After more than half a lifetime as Ireland’s lone winner of a major championship, Fred Daly died at this time 20 years ago. It was only on the occasion of his passing and through subsequent chats with leading Irish amateur players that I fully appreciated the impact he had had on their careers.
The news came through to the Grand Cypress Resort in Orlando on November 18 1990, the Monday of World Cup week. David Feherty, who was there representing Ireland with Ronan Rafferty, ensured a suitable send-off for his fellow Ulsterman by relating marvellous stories from his time as Fred’s assistant at Balmoral – “the greatest two years of my life.”
One which I remember with particular affection concerned Garth McGimpsey, who won 14 championships including the British Amateur of 1985 and then became a Walker Cup captain before reaching senior status last July. It happened in 1979 when Hal McGimpsey, Garth’s father, decided that if his richly promising son was to scale the heights of amateur golf, a lesson from Fred was absolutely mandatory.
So, it was that the pair made the pilgrimage to Balmoral, where Hal made copious notes for future reference. Near the end of the lesson, the old pro became seriously animated, swishing the driver vigorously with his left hand through grass at the edge of a fairway. “That’s it! That’s it!” the 1947 Open champion exclaimed. Convinced he and Garth were being made privy to a great golfing secret, Hal eagerly inquired: “What is it, Fred?” Only to be told: “That’s the damn moss that’s destroying our greens.”
Maureen Madill, now a distinguished golf commentator and another Northerner who captured a British Amateur crown, recounted a very different experience with Daly, whom she knew about from her earliest days at Portstewart. As a 15-year-old in 1973, she was to realise the dream of every youngster by actually playing with her childhood hero. It was a 36-hole pro-am at Bangor GC where all the amateur competitors were women.
When Daly arrived on the tee, she remembers him as being “very courteous” while introducing himself to Madill and her local female partner. The girl in question was no more than 20 with a curtain of hair which covered her face when she addressed the ball. “Then, as we set off up the first fairway, I suddenly noticed she was in her bare feet,” Madill recalled. “Fred said nothing but I felt I should make some attempt at conversation, so I asked her: ‘Do you always play in your bare feet?’ To which she replied, ‘Oh yes’, drawing a line under that particular line of conversation.”
As the older of the two young ladies, she of the bare feet was given the task of marking Daly’s scorecard for a professional’s individual competition. Poor putting, which had become an ongoing problem for Daly by that stage, left him none too pleased after a six at a particular par 4. “Fred, what did you have there?” cried Bare Feet after him. “What did you ….”
Madill takes up the story. “Fred was getting progressively furious at this and at the eighth hole he told me he was no longer going to communicate with this girl,” she said. “From then on he would say to me, ‘Tell her I had a five; tell her I had a four, etc.’ So, I would say, Fred had a five; Fred had a four. And so on. Realising what was going on, she wanted to know why Fred wasn’t talking to her. And there was I caught in the middle, which was horrendous. But on we went for what had by then become an interminable round. Little did I know there was worse to come.”
Even off the back tees, Daly’s drives were invariably furthest out on the fairway, followed by Madill and then Bare Feet. And given his celebrity, they had attracted a large gallery by the time they reached the 18th. So Madill was delighted when, having walked up to the middle ball, she hit her best shot of the day, a glorious 8-iron to eight feet, which brought generous applause.
After they had walked the 30 yards to the longest drive, however, Daly looked down at the ball and then at Madill. “You played the wrong ball, sweetie,” he said acidly. “I was mortified,” she recalled. “Naturally, I had to go back and hit another shot to the green and when it was all over, I remember turning to my father and, close to tears, telling him: ‘I can’t play with those two ever again.’ Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I regret that I was too young to fully appreciate the artistry of a wonderful player.”
With his great friend Harry Bradshaw, Daly gained the distinction of completing Ireland’s first Canada Cup (World Cup) pairing in Montreal in 1954 and they played again the following year. By way of celebrating that link, Feherty did his country proud at Grand Cypress where a course-record, final-round of 63 lifted himself and Rafferty to a share of second place behind Germany. One imagines Daly would have approved.