Darcy lets closing credits roll on his 'Hollywood story'
It speaks volumes about Eamonn Darcy that one of the greatest short game artists of all time turned to him for help early in his career.
Seve Ballesteros loved “the Darce”, who retired after the Costa Blanca Benidorm Senior Golf Masters on December 1, not just because he had one of the best chipping and pitching actions in the world or because he clinched that groundbreaking win in Europe’s first away Ryder Cup win at Muirfield Village in 1987, but because they were kindred spirits.
Like many others who moved into professional golf in the late sixties and early seventies, Darcy jumped the ditch from the caddie shack to the golf course, digging his unique method out of the dirt. His idiosyncratic swing was ridiculed on television and in the British and US press. But he had the respect, not just of a genius like Ballesteros, but of a generation of tour players who knew that what really mattered was not God-given talent but a capacity for hard work.
One of five boys in a family of six from Delgany Co Wicklow, his mother was just 39 when she passed away, leaving his father Christy, a former scratch player, to do the best he could.
Young Eamonn had dreamed of becoming a jockey but as his interest in school and his height and weight went in opposition directions – he had sprouted into a 6 foot 2 inch gangling youth by the age of 16 – his move into the world of professional golf was never seen as anything more than a way to make ends meet.
Perhaps there was something in his genes – his grandmother was Mary Anne Doyle, whose brother Pat Doyle became the first Irish-born golfer to complete all four rounds in that famous 1913 US Open won by Francis Ouimet.
“It’s an unbelievable story that never got the credit it deserved for as great a player as he was,” said Paul McGinley, who played in Darcy’s final Staysure Tour event in Spain earlier this month, where the great Delgany man went out in style, racing to the turn in five-under 31 en route to a bogey-free 67, one shot shy of matching his age
“With the golf swing he had and the upbringing he had, it’s a really a marvellous story, a Hollywood story in a lot of ways. He dug it out of the dirt, as Ben Hogan did. He understood how to hit different shots, he learned it all himself and he owned his swing.”
Darcy made 603 official appearances on the European Tour from 1972 to 2002, winning four tournaments as well as another 18 worldwide in a career that brought four Ryder Cup appearances. As an Irishman, he regards that breakthrough win in the 1988 Dunhill Cup with Des Smyth and Ronan Rafferty as one of the proudest moments of his career.
But he will always be remembered fondly for his lone Ryder Cup win at Muirfield Village in 1987, where he sank a slick downhill putt on the 18th green to beat Ben Crenshaw in the singles, ensuring Europe would retain the title. “Even today, I still think is one of the best putts I’ve ever seen holed,” Pádraig Harrington said of that five-footer for the ages.
On seeing Darcy’s unique swing that week, one American remarked: “Eamonn shouldn’t take that swing out of town too often – he might have trouble getting spare parts.”
The swing gurus forgot to tell Darcy’s bank manager and while the purists rejoiced when “the axeman” (as English golf writer Ian Wooldridge dubbed him) came up short in his bid for The Open at Royal Birkdale in 1991 and finished fifth, his peers had nothing but respect for him.
Grange professional Wattie Sullivan did not know what he was getting in 1968 when he asked the Delgany professional Jimmy Bradshaw (brother of Harry) if he knew any young lad who wished to train as a professional.
Darcy was a humble 12 handicapper when he hopped on a Honda 50 and headed over the Scalp to begin one of the truly remarkable careers in golf. “Everyone thought I was stone mad – at least they didn’t think I was going to be a golfer,” Darcy said of his start.
While he was supplementing his £3-a-week wages playing early morning money matches with a well-to-do member, he knew he had to play more and spying an ad in a golf magazine for an assistant’s job at Erewash Valley in Derbyshire at 18, he took the plunge, working nights as a crane driver to boost his meagre wages.
The European Tour was in its infancy back then but Darcy took to it immediately, and by 1975, he was leading qualifier for the GB&I Ryder Cup team, making his debut a few weeks after his 23rd birthday.
“Through the ball,” his first employer Sullivan always maintained, “Eamonn was as good and as orthodox as anyone in the world.” It’s a view echoed by 1987 Ryder Cup captain Jacklin and his Irish pals from Des Smyth to Philip Walton and McGinley, who loved his company but also realised watching him practise that there were no shortcuts to success.
“Henry Cotton took me under his wing,” Darcy explained. “And he’d say, ‘Laddie, I want you to listen to me. Don’t listen to anybody about your swing and don’t change it.’ When I asked who was the best player he ever played with, Henry always said Jimmy Bruen. I guess that’s why he never tried to change my swing.”
He never did change and his farewell to tour golf was tinged with sadness, not for himself but for an older era.
“I am sad,” he said just a few hours after his swansong. “But it’s time to say that’s it. There is no point in just carrying on. I always said, if I didn’t think I could compete, I wouldn’t be playing. I don’t want fellas saying, he used to be a good player, look at him now.”
Always a home bird, he has time now to spend more time with his wife Suzanne and their horses in Enniskerry, reflecting on a life lived well.
“Four Ryder Cups, 22 tournaments worldwide…,” he mused. “The highlight? Captaining the Dunhill Cup-winning team with Des and Ronan Rafferty and holing the winning putt in the Ryder Cup at Muirfield Village in 1987. It was great.
“I have no regrets. I have played with so many legends and met so many great people. What slowed me down a bit was missing my old pal Christy O’Connor Jnr. We kept each other going for a long time and if he was around, we would probably still be going. He would have loved to have bowed out the way I did.”
What they said about ‘the Darce’
Tony Jacklin (former Open and US Open winner and Ryder Cup captain)
“The Darce was more than just a great player. He was a character. A real character. It’s a phrase that’s used too loosely these days, but they broke the mould after they made Eamonn. He was very special. He was one of the best pitchers of the ball I have ever seen. He had one of the those old, brown-shafted wedges and it was a sight to behold. It was beautiful.
“He had that figure of eight in there – a shorter version of his full swing – and it gave him time to get everything right. And he had wonderful feel. He didn’t have an artist’s hands. He had a farmer’s hands. But when it came to that little shot, he was fantastic.
“Like many of us, he came from the school of hard knocks. His swing? He was like Miller Barber, Gay Brewer, Ed Furgol and other old-timers from days gone by. They made it work. That’s the most important thing. It didn’t deter them and it didn’t deter Eamonn.
“When it came to the Ryder Cup, he was a great team man and a great addition to what we had going in ’87. My abiding memory is the five-footer he made on the last against Ben Crenshaw. That said it all. Everything was on the line. It was one of the quickest putts on the golf course, and it wasn’t one of those puts you could fluke in.”
Des Smyth (former Tour colleague)
“Eamonn came on very quickly and it was basically down to hard work. A bit like Pádraig Harrington today, you came out on tour, saw the work guys like Eamonn were doing, and you realised there is only one way to get to the top. These guys put in hours and hours hitting balls. Eamonn with his funny action, he speared his irons at the flag.
“That was his stock shot. Once he got it on the fairway, he was a very dangerous player, and in those days, he had an unbelievable short game. Technically, he was very good. The flying right elbow threw everybody out, but the club was always in a good place.
“There were a lot of great players in that mould – Miller Barber, Lee Trevino, Hubert Green. These guys won tournaments and major money. They were never a pushover, even for the greats like Nicklaus and Watson. Eamonn was like them. He came up through tough times when every penny was a capture. It’s the end of an era for sure. That Dunhill Cup win with Eamonn and Ronan Rafferty in 1988 meant a lot to him and to us. I have lovely memories.”
Paul McGinley (former Ryder Cup player and captain)
“People judged him on his swing, not his ball flight and what most stood out for all of us was that he had the best ball flight of us all – a strong, penetrating, driven flight with a baby fade on it. He was probably the best storyteller I have ever come across in golf. Once he got stuck into telling a joke or a story, he had a magnetism that drew everybody in. I can’t talk highly enough of him. He is one of my favourite people, not just in golf but in life.
“We were lucky – myself, Pádraig and Darren – that when we came on tour, we inherited a family in Des, Christy Junior and Darce. We spent a lot of time around them, had a lot of dinners together and that knowledge was passed down. There was lots of needle, but it was also fun with a lot of laughter and a lot of craic. There was deep caring about how other guys were doing. You were part of that Irish family on tour, and I felt the huge benefit of it.”
Philip Walton (former Ryder Cup player)
“The Darce was the best shotmaker I have ever played with, and his chipping was also second to none. If the Darce liked you, he would always give you sound advice on your game and do it quietly.”
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