The 100 Greatest Ever Golfers, by Andy Farrell


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The Independent Culture

What do Arnaud Massy, Lawson Little, Glenna Collett Vare, Flory van Donck and Norman von Nida have in common? The answer is that, while hardly household names these days, they were good enough golfers in their era to make this list.

Though all the usual suspects are here as well, it's the stories of largely forgotten men – and women, for Andy Farrell includes a generous number of female golfers – that sets this compilation apart. Von Nida, for instance, known as the "father of Australian golf", was a tough cookie who developed incredibly strong forearms, hands and fingers by working in an abattoir, breaking open the heads of sheep after their skulls had been partly split by machine. He also achieved notoriety in America by trading blows with a playing partner in front of the clubhouse before police separated them.

Nor are amateurs forgotten: the immortal Bobby Jones, founder of the Masters, features, of course, and Farrell, a former golf correspondent of this parish, tells the tale of England's Sir Michael Bonallack announcing his impending knighthood to his wife by saying that shortly she would no longer be "Mrs Bonallack". Her horrified response was: "Who is she and do I know her?"

In attempting to define greatness, Farrell acknowledges the difficulties inherent in comparing performers of very different eras, and while giving weight to titles won and money earned he introduces more subjective elements into his equation, such as popularity, influence on the game, will to win, aesthetically pleasing style and calmness under pressure.

In this updated edition he has also been tempted into ranking his choices, with the caveat, "Do disagree with the placings of one or all"; which, after all, is one of the pleasures of reading a book like this. His top three are hardly controversial, however –Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods – though as Woods is still playing he may yet rise higher.

But placing two women, America's Mickey Wright and Joyce Wethered of England, at Nos 6 and 12 may cause splutters among the resolutely all-male club members at Muirfield, next week's Open venue. No bad thing, some might say.

Published in paperback by Elliott & Thompson, £9.99