He was the son of a professional golfer and three of his brothers followed the same calling. Harry Bradshaw was Ireland’s first golfing superstar, a proven winner with a jovial personality that endeared him to one and all and helped popularize the professional game in this country
Bradshaw played his golf out of the picturesque Delgany club in Co. Wicklow, where he was treated with respect and admiration. However, it was not always thus where professional golfers were concerned in those days. Even today golf would not be noted for its egalitarianism. In the 1940s and 1950s – when Bradshaw was in his pomp – it was a thoroughly elitist sport and many of those in its professional ranks were working-class men who often came to the game via the caddying route. They would serve their apprenticeships humping bags for well-heeled club members, sneak in as much practice as was tolerated, become assistant professional and fix the clubs and shoes of the same members. They would then, if they were fortunate, become fully-fledged professionals and play occasional tournaments for filthy lucre. This did not, of course, entitle them to admission to the clubhouse. They were, after all, mere employees. To enter the holy of holies they would usually have to be accompanied by a member. There is an enormous social, cultural and sporting gap between Harry Bradshaw and Rory McIlroy.
Bradshaw, dominated the Irish professional golfing scene from the time of his first Irish PGA championship victory in 1941. He went on to win it for the next three years, and took first prize ten times in all.
But it was on the international scene that he really made his mark. In the days prior to any notion of a PGA European Tour the Irish Open championship was a significant event. Brad first won it in 1947 and again two years later. He took the prestigious Dunlop Masters in 1953 and again in 1955. He played on three Ryder Cup teams during this period as well, taking on the Americans in 1953, 1955 and 1957 – the latter event, at Lindrick in England, giving Britain and Ireland its first win in the tournament since 1933.
In 1958, along with Christy O’Connor Sr. he shared in an Irish world championship victory when they combined to win the Canada Cup – now the World Cup – in Mexico. This despite the fact that Bradshaw suffered nosebleeds because of the altitude.
But his greatest achievement was also his greatest tragedy. In the 1949 Open Championship at the Royal St. George’s course in Sandwich in Kent he was inspired and took the great South African Bobby Locke to a play-off. It has always been argued that, but for a rush of blood to the head during the second round, Bradshaw would have won that tournament. He had driven off the 5th tee and was walking down the fairway towards his ball when he realized that it had come to rest against a large piece of glass from a broken bottle. He could probably have dropped without penalty, he could well have waited for a ruling, but, somewhat rashly, though in the spirit of the game at the time, he opted to play the ball as it lay and duffed it. Had he been more patient he might well have won the tournament outright. Sadly, he lost the playoff to Locke who went on to win three more British Opens.
A few weeks later in the Irish Open Golf Championship at Belvoir Park in Belfast Locke was part of a distinguished field. This time, however, Bradshaw had the measure of the great South African and took the trophy. It was revenge of a sort but scant consolation for his failure to take the British Open. Bradshaw must rank alongside Christy O’Connor Senior as the greatest Irish golfer never to have won a Major. However, his heyday was at a time when the notion of ‘Majors’ was not as well developed as it is now and it was virtually impossible for Irish pros to play in the big money tournaments in the USA
Harry Bradshaw, the ebullient, trailblazing Irish professional golfer was born in Delgany, Co. Wicklow 102 years ago, on this day.
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