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  • Alistair Tait

When Bradshaw bottled The Open

The entire island of Ireland celebrated Shane Lowry’s Open Championship victory at Royal Portrush two years ago. Quite right too. He became just the fifth golfer from the Emerald Isle to become champion golfer of the year, that he did so on home soil added greatly to the occasion.

Lowry might have been the sixth Irishman to win if Harry Bradshaw hadn’t been involved in one of the weirdest incidents ever to take place in major championship golf.

Bradshaw lost the 1949 Open Championship at Royal St George’s in a 36-hole playoff to Bobby Locke. (Thirty-six holes? What were they thinking back then?) He might have been outright winner if not for an extraordinary situation in the second round.

After an opening 68, one behind Jimmy Adams, Bradshaw was going along nicely when he cut his drive at the fifth hole. When he arrived at his ball, he found it in a broken bottle.

The Irishman had been disqualified for playing a wrong ball in a previous tournament. He thought he might suffer the same fate if he took relief.

The Open was very different in those days. There were no walking rules officials with each group as has been the norm in modern Opens (although I hear that will not be the case this year because of Covid-19 restrictions). With no referee near at hand, Bradshaw closed his eyes and swung at the ball. Glass flew everywhere and the ball only moved about 25 yards. He made a double bogey six on the hole and went on to shoot 77 to fall five shots behind 36-hole leader Sam King.

Whether the incident unnerved him and led to his 77 is a matter for conjecture. It is certainly at odds with his other scores in that Open. He returned further rounds of 68 and 70 to tie with Locke on 283 and get into the playoff, which he lost by 12 shots.

No championship, especially The Open, should be decided on the basis of haste. Yet the Irishman did not want to hold up play by asking for a ruling.

And if he’d summoned a rules official? According to the R&A website:

“He was entitled to relief but the wording at the time was ambiguous.”

Given that ambiguity surrounding then Rule 24, Obstructions (Now. Rule 15), whether an official would have ruled in his favour is also a matter of conjecture. Writing in Golf: A Celebration of 100 years of the Rules of Play, former Royal and Ancient Golf Club Rules Secretary John Glover attests to the lack of clarity surrounding Rule 24-1 in 1949. He writes:

“The problem was, what to do? The Rules at the time were not clear on the distinction between ‘moveable’ and ‘immoveable’ obstructions and there was some doubt as to whether the ball was unplayable given that Bradshaw might have been able to ‘dislodge it into a playable position.’ Today, of course, the Rules are clear and Bradshaw would have been in no doubt that he could obtain free relief from the bottle.”

We’d like to think any rules officials would have looked at the situation, brought equity into play, allowed the Irishman a free drop, and Bradshaw would have gone on to become the second Irishman to win The Open just two years after Fred Daly's victory at Royal Liverpool. We can’t be sure of that considering Royal St George’s was the scene of one of the biggest rules travesties ever.

Equity didn’t come into play when Mark Roe was disqualified after he and Jesper Parnevik failed to swap score cards before the third round of the 2003 Open Championship. A referee, an official observer and an official scorer could attest to every shot Roe played that round, yet he had to walk because of a clerical error. It was, and still is, ridiculous.

Bradshaw may have let another factor come between himself and Open glory that year: integrity. As Glover adds:

“Bradshaw, a delightfully quick player, decided to play the ball, perhaps because he believed in the basic principle that a ‘ball shall be played as it lies.’”

#JustSaying: “Irishman Harry Bradshaw was the only real ‘looker’ at the golf ball I ever came across. He is the only successful putter … who has had the confidence and the nerve to hit the ball, and hit it very accurately too, and then just listen for the rattle of the ball in the can.” Sir Henry Cotton

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