A couple of years ago I wrote a history of the Ryder Cup that was read by a total of 11 people, if you count my editor and my wife. Like most people, I figured that the first 50 years or so would be real bum-numbers — you know, the Americans won, the Brits and the Bogtrotters lost, blah blah blah and so on. So in the grand tradition of not-exciting-enough-to-be believable history, I planned on borrowing a page from the Bible and making most of it up. It turned out I didn’t need to make anything up, because going way back to 1926 when the event was first played, the truth has been more absurd than fiction.
The British team clambers out from the Irish first-class section (the bilges) of the Aquitania and are met on the pier in New York by Walter Hagen, who looks and dresses like a movie star and is grinning like a picket fence. Wally promptly gets them smashed (and probably laid). By the time the matches start, the Brits are so hungover and weak at the knees that they have no chance.
The American team practices, something the British players, who are hanging out in the pub getting plastered and trying to get the Brylcreem off their grips, have never seen. The crowd of 10,000 applaud after good British shots and bad American ones. British writer Bernard Darwin describes American Joe Turnesa as having “the air of a poor little shivering Italian greyhound.”
The Prince of bloody Wales shows up at Southport and Ainsdale, dragging along with him a crowd of 15,000. HRH promptly announces he is a huuuuge fan of Walter Hagen. However, on the last green, Wally, who is hanging on the Prince’s every word, neglects to tell Denny Shute that a two-putt would probably win the cup for America. Shute deftly three-putts, and hands the cup to the British. Hagen says later, “It would have been discourteous to walk out on the future king of England.” It was the last time British royalty did anything remotely useful.
Playing captain Henry Cotton gathers the team in his hotel room, lifts a Bible, and prays to the Almighty for help. Maybe the Almighty still had a headache from World War II, but, whatever the reason, he didn’t give a rat’s turd about Sir Henry’s petition. Henry and the lads are hosed, 11-1.
Porky Oliver threatens to eat Arthur Lees in the middle of the eighth fairway. U.S. wins, 9 1/2 to 2 1/2.
Sam Snead describes Harry Weetman as “a bushy-haired pro with just a fair reputation.” Weetman hands Sam his hillbilly ass, but the Yanks win again, 6 1/2 to 5 1/2.
Tommy Bolt almost takes a swing at Eric “Up Yours” Brown, who beats him 4 and 3 and then declares, “You never had a hope of beating me.”
Everyone gets wrecked at Frank Sinatra’s house, and Johnny Weissmuller almost drowns Peter Alliss in the swimming pool. Somebody tries to pork Esther Williams, and punches are thrown. After an 8 1/2 to 3 1/2 loss and too much sherry in the desert sun, Lord Brabazon, president of the British PGA, declares, “We are going back to practice in the streets and on the beaches.” Just in case he is referring to St. Tropez, France offers its surrender.
The highlight of the matches (which the GB&I team lost 23 to 9) was Henry Longhurst’s famously unsuccessful attempt to say “Hunt and Coles” on the telecast.
No one actually knows for sure what happened because, for the first time, golf writers had their own wooden building with a hole-by-hole scoreboard, near the final green, right next to the bar. So naturally, they all got bulletproof and made it up. Legend has it the Americans won 19 1/2 to 12 1/2.