The other day, I came across an internet page devoted to “Golf’s Greatest Characters.” There were different interpretations of the word “character” but suffice to say that some of the lists gave pride of place to players’ golf, while others set more store by eccentricity. In the case of the latter, John Daly came out on top, which was fair enough.
Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead and Tiger Woods featured on all the main lists, as did Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Tommy Bolt, Bobby Jones, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros. Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter were two more to pop up, with Poulter finding a niche among the eccentrics. Meanwhile, when South Africa’s Simon Hobday died in 2017, Grant Winter, the well-known South African scribe, described him as “perhaps the greatest character the game has ever seen.” Though Hobday’s practical jokes were not always the most tasteful, his spur-of-the-moment humour could be delightful. Winter it was who told the story of the day Hobday was done for speeding. As the police caught up with him, one of the officers greeted his victim with the words, “ ... dammit, I’ve been waiting all day for someone like you.”
To which Hobday replied, “I’m sorry, but I got here as fast as I could.”
Now for something that is missing from the above lists, at least from the ones I found. There was not a woman golfer in sight – and that though none of the sites in question specified that they were purely the preserve of the men.
So why, in this 21st century, when the media are the first to seize upon the lingering misogynistic ways of some of our golf clubs, have the list-makers not included such as Babe Zaharias, JoAnne Carner, Catherine Lacoste and Dame Laura Davies?
To begin with “the Babe,” as Zaharias was known, she bagged two gold medals for track and field at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. That done, she moved on to golf where she amassed 10 LPGA majors. Meanwhile, to give a couple of examples of her extrovert ways, she startled a conservative corps of East Lothian golfers when she arrived on the first tee at Gullane by vaulting the fence. On much the same tack, she once caused the implacable Mickey Wright to raise her eyebrows as she removed her petticoat/slip in mid-fairway and as casually as another might shed a waterproof jacket. Wright, who died last year, was embarrassed on Zaharias’s behalf whilst noting that the lady herself was cheerfully oblivious to how her behaviour – it included a barrage of bad language – was going down.
Going back to John Daly on the list favouring eccentrics, was he really that much more of a character in his hey-day than the UK’s Gloria Minoprio? She reduced her opponents to quivering wrecks by appearing on the first tee in the 1933 English Amateur championship at Westward Ho! links looking like a stage demon and armed with but a single club.
Carner is not unlike Lacoste. Both are great-hearted souls who, in their hey-day, were better known for a level of confidence which was off the charts. Carner, after she won the 1969 Burdines Invitational while still an amateur, was bold enough to tell the press that she could get together any team of amateurs and whip any side of professionals. Lacoste matched that comment when she was on her way to adding the ’69 US Amateur to the US Open she won in 1967. At a time when she was three up, she turned to the USGA official refereeing the match with a question which was not exactly allied to the rules of golf. “When I win, how are you going to ship the trophy to France?”
In contrast, Davies has been a similar big-hitter of a character but without giving offence along the way. Yet where necessary, she can give as good as she gets, and never more pertinently than at the 1990 Solheim Cup. It was after Dame Laura had hit an iron from the first tee that Rosie Jones, her opponent, asked if there was something wrong with her driver. “I won’t be needing my driver today,” came Davies’s casually delivered response. She beat the American to the tune of 3-and-2.
Also worth a mention is a character-packed exchange between Carner and Davies when, along with Ayako Okamoto, they were involved in a play-off for the 1987 US Open.
Davies was ahead after 16 holes and no heroics were required on her part down the 17th. However, after launching an almighty drive at that uphill and down dale par-5, she risked going for the green with her second. As her ball rolled on to the apron, Carner shrugged her shoulders and turned up the volume of that husky drawl of hers to yell a disbelieving, “Why?”
When the ripples of laughter from behind the ropes had subsided, Davies added further merriment to the occasion by replying, “No brains.” (Incidentally, it is worth noting at this point that Carner was involved in 10 playoffs on the LPGA tour and won every one of them.)
Going back to John Daly on the list favouring eccentrics, was he really that much more of a character in his hey-day than the UK’s Gloria Minoprio? She reduced her opponents to quivering wrecks by appearing on the first tee in the 1933 English Amateur championship at Westward Ho! links looking like a stage demon and armed with but a single club. (Her caddie was expected to dust it between shots.) One opponent, a Betty Sommerville, likened the match she lost to this ghostly soul to playing “a supernatural being.”
There is plenty more evidence available on all the above but, surely, there is enough already to encourage the list-makers to have a rethink.