Brian Barnes: The British Golfer Who Beat Nicklaus Twice in Same Day

Brian Barnes was a British golfer whose pro career began as a "Butten Boy" in the 1960s, before he grew into a consistent European Tour winner in the 1970s. But what he's most-famous for is beating Jack Nicklaus in match play twice in the same day.

Full name: Brian William Barnes

Date of birth: June 3, 1945

Place of birth: Addington, Surrey, England

Date and place of death: September 9, 2019 in West Sussex, England

Nickname: Barnesy

Barnes' Biggest Wins

Brian Barnes is credited with nine wins on the European Tour, from the tour's founding in 1972 until his last in 1981:
  • 1972 Martini International
  • 1974 Dutch Open
  • 1975 French Open
  • 1976 British Match Play Championship
  • 1978 Spanish Open
  • 1978 Greater Manchester Open
  • 1979 Portuguese Open
  • 1979 Italian Open
  • 1981 Haig Whisky TPC
Barnes also won multiple tournaments before the founding of the European Tour. Those include:
  • 1967 Flame Lily Open
  • 1969 Agfa-Gevaert Tournament
  • 1969 Coca-Cola Young Professionals' Championship
  • 1970 Wills Australian Masters (Australasian Tour)
He also had three wins in Africa on the Safari Circuit:
  • 1979 Zambia Open
  • 1981 Benson & Hedges Kenya Open
  • 1981 Zambia Open
Barnes is credited with three wins on the U.S. senior circuit, the Champions Tour, two of them senior majors:
  • 1995 Senior British Open
  • 1996 Senior British Open
  • 1998 AT&T Canada Senior Open Championship

In the Majors

Aside from a pair of Masters appearances (both missed cuts), Barnes only played in the Open Championship. And in The Open, he recorded three career top 10 finishes: tied for sixth in 1968, solo fifth in 1972, and tied for 10th in 1973. Barnes first appeared in the 1965 British Open, and made the cut in his final appearance at the 1996 British Open.

Barnes shared the first-round lead in 1968, and was second after two rounds. But an 80 in the third round killed his chances. In 1972, Barnes entered the final round in fourth place, five strokes behind leader Lee Trevino, and finished in fifth, five strokes behind winner Lee Trevino.

Barnes in Ryder Cup (and Beating Nicklaus Twice in Same Day)

Brian Barnes played for Team Great Britain & Ireland/Team Europe in the Ryder Cup six times: 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977 and 1979. He played 25 matches, compiling an overall 10-14-1 record — which was actually a pretty good record for a GB&I/Europe player in the 1970s, a period of USA domination. Barnes was 5-5-0 in singles, with wins over Mason Rudolph, Miller Barber, Jack Nicklaus twice, and Hale Irwin.

Wait, he beat Jack Nicklaus twice in Ryder Cup singles? Not only did Barnes do that, but he beat Nicklaus twice in the same day. For several Ryder Cups there were two sessions of singles matches on the final day, 16 singles matches total. In the 1975 Ryder Cup, Barnes and Nicklaus first faced off in the last match of the morning singles session. Barnes won 4 and 2.

Nicklaus went to team captain Arnold Palmer and requested a rematch with Barnes. So in the afternoon session, Barnes and Nicklaus had a rematch, once again as the final match in the session. And once again, Barnes beat Nicklaus, this time by a 2-and-1 score. Unfortunately for Barnes and his teammates, neither match mattered in the outcome: Team USA had taken a 12.5 to 3.5 lead into the final day.

But it certainly mattered to Barnes and especially to Nicklaus, who was disgusted by the double-loss. Years later, Barnes remembered entering the players' locker-room after the second match. In those days, the players from both teams shared the space, just partitions separating them. Barnes could hear Nicklaus on the other side of the partition, muttering to himself, taking his shoes off and slamming them onto the ground, letting slip a few choice words. Barnes stood on a stool and peered over the partition, asking, "Something wrong, Jack?"

Nicklaus responded with a few more choice words, then burst out laughing. The two golfers and their families went to dinner that night, and Nicklaus and Barnes remained friends the rest of Barnes' life.

Nicklaus once addressed that day in the 1975 Ryder Cup this way: "To be honest, too much has been made of Barnesy beating me twice on Sunday at the 1975 Ryder Cup. Why? Because Brian Barnes was a tough competitor!"

In Ryder Cup history, Barnes is in the top 10 for Team GB&I/Europe in number of singles matches played (10). He also frequently partnered Bernard Gallacher over their respective Ryder Cup runs, the pair earning 5.5 points as a team. At the time of their last pairing, in 1979, that tied the all-time record for Team GB&I/Europe. Barnes/Gallacher partnered one another 10 times in Ryder Cup play, with five wins, four losses and one halve. Their most successful cup was also their last as teammates: In the 1979 Ryder Cup, the partners won three out of four matches.

More About Brian Barnes

Peter Alliss once described Brian Barnes' game as "extremely powerful, with a slow, short backswing followed by a controlled lunge at the ball." His putting was "reliable," Alliss wrote, "despite the fact that he once took 12 putts on a green during the 1968 French Open, the result of a tantrum."

Alliss, in his book The Who's Who of Golf (affiliate link), wrote of Barnes:

"He has always seemed something of an eccentric ... A pipe is often in his mouth during play, shorts are in evidence in hot weather and his clothing has often been highly colorful."
Barnes' nationality is listed as Scottish because he was born to Scottish parents, but he was born in, lived in, and died in England. He represented both England and Scotland in international team tournaments, including each against the other, but more often played for Scotland. His father served as secretary at Burnham and Berrow Golf Club in Somerset, England.

Brian's golf career took off after he won, at age 19, the 1964 British Youths Open Amateur Championship (a now-defuct event not to be confused with the Boys Open, the R&A's national junior championship). Barnes turned pro later that year.

Barnes soon became one of the original "Butten Boys." Beginning in 1964, and for several years after, a wealthy British businessman named Ernest Butten selected and sponsored several young British golfers, and paid for their training in golf, physical fitness and psychology. It was a training program whose stated goal was to produce a British major championship winner. It never did, but Barnes and Tommy Horton both emerged from the program as stalwarts of British and European golf.

Barnes' instructor for part of his time with the Butten Boys was 1951 British Open winner Max Faulkner. Barnes and Faulkner's daughter, Hillary, married in 1968 and were together until her death in 2014.

In 1967, Barnes won his first significant pro event, the Flame Lily Open in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), and he finished 11th on the British circuit's Order of Merit. Barnes would finish no lower than 27th through 1982, and, at the end of 1983, Barnes ranked third behind only Seve Ballesteros and Neil Coles in career earnings in European golf.

In 1972, the first year of the European Tour, Barnes won the Martini International, had eight Top 10 finishes and was fourth on the Order of Merit. Fourth was his best OOM showing, which he matched in 1975; and he finished fifth in 1980.

Barnes had two wins each in 1978 and 1979, when he finished seventh and sixth, respectively, on the Order of Merit. He was 12th in 1981, then 27th and 33rd, but then fell off to 88th in 1984 and after that out of the Top 100.

For his career on the European Tour, Barnes is credited with 350 starts, nine wins, 12 seconds, six thirds, 56 Top 10s. But those numbers are depressed since his tournament appearances in the 1960s through 1971 pre-date the formation of the European Tour and are not included in those numbers.

Barnes' final European Tour win was the 1981 Haig Whisky TPC. He shot 62 in the final round — 28 over the final nine — to come from six strokes back and tie Grant Waite, whom he then defeated on the fourth playoff hole. On the 17th hole of regulation, Barnes, always known as a long hitter, drove the green on the 309-yard 17th hole, nearly acing it: His ball stopped a foot from the cup.

Barnes' nine Euro Tour wins weren't cheap. In addition to the TPC, he also won five national opens (Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian), plus the British Match Play Championship.

Three of his wins came in playoffs. In addition to the already mentioned TPC, Barnes also won playoffs at the 1978 Greater Manchester Open and 1979 Italian Open. He also lost two European Tour tournaments in playoffs, both in 1977: the Dunlop Masters and Italian Open.

Barnes won the U.S. PGA Tour Q-School tournament by five strokes in 1970, and played 10 tournaments in America that year, but otherwise rarely appeared in the United States (until senior golf). His best U.S. PGA Tour finish was third place.

Barnes represented Scotland in the World Cup each year from 1974 through 1977. And in addition to his final Euro Tour win in 1981, he also won twice in Africa on the Safari Tour in 1981.

And he won several more non-European Tour events after 1981, including the Scottish Professional Championship twice, and the Northern Open (a Scottish PGA tournament) for a second time.

But through the later part of the 1980s and into the early 1990s, Barnes' game nosedived. He had alwasy been a heavy drinker, and in 1993 he checked himself into an alcohol treatment center. It was the prelude to a resurgence of his game that paid off in senior golf. In fact, Sports Illustrated headlined a 1996 article about Barnes, "Dry Run: Making Up for Lost Time, Brian Barnes is Back on His Game Now that He's Off the Bottle."

Two months after turning 50, Barnes won the 1995 Senior British Open. He repeated as Senior Open champ in 1996, becoming the first golfer to win that title back-to-back. And he also won on the U.S. Champions Tour at the 1998 AT&T Canada Seniors Open. He was the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit winner in 1995.

Unfortunately, his senior career came to a stop before long after Barnes developed an arthritic condition. His final tournament appearance was in the 2000 Senior British Open. He played the Champions Tour full time from 1996-2000, with 127 career starts. In addition to his three wins, Barnes had 18 Top 10 finishes, including two seconds and two thirds.

After retiring from tournament golf, Barnes became an analyst on golf television broadcasts. He was 74 years old when he died of cancer in 2019.

Jack Nicklaus paid tribute to Barnes after his death by writing on Twitter: "As much entertainer as golfer, it wasn't uncommon to see him wear long, dark socks with shorts, tee off with pipe in his mouth and mark his ball with a can. ... Barnesy was long and straight off the tee, and, of course, quick of wit. Yes, we will miss Barnesy."

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