Bernard Hunt has played in so many Ryder Cups he sometimes forgets precisely how many.
"It's seven or eight, I think," he said, as he sipped a coffee at his home club, Foxhills in Surrey, which has a course named after him. Actually it's eight, and that's not counting the two in which he was non-playing captain.
He enjoyed mixed fortunes in his debut at Wentworth in 1953.
"I made a bit of pig's ear of it," he confessed. Having partnered Jimmy Adams and lost the day before, he struggled against Dave Douglas until pulling it back to all square on the 16th. Douglas then knocked two balls out of bounds on the 17th and although Hunt had lost count of how many shots his opponent had taken, he ignored the referee's advice to pick his ball up and instead waited for the formal concession.
"Then I went and mucked up 18 to halve the match," confessed Hunt. It was the first of a great many halved matches for the popular Englishman.
"I don't really know why I was involved in so many halves. It's just the way it turned out."
He also played in the famous Ryder Cup that finished 13-13 at Royal Birkdale, where Nicklaus conceded Jacklin an awkward putt on the 18th.
"Perhaps we should have won that," admitted Hunt. "I partnered Maurice Bembridge in a fourball match. It was all square going down the 18th. Maurice and I were both on the green in two. The Americans got their four and so we both had birdie putts for the win.
"Maurice was nearer and so I went first. Anyway, we both missed and the match was halved. Afterwards, Eric Brown gave me a bollocking. He maintained that, as I was the better putter, I should have let Maurice go first and get the half so that I could have had a proper attempt at the three."
Hunt was almost ever present from 1953 to 1969, only missing the 1955 encounter.
"It was Henry Cotton's fault. He told me that I would never be consistently good with that 'awful' swing."
Hunt's confidence was further undermined when he saw his swing for the first time on Movietone News at the cinema.
"I must confess it didn't look good. Until then I imagined it was just like Ben Hogan's. Anyway, I took Cotton's advice and tried to sort it out but struggled and eventually reverted to my old swing, which was short and flattish."
Years later when playing in Portugal, Hunt was invited to dinner by Cotton and took the opportunity of reminding his host of the criticism he had levelled at him all those years' ago.
"I can't be right all the time," was all that Cotton would say. Hunt was unimpressed with Cotton's explanation and went on to win the tournament, the Algarve Open.
The year 1957 brought the famous win under Dai Rees at Lindrick. After partnering Peter Alliss and losing, Hunt went on to beat Doug Ford in the singles.
"They said we would never win, so it was particularly gratifying," he recalled.
Although the matches were keenly contested, they were played in the best spirit.
"There was only one American I didn't get on with and that was Dave Miller."
Sam Snead did once employ a little gamesmanship to try to unsettle his opponent but after Hunt threatened "to bury this so-and-so putter in your head" he stopped clipping his nails when the Englishman was putting.
"Funnily enough, after that, he never called me Bernard again. From then on it was always Mr Hunt. But he did send me a nice message on my 70th birthday."
"There were always one or two on both sides who were desperate to win. Brian Huggett was like that. Get two playing against each other and things could get interesting. And I remember partnering Neil Coles against Julian Boros and Tony Lema and Lema saying to me, 'If you couldn't putt, you would never get round.' We won on the 18th."
Which American did Hunt like most?
"Well, the one whose swing I most admired is not terribly well known. His name is Ted Kroll. He was a bit like Mark O'Meara in that he had only a shortish swing, but he rifled it all the time. I thought his swing was great and I liked the man.
"He was a New Yorker and seemed so relaxed. Arnold Palmer, of course, was a great personality and I always got on very well with him as well."
Hunt and Palmer were opposing captains in the 1975 Ryder Cup at Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania.
"In my day, there were five or six in our team of 12 who were as good as the Americans. But the rest weren't. The problem was that we weren't deep enough. I think that we did as well as we did because we played as a team. Today it's a lot tighter. I would say the Americans could probably pick three teams whereas we could probably pick two."
What about the American crowds, were they a problem?
"We never had any trouble. Mind you, that might be because the Americans always won. I was a spectator at Oak Hill when we won. That was wonderful. I was at the Belfry last time as well and that was brilliant. It was one of the best weeks of my life.
"Seeing my old friends, getting involved with the players - giving encouragement not offering advice - and then we won. Sadly, I won't be there this year."
Who will win this time?
"I think the Americans want to win badly. But it all hinges on the foursomes and fourballs.
"If our older players can settle the youngsters, we can do it. In any team of 12 in any given week there will be at least two who aren't playing well. But if you've got 10 on top of their game, you've got a chance."
August 25, 2004
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