Video: Peter Alliss recalls the sea, sand and girls at the Royal Portrush 1951 Open
GOLFERS usually knock a few shots off their tallies, if they can get away with it. The exceptional Peter Alliss adds some on – possibly because it makes for a better anecdote.
The legendary golf commentator played in The Open when it was last held at Royal Portrush, way back in 1951, missing the cut after the first two rounds - although he disputed that.
“I did a 69 in the first qualifying round, then went out for a night on the town and met a couple of girls on holiday – and only managed to do 86, so I didn’t qualify for the actual Championship.”
The records show that he did though; that 69 was actually in the second qualifying round, after a 76 in the first qualifying round at Portstewart, which comfortably earned him a place in the Open field.
He went on to shoot a 79 and then an 80, but stayed on to watch English compatriot Max Faulkner lift the claret jug.
Maybe the memories are truly fading; after all, that was 68 years ago and Alliss is 88 now.
“Well, it’s a long time ago,” he says with a smile. “I remember the majestic sand dunes and the waves and the sea; the town and the hospitality, the niceness of the people. It was all new to me, so it was like a holiday really. Lovely.”
Still he has better recall of that night out, recounting recently to another newspaper about one of his female companions on that night out with his older brother Percy Alexander, known as ‘Alec’: 'Doreen was her name, she was on holiday from Harpenden. We danced the night away and I took 84 or something the next day. It was worth it.'
Alliss was also more accurate about the different format back then: “What people don’t remember is that the tournament was 36 holes on Friday, 18 on Thursday, 18 on Wednesday – so, can you imagine playing 36 holes today on a Friday?
“They did that so the pros could get home to their various clubs and look after their members over the weekend. So it [the Open] wasn’t such a big deal until the 60s, I suppose.”
Alliss himself, if Wikipedia is to be believed, was exceptional from birth, weighing an astonishing 14lb 11oz.
The quintessential Englishman, the plummy ‘Voice of Golf’, was actually born in Berlin, where his father Percy was the pro at Wannsee Golf Club.
Peter himself turned pro at the age of 16, but failed to qualify for the 1947 Open at Hoylake, which was won by Portrush native Fred Daly.
Peter had two years of National Service with the RAF, ending just before the Open came to Northern Ireland: “I came out in the middle of June and came here in July.”
His career progressed well though, including eight Ryder Cup appearances, five top 10 finishes at the Open, and 20 significant professional tournament victories, with three British PGAs amongst those.
His greatest fame has come as a commentator, of course, but his decades of experience hinder rather than help when asked who he rates as the best Irish golfer ever:
“All my life you’ve had famous Irish golfers, going back to James Bruen - Jimmy Bruen – Fred Daly, Harry Bradshaw, Joe Carr, the great amateur, Philomena Garvey, she was a wonderful player… Norman Drew, the first man to play Walker Cup and Ryder Cup golf. I think Norman is still going strong, somewhere up near Bangor.
“Then we come up to the modern times of Padraig Harrington, Rory [McIlroy]. There’s always been an Irish flair for playing, a sort of loose swing, never mechanical, never textbook. They’ve always done their own thing and played with rhythm, panache, style – not one of them has had the same sort of swing, which is interesting.”
His hope this week is for sunshine, or at least some dry, calm days. He rebuffs the suggestion that McIlroy isn’t suited to links golf, but accepts that the conditions could be crucial to determining the winner:
“I don’t know – if they win, they suit you. If you don’t win every week, somebody writes [it doesn’t suit]. It all depends on the weather.
“It could be one of the greatest Championships – but if the weather turns foul on you, and it’s awful, 40 miles per hour winds and it’s pouring with rain, then it’s no fun for anybody.
“You’ve got to have a good knowledge of how to play the ball along the ground, instead of through the air.
“You’ve got to have to luck of the draw, you’ve got to be on form, everything has got to be right, you have to feel good, your tummy’s not got to be playing up, you’ve got to be in a comfortable bed.
“You’ve got to be at ease with yourself. Your caddy has to be on good form, your family has to be on good form, if you have one, the children have to be OK. So many things come into play, and if they all click and you’re playing well, you’ve got a chance of winning.”
The fans are the true winners, he reckons, suggesting that the organisers might have asked much more money for admission:
“I’m not a businessman but I’ve listened to a few, and I’m told the R & A put all the tickets up for sale in one go at the lower rate. Whether that meant they were quite nervous about sales would go – but all the tickets went in a week or so.
“So they might have waited, if they’d been brighter, cleverer, luckier, see how the first 20,000 tickets go, and then adjust the prices, if you’re being a bit greedy. Anyway, 200,000 people have bought tickets so it’s going to be a financial success, whichever way it goes – but could have been better.”
Peter Alliss’s life in golf is still going strong – and he won’t mind adding on more to his total of 88…