The late Bernard Darwin was the grandson of no less than the celebrated Charles Darwin, the British evolutionist who propounded the theory of the evolution of the species. Were this not sufficient distinction, Bernard Darwin had other significant references, all of them his very own.
He was conceded to be the finest golf writer of his time (1876-1971). For most of his adult life he was the golf correspondent of the London Times and, according to the Oxford Companion of Sports Games, "Darwin brought wit, style and high literacy to the sports pages." He was awarded the Cross of the British Empire for his "services to literature."
Additionally, he could put his own golf shots where his pen was, with a game skilled enough to land him on the British Walker Cup team for its matches with America's top amateurs. It was the era when amateur golf was the dominant sector of the game; when the pros were regarded as the menials in the caste system of the British country clubs, and directed to use the service entrance.
This was before Samuel Ryder, a British seed merchant, dreamed up the Ryder Cup as a biennial contest between British and American pros, beginning in 1927 when the pros had gained new social respect. Bernard Darwin is being hauled into this essay on the heels of what happened last weekend at Dublin, Ohio, when America's pros took an awful drubbing from a European team for the second straight time.
This was a big switch, considering that the British and their European confederates had won only three of the previous Ryder Cup tournaments. Bernard Darwin would have been greatly surprised at this vanquishment of the likes of Curtis Strange, Tom Kite, Andy Bean, Hal Sutton, Lanny Wadkins, Ben Crenshaw and Dan Pohl, the anointed ones of America's PGA circuit.
Bernard Darwin had once despaired of such a turnabout against these Americans to whom the British and Scots had taught the game. It was after seeing a British Walker Cup team badly thrashed by America's amateurs back in 1922 that he wrote the ineffable, Darwin-like lines that so accurately reflected the mood in England: "We must now admit that we have much to learn from our one-time pupils about this damnably seductive game." Who could have said it as well?
There was reason for the despondency in Britain. By the year Darwin died, in 1971, America had won 15 of the 16 Ryder Cup jousts. The British managed a semi-success in 1969 when they got a tie.
It was Jack Nicklaus who, in sympathy with the long embarrassment of British Ryder Cup teams, suggested that perhaps the Britons should make it a Commonwealth affair.
For reasons of pride, the British said nay to this, but in 1971 they agreed on a sort of European Common Market Ryder Cup team. They had eyes, of course, on Seve Ballesteros, Spain's long ball crusher, who incidentally was the man who clinched it last weekend for the British and their European comrades by stuffing Curtis Strange, 2 up, for the decisive points.
The Ryder Cup invaders got help, too, in the final day's singles from their German comrade, Bernhard Langer, whose country had only the scantiest of golf history and from an Irishman, Eammon Darcy, who had not won in 10 previous tries, yet managed a victory over Ben Crenshaw. There is yearning for the words of Bernard Darwin to describe how the golf world has come full circle, and England's despair banished for the ages.