The Day I beat Jack... Twice: Brian Barnes

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In the 1975 matches, Jack Nicklaus was imperious and USA were giving GB&I their routine thrashing. Then along came enigmatic Brian Barnes. This is his story...

I didn’t think the team stood a chance going into the 1975 Ryder Cup at Laurel Valley. We didn’t have any strength in depth. In those days, the closest we came to winning was in 1969, the famous tie at Royal Birkdale. Another point and we would have beaten them, but I lost every single one of my three matches! The Americans had great depth and could allow people to have rests. Of course, in those days there were six rounds. We had the two single rounds on the last day as well. It finished up with people like myself playing all six rounds and when Sunday afternoon came around, we were knackered.

Arnold (Palmer) had gone to Bernard Hunt the night before and said, “who have you got in your side who might give Jack a game?” Bernard replied, “I know Jack and Barnesy have fished together and played a few tournaments together so maybe he is not so much in awe as the other guys would be.”

I agreed; I thought that because I had known Jack for so many years, I wouldn’t have been affected by him standing on the 1st tee. Of course, I was s******g myself when the time came round, but not as badly as some of the other guys would have been. So we played together and I won 4&2. Very nice indeed.

I felt comfortable because I have always been a good driver of the golf ball and not a bad putter. I knew full well I could keep up with Jack off the tee; there was no difficulty there. I was a good iron player so I didn’t miss too many greens and I didn’t have to rely on somebody else. It was just me against Jack – that was it. Although I played the fourballs and foursomes and lost, the singles is a different game. So I didn’t even think or worry about being beaten 5&4 again, the score which Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf had defeated myself and Bernard Gallacher by in the Friday foursomes.

Jack was always friendly. The one thing Jack would never do was gamesmanship. He believed that the only way you beat anybody is with your game. Walking round the golf course, the only thing we talked about was fishing. He did a lot of fly fishing just like I did. It was just a friendly round of golf.

When we went to the press tent after the morning round everybody acted as if I’d beaten Jesus Christ. He was Jesus Christ as far as golf was concerned, but he was still beatable. The Yanks only needed one or two more points to win and while I was still continuing with the interviews, Jack had gone to Arnold and said, “look, there is only one match the punters want to see, and that’s Barnesy and I.”

That was the only time in the history of the Ryder Cup that the match order was changed at that late stage. While that was going on, I was asked “would you like the opportunity to play ‘The Bear’ again this afternoon?” I replied, “well, lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.”

Jack walked onto the 1st tee for the afternoon singles with a beaming smile on his face and said, “Barnesy, well done this morning but there is no way you are going to beat me this afternoon.” He started birdie, birdie but as luck would have it, he went off the boil and I beat him 2&1. Poor old Jack got it in the neck and when Arnold was making his speech, he said he didn’t realise the Europeans had a 13-man team; inferring that Jack was on our side, rather than theirs.

Jack’s a sportsman; he knew what it was all about. I’m more than capable of shooting a 65. Not as many times as him but on that day, I needed pars in the morning round on the last two holes we didn’t play for a 68 and a birdie on the last hole in the afternoon for a 67. So I was playing pretty good golf on a wet golf course. Eighteen holes of matchplay is a sudden-death situation, it’s like Russian roulette. If you hole a couple of putts at the right time, you can beat anybody and that was the situation.

He never showed his disappointment publicly. He is a wonderful sportsman and a gentleman. Jack realised the most important thing were the spectators who were there. The most important thing at the Ryder Cup in those days was making sure the spectators stayed and enjoyed it. But there was a partition between the America side and ours in the locker room and I was sitting there with a couple of beers and I hear this ‘bang’ the other side of the partition so I look over and there’s Jack with his locker open having just thrown his shoe into it. He was just about to throw his second shoe, so I said, “hey Jack, is there anything wrong?” He looks at me and then we went and had a beer.

I was lucky enough to play the greatest golfer that ever lived and beat him twice in one day. The only reason everybody is still interested in it is because of the s**t we played as a team. We lost 21-11. In those days, we didn’t have the team to be able to beat them. If it was now, people wouldn’t be talking about it.

The best thing that came out of it was when I went over to the States to play on the Champions Tour I got a lot of invitations due to the fact I’d beaten Jack twice in one day. But I also got a lot of invitations because I played golf with Arnold and Jack and they got me invitations. They also felt that I would enhance the tournaments reasonably well because of the sort of guy I am; a fairly gregarious individual!


My Life In Golf

Just after the war in 1947, my dad was attached to the government looking after displaced people in Germany. To keep them occupied prior to going back to their homes, he decided to use them to build a nine-hole course in a place called Bielefeld. I was two. The 18th green was below a slope and there was a little wooden shack, so my mother would be in there and I would have a cut-down club, tee the ball up and give it a whiff and it would go down the hill. Then I would turn round to the German caddies, shout “raus” and they would go running down the hill and pick the ball up. I would then tee it up and give it another hit. This went on until I was knackered. We then went back to Devon where my father became secretary at Thurlestone Golf Club. So there was me at five-and-a-half standing on the 1st at Thurlestone, hitting a ball and shouting “fetch” to the caddies. You can imagine what they told me to do.

I decided to represent Scotland because my parents were Scots; my father was from Troon, my mother was from Glasgow. But as an amateur, we didn’t have the money for me to go up and be able to compete in the Scottish amateur tournaments. I finished up playing for England in the boys and youths. In the mid-60s, the PGA decided we could decide to pick the country we wanted to represent, as long as a parent was from that country. Of course, that gave me the chance to play for Scotland, which my father was more than happy with.

The highlight of my career was winning the Senior British Open at Royal Portrushin 1995 because my father-in-law, Max Faulkner, won the only Open there. I hadn’t won a tournament for 18 years. Max had been invited to Portrush, so I had the opportunity to win while he was there watching. I was the first person to win it back-to-back because I won in 1996 too.Jack was always impressed with my game and he said, “Barnesy, you’ve got to come across and play in the States”. Arnold, Gary Player and Lee Trevino said the same thing. My wife didn’t want to leave home and we had a couple of kids so I gave my card back. I joined the Champions Tour but was struck down with arthritis so the nest egg I’d hoped for wasn’t as big as I'd have liked.