Nightmare Among the Mighty
The author recounts the personal drama of playing in the Bowmaker Invitation Amateur/Professional Tournament at the Berkshire Golf Club, in June 1957. The following is the article as it first ran in the Sunday TImes the following week, with Fleming later remarking that it "appears to have stirred the bowels of most amateur golfers."
Every sport has its own
nightmare – the
dropped baton, the
goal scored against your own side, running
out your captain when he has scored ninety nine;
and, in your dreams they all have the
same ghastly background – the packed
stands, the serried ranks of spectators, the
incredulous hush and then the deep condemnatory
In golf the two-foot putt missed on the
18th green is quickly over and you are at
once awake, sweating and whimpering. This
terror must be common to even the greatest
in the game, but for the weekend golfer there
is a far longer, more horrible nightmare –
partnership with a world champion over a
course black with crowds.
Last weekend I endured this nightmare,
thirty-six holes of it and I live, but only just,
to tell the tale.
It came about like this. Three weeks ago a
friend said he wanted me to play in the
Bowmaker Invitation Amateur/Professional
Tournament at the Berkshire. “It's great fun,”
he said. “All the best professionals take
two amateurs each and you play a threesome
against bogey. Each team puts in
three cards – the professional's for the
best scratch score and the professional
plus each amateur for the lowest better
ball score. The amateur plays off full handicap
and if he makes good use of his strokes
he and his pro can get a better ball score
around 60. You can pick up when you've
played too many. They have film stars and
such like to amuse the crowds. Come on.”
Ian Fleming –
a high-flying character in
every sense of the word.
It sounded fun. I said “yes” and forgot all
I forgot about it until I got the draw. I was to
play with Peter Thomson, three times Open
champion, and Alec Shepperson, handicap
plus 1, a Walker Cup probable. I was to be on
the first tee of the Red Course at 2.15 pm
That was Tuesday the eighteenth. On the
Wednesday, Peer Thomson, fresh from the
fine performance in the American Open,
equalled the course record of Sand Moor with
a 65 in the Yorkshire Evening News
Tournament. He followed this with a 67, 64
and 65. He won the tournament by fifteen
strokes. The golfing world gasped.
Apart from praying that the biggest thunderstorm
in living memory would deluge the
home counties on the following Sunday and
Monday (it was a two day contest) there was
really nothing I could do about it. I am a nine handicap
weekend golfer with a short flat
swing that has been likened to a housemaid
sweeping under a bed. It is a fast swing with
reserves of fantastic acceleration in moments
The only reason I am nine is that I obstinately try to play down to it rather than take
life more easily off twelve, which I should like
I have never had a golf lesson except from
my grandmother at the age of about fifteen
and my only equipment for the game is a natural ‘eye' and strong forearms. Against these
virtues it should it be said that I remember to
keep my head down only on one shot in-three
and that, on occasional shots, ‘everything
moves except the ball'.
The greatest weakness of my essentially
immaculate game is that I am quite unable to ‘repeat' my swing. Even on the putting green,
my stance and stroke are at the mercy of the
moment's whim. The fact that I have played
golf for some thirty years with occasional success
and great pleasure is due to enjoying the
company, the exercise and the zest of competition.
In short, I am the quintessential amateur.
The virtues of amateurishness are all right in
a friendly game, perhaps sharpened by a gamble,
in the privacy of one's home course.
There the quick, sharp dunch into a bunker is
a matter for hilarity only mildly tinged with
bitterness. But how, I wondered feverishly as
the dreadful day approached, would my
insouciance stand up to playing before vast
crowds with the greatest, or at any rate the
second greatest golfer in the world?
But why worry? It's only a game. The ball
won't move. Just walk up and hit it. These
and other specious exhortations were
mouthed at me through wolfish grins by my
friends. The worst you can do is maim a few
spectators, perhaps even kill one. But the club
will be insured. Have a double kummel before
you start. Take an Oblivion.
Steeled by the relish of my friends. I
assumed a nonchalant mask. I looked to my
equipment. The head of my driver (circa
1930, one of the earliest surely, of the steel
shafts and known around Sandwich as “Excalibur”) was loose. I had it fixed. My double-
faced chipper (Tom Morris, 1935), a
beloved but temperamental club was
rebound. I bought two pairs of expensive
socks in pale blue. I reread the red ink passages
in Armour's How to Play Your Best Golf
All The Time, watched Peter Thomson's
unearthly progress through the “Yorkshire
Evening News” tournament and waited
queasily for H – (for Horror) Day.
H-DAY dawned bright and clear. No earthquakes.
No tornadoes. No thunderstorms. I
drove at an even pace to the Berkshire,
parked my car among the hundreds, and proceeded
to the seventh fairway of the Blue
Course, which a number of young gods were
bisecting with arrow-straight drives and iron
shot using mounds of practice balls.
I retired to an inconspicuous corner with
my caddie, six balls and No. 3 Iron. It took me
about twenty minutes, in my usual ratio of
one good shot in three, to lose four of the
balls in the woods.
Then came lunch and the un-welcome news
that the matches were running over an hour
late, I wandered out among the dreadful trappings
of my nightmare – the marquees, the
huge scoreboard ablaze with the most famous
names in professional and amateur golf, and
already showing the results of the early
starters and in the background, the loudspeaker
giving the position on the near-by
Henry Cotton passed me, his face a mask
of concentration, and Locke, majestic,
indomitable. Henry Longhurst tossed me a
few phrases of gleeful commiseration. And
then there were Peter Thomson and Alec
Shepperson and I was explaining who I was
and apologising in advance for the dreadful
things that they would be shortly witnessing.
For the first time I felt a ray of comfort. All
golfers have their problems. Shepperson was
a candidate for the Walker Cup team and he
knew the names would be announced the
next day and that the selectors were on the
course. Thomson knew that every spectator
would expect him to go round in level threes.
We commiserated with one another over the
swelling crowds and in due course there we
were standing on the first tee.
The starter's voice rang out – unnecessarily
loudly. Thomson drove 250 yards down the
centre of the fairway.
“Mr Iarn [sic] Fleming.”
I wiped my hands on the seat of my
trousers and stepped forward. Half conscious,
I teed up and gave a practice swing, listening
with half my mind for the hiss of astonishment.
The crowd was too well bred. I
addressed the ball and promptly knocked it
off its peg. I put it on again.
Then there was a moment when the world
stood still, a brief glimpse of the ball through
a mist of tears, a more of less articulated
swirl of motion and the blessed ball was well
airborne and on its way with a slight draw to
come to rest in the rough fifty yards behind
Shepperson hit a beauty and we were off and away with the crowd streaming after us. One
of my chief tortures easily foreseen was that I
should always be playing first of the trio, I
hacked the ball out of the shallow heather and
got it 100 yards on its way down the fairway.
Thomson pushed his to the right of the green.
Shepperson fluffed with a 4-wood and there I
was having to hit mine again.
I had a stroke at all the odd holes. Now it was
vital that I should hit the simplest of simple
shots 150 yards on the green. I took out my
blaster with which I thought I would be safest.
There was a respectful hush. Head down, you
fool! Slow back! BOING!!! The ball hit off the
along the ground,
bumbled up the
green and stopped
within three yards
of the pin.
about “Dundee run-up” I
strode after it and,
to cut a long story
fives and all I had
to do was to get
down in two putts
to win a net 4 for
Thomson and our
better ball. I putted,
or rather twitched,
the ball a yard past,
missing the hole by
three inches. Then, with a thumping heart,
stroked, or more accurately topped, the ball into
the hole amid heartfelt applause from the agonised
I will pass over the second hole where I hit
a No 7 over the green and picked up and
where Thomson got an immaculate 3.
A glorious scenic of the Berkshire,
where members enjoy not one but two
magnificent golf courses
Another stroke at the 3rd. An adequate
drive. A fluffed spoon and a smothered 4
iron, which again rattled up on the green.
Again I somehow got my net 4 to Thomson's
5. I had ‘improved' twice for Thomson but by
the foulest means and there was no question
of my golf having settled down.
I forget what happened at the 4th but at the
par three 5th, having been advised by
Thomson to take a 7 instead of a 8, I at last
hit the ball in the middle of the bat and got a
net two which I followed up with another net
two, also well played, at the 7th. Again at the
9th, but this time again by foul means, I
scrambled a net four. I had helped Peter
Thomson five times in nine holes!
Those treacherous crocodiles my friends,
who had come to gloat at my discomfiture
changed their tune. Now they edged up and
whispered that my handicap would have to
be reduced at Sandwich. I brushed them
aside. The sun was shining, the course was
beautiful. What fun it was playing with the
Alas, while by dunch, scuffle and fluff I
somehow played the next nine holes. I was no
further help to Peter Thomson and all I can
remember of the inward half is the most glorious
three I have ever seen, by Shepperson at
the bogey five 15th and an appalling shank
by myself at the 17th. It was with a No. 8 off
a downhill lie and the air positively quivered
with the horrible clang as the ball sped at
right angles through the spectators' legs into
the deep rough.
And then the round was over with a score
of 72 for Peter Thomson and net 66s for Alec
Shepperson and myself. No earthly good but
at least I hadn't played Thomson's ball by
mistake or done an air shot or killed a spectator.
It was in a mood of euphoria that I
returned to London.
Monday was not so good and I did many terrible
things that even now makes me shudder,
but it had rained very heavily and there
were fewer witnesses. Thomson did a 69 and
Shepperson who by this time had been nominated
for the Walker Cup and I, repeated our
66s which meant that at least I had been able
to help Thomson on the three holes.
And now the dreadful glory of the occasion
is fading and this weekend I shall be applying
either a new kind of golf, tempered to the
finest steel by its visit to the blast furnace, or
more probably, wilted by the fierce flame.
Alas, when my friends or my grandchildren
ask me how Peter Thomson played this shot
or Alec Shepperson that, I shall be unable to
tell them. I shall have many memories of the
two men – of Peter Thomson, justly
renowned for a bearing as fine as his golf and
of the modest, charming Shepperson – but of
the champion's golf I shall recall nothing but
the immortal words of Leonard Crawley in
last Monday's Daily Telegraph.
“Though Peter Thomson was assisted by Ian
Fleming, the champion had evidently spent
much of his force at Leeds last week”.
Fleming's amateur partner that week, the former
Walker Cup player, Alec Shepperson, is now
President of Coxmoor Golf Club which he joined
in 1945, aged nine.
“I remember being delighted to be asked to play
in the inaugural Bowmaker in such illustrious
company. Peter Thomson
had already won a hat trick
of Open championships,
and I had read
some of the early James
I was still at Oxford
taking my finals that
summer, but had played
for England in the 1956
Home Internationals, had
won the President's
Putter at Rye and was,
as the article explains,
selected that very week
for the forthcoming
Walker Cup matches in
Minneapolis. I still have
the telegram from
the chairman of the
I do remember the
first tee at the Berkshire very well, meeting them
both and the starter pronouncing Ian's name
I also remember Ian smoking during the
round, with his trademark cigarette holder very
much in evidence!
It was a very pleasant two days, and I was fascinated
how Peter Thomson teed the ball very high
and struck it “on the up” with his driver, explaining
how less spin and a higher trajectory gave him
more distance. It was the first time I'd seen anyone
with that technique.
The Walker Cup, a few weeks later, was memorable
– although I only played one match, with
Guy Wolstenhome [Gary's father] when we
halved our 36-hole foursomes.
My highlight of that era was probably the
Walker Cup of 1959 when I played with Michael
Lunt against Jack Nicklaus & Ward Wettlaufer in a
see-saw match that we eventually lost 2&1.The
next I day I won my singles against Tommy Aaron
by the same margin, having been 4 down with 9
Editor's note: In 1957 Coxmoor Golf Club became
the only club in the country to supply two players for
the same Walker Cup team when Alec Shepperson
and Alan Bussell were both picked.
Oliver Wilson was the latest Coxmoor player to be
selected for the Walker Cup when he was chosen for
the 2003 match at Ganton.
Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International.