupon O’Connor, who had enormous respect for the older man, smiled and said gently: “I think Harry’s memory is playing tricks on him.” He went on: “Myself and The Brad were great old pals. They talk about modern players with magnificent short games: I’ll tell you Harry used to pitch the ball into the hole three or four times a round. On a regular basis.”
He went on: “I really enjoyed the [four] times we played together in the Canada Cup and obviously Mexico City was a particular thrill. But it was only when we arrived back at Shannon that we realised the impact of our performance in this country. We discovered we had done something very special.”
In the event, The Brad bowed to O’Connor’s recollection of the short fifth in Mexico City. As a consequence, his amended version of the story on the tapes was: “In the second round, I hit trouble at the fifth hole, just like at Sandwich in the 1949 British Open. This time it was a par three of about 215 yards. I played a four wood and thought it wasn’t a bad shot, the ball missed the green by six feet on the left, hit a slope and went down into this water.
“After myself and Christy had looked at the situation, I said, ‘Christy I’m going to play it.’ There were trees on the top of the hill between me and the green, but I saw an opening of about four or five feet. So, as I’m playing it, Christy turns his back and walks away as much as to say, ‘The best of luck to you, Brad.’
“Water splashed everywhere but the ball went through the opening and when I got up there, it was only four feet from the hole. And you know, I was so excited, I didn’t even try for the putt. It could have cost me anything.”
The other famous fifth in his competitive life, of course, also occurred in the second round when, instead of water, pieces of glass were flying everywhere after his ball had lodged in a broken bottle at Royal St George’s.
For the taping of Harry’s reminiscences, we created a sort of fireside chat environment at his home in Raheny, Dublin, where three special friends of his — Portmarnock’s centenary captain Eddie Butler, Irish international Bryan Malone, and another Portmarnock member, the late Vincent Nolan — participated essentially as prompters.
In this context, we were especially fortunate in having Harry’s son, Harry Jnr, a highly regarded sound-recordist in RTÉ, to set up and supervise the actual taping process.
And continuity for the whole thing was provided by Niall Tóibín, a great admirer of Harry’s who had done a splendid job as MC at Royal Dublin in July 1986, when Jack Nicklaus played Seve Ballesteros in the so-called Toyota Challenge of Champions.
Through Peter Webster and the late Paddy Wright, the book and tapes were sponsored by Smurfits and packaged in a plastic presentation case titled
And I recall Harry being especially pleased that his great friend Fred Daly was present at the launch during Irish Open week at Portmarnock in August 1988.
Then came a shock discovery regarding sales. While the book was exempt from VAT, the same didn’t apply to the tapes, which representatives of Easons informed me made for an awkward product, sales-wise. In fact, they initially declined to stock it.
Salvation, however, was at hand. Through the in-house persuasive powers of Harry Jnr, The Brad’s voice went soaring over the airwaves on
on RTÉ Radio 1. About 20 minutes later, my home phone rang. It was Easons, wondering how many copies I could get to them, poste-haste. Not for the first time, Gaybo had saved the day.
Back to the Canada Cup: On Tuesday, November 25, 1958, the triumphant duo arrived into Shannon Airport, where lights for television and newsreel cameras illuminated the gloom of a dull, winter’s morning. Only two years previously, Shannon had witnessed similar happenings when Ronnie Delany returned home in triumph from Melbourne, having secured an Olympic gold medal for Ireland in the 1,500 metres. Indeed by a remarkable coincidence, the plane from which Bradshaw and O’Connor disembarked, was the same Swissair craft which had carried Delany home in glory.
Hundreds of golfers spent the night at the airport, awaiting their heroes whom they cheered to the echo. O’Connor then travelled south to Killarney from where, incidentally, he moved as professional to Royal Dublin the following April, while The Brad flew on to Dublin where another large crowd had gathered. Throughout the production of
Harry proved to be an engaging, warm and generous man, who made a significantly greater contribution to Irish golf than his seven tournament wins would indicate. Even my disbelief regarding the Mexican sluice gate was accepted with typical grace. His fondness for people made him wonderfully receptive to the views of others. Even nit-picking scribes.