Brian Viner: Alliss haunted by Ryder Cup flop in sport's golden year

He suffered the Monty effect in reverse, carrying his team's hopes, but crumpling under the burden. 'Langer's mistake was very quickly forgotten, but mine was mentioned for 15 years'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is 12 months today since Sam Torrance's team regained the Ryder Cup at the Belfry; 12 months today since, had it been up to British golf enthusiasts, the titanic, talismanic Colin Montgomerie would have been voted Sportsman of the Century, Prime Minister, President of the Board of Trade and possibly even Rear of the Year. Hang on, I'm getting carried away. Not Rear of the Year.

Anyway, since that blissful late September day in the Midlands, dear old Monty has shown us the other side of his complex personality, which carries the expression so impertinently yet evocatively likened, by the golfer-turned-broadcaster David Feherty, to a bulldog "licking p*** off a nettle".

He limped miserably out of the Open Championship, missed the cut in the Masters and the USPGA, finished 42nd in the US Open, and must now look upon that elusive major as the dying Sir Galahad looked upon the Holy Grail, aware that, for all his mighty achievements, the prize for which he has sweated and strained all these years will probably never be his.

Tellingly, as the first anniversary approached of his monumental effort in the Ryder Cup, Monty was grumpily missing the 54-hole cut in the Dunhill Links Championship, an event led into the final round by two of the men inspired by him a year ago, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.

Still, for those of us with long memories, which all too often in sport amounts to an ability to remember the day before yesterday, Monty remains, and will forever be, a hero, if only for the other kind of bulldog that he showed himself to be at the Belfry.

It is to a more distant Ryder Cup that I wish to devote the rest of this column, however. This week it will be exactly 50 years since Great Britain and Ireland were beaten, narrowly, at Wentworth, by a dashing American team captained by the war hero Lloyd Mangrum; 50 years since a young Englishman suffered what might be considered the Monty effect in reverse, carrying his team's hopes but crumpling under the burden, and suffering a blow to his burgeoning reputation from which arguably it never recovered.

On Saturday I phoned him, perhaps ungenerously, to remind him that all that happened half a century ago. "Good God, I don't know where the years have gone," Peter Alliss muttered.

To put the 1953 Ryder Cup into context, it had been 20 years since the Americans had last been beaten, at Southport & Ainsdale, by a team containing Percy Alliss, Peter's father. By 1953, American golfers were manifestly the world's best, indeed that year's Open Championship, at Carnoustie, had been won by the Texan Ben Hogan at his only attempt.

On the other hand, Hogan was not in the US Ryder Cup team, and nor was another great player, Byron Nelson. Moreover, it had been a glorious summer to be British. A new monarch had been crowned, the Ashes regained, Everest conquered, and two of the nation's most esteemed sportsmen, Gordon Richards and Stanley Matthews, had scaled their own summits, Richards winning the Derby at the 25th attempt, and Matthews, after a mesmerising display of wing play, gaining a first FA Cup winner's medal. If ever there was a year to reclaim the Ryder Cup, 1953 was it.

It nearly happened. In those days the competition comprised only foursomes and singles, all played over 36 holes, and by the time Alliss reached the 36th tee in the penultimate singles match, he was just one down to Jim Turnesa. Behind him, Bernard Hunt was one up on Dave Douglas.

One-and-a-half points from those two matches and the Ryder Cup could be placed alongside the Ashes, but from 15 feet off the green at the long 18th, after Turnesa had driven into the woods, Alliss fluffed his chip and took three more to get down. The hole was halved, the Cup could no longer be won, and when Hunt, too, went to pieces down the last, it could not even be tied.

"I finished 5-6-6," Alliss told me, the regret undimmed by the passage of time. "If I'd finished 5-5-5, I would have beaten him."

Alliss is no admirer of modern-day Ryder Cup captains unleashing turbo-charged emotions, but admits that as he was walking up the last, palms sweating, he might have benefited from a supportive word from his captain, Henry Cotton. "But it was very different in those days. Cotton never even appeared on the course."

For the rest of his playing career he never quite shrugged off the stigma. "I had to smile years later when Bernhard Langer missed that putt at Kiawah Island," he said. "People said it was unfair for him to be put under so much pressure, but that's what sport's all about: holing an important putt, not missing a penalty, getting a serve in at match point. It seems to me that his mistake was very quickly forgotten. Nobody mentions it now. But mine was mentioned for at least the next 15 years."

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Comments