Brad al­ways made a splash

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - COMMENT - DER­MOT GILLEECE

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.

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