Dave Hill: Famously outspoken golfer who took on Britain and Europe in three Ryder Cups
Saturday 01 October 2011
Dave Hill, who has died aged 74 after suffering from emphysema, was one of the world's leading golfers of the 1960s and '70s.
He represented the US in three Ryder Cups but became known on the golf circuit as much for his outspoken comments against the golfing establishment as for his often brilliant shotmaking.
That won him a reputation as "the Don Rickles of Golf," after the insult-prone American comedian. For several years, Hill was the world's No 1 in terms of fines and suspensions for swearing or breaking clubs. Born and brought up in the Great Lakes state of Michigan, he won 13 PGA tour events, came second in the US money-earning list in 1969 and was runner-up to England's Tony Jacklin in the 1970 US Open at the Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.
The $15,000 Hill earned for that second place – Jacklin got $30,000 – seemed like a lot at the time, although the best golfers will earn 10 times, even up 50 times that much for a major event these days. Hill also went on to win six events on the Champions' (Seniors) tour.
It was halfway through the 1970 US Open that Hill made front-page news. When asked what he thought of the Hazeltine golf course, he replied: "I'm still looking for it. It really did lack only 80 acres of corn and a few cows. They ruined a good farm when they built this course. I think the architect [Robert Trent Jones, one of the world's best-known golf course architects] had his blueprints upside down when he laid it out."
To make his point, it turned out Hill had paid a local farmer to borrow his tractor if he won the event. He planned to ride the tractor to the award ceremony to pick up the trophy.
It later emerged that the bigger names – Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson – agreed with Hill's criticism of the course but kept their thoughts mostly to the locker room. Nicklaus did, however, tell Sports Illustrated magazine before the event: "many players will need guides as well as caddies in this Open." Hill was fined $150 by the PGA for his mid-event outburst and traditionalist fans greeted him with "moos" during the last two rounds.
Hill's first Ryder Cup appearance was in 1969 at Royal Birkdale in Southport, a famously acrimonious contest which ended in the first draw – 16-16 – in the Cup's history. It became known as the "concession Cup,"after Jack Nicklaus conceded a short but missable, yips-inducing putt to Jacklin on the 18th green of the final match, a gesture which saved the sport's gentlemanly reputation. With the draw, the US, as holders, retained the trophy.
During that contest, with Peter Alliss among the British players, Hill won one of his foursomes and lost the other. He also won one and lost one of his four-balls. In the singles, he beat Peter Townsend in the morning and Brian Barnes in the afternoon.
In the 1973 Ryder Cup at Muirfield, Hill and Arnold Palmer beat Jacklin and Peter Oosterhuis in the foursomes but Hill was not picked for the singles in an event which the USwon 19-13. In 1977, he was again partof a winning US team at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, the last time this side of the Atlantic was represented only by Great Britain and Ireland (henceforth, players from continental Europe were allowed to participate against the Americans, making for a much more evenly matched contest). Hill won his four-ball and beat Tommy Horton in the singles to help the US win by a score of 12 and a half to seven and a half.
James David Hill was born in Jackson, Michigan, in 1937, studied at the University of Detroit and turned professional golfer in 1958. He won his first PGA tour event in Tucson, Arizona, in 1961 but his first decade on tour was up-and-down. He made his name in 1969 by winning the Vardon Trophy for the lowest-average scoring of the year – 70.34 shots per round.
He is survived by a son, a daughter and his brother Mike, also a former PGA tour golfer.
David Hill, golfer; born Jackson, Michigan 20 May 1937; one son, one daughter; died Jackson 27 September 2011.
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