Eric Brown: Scottish Golfer Was Ryder Cup Hero

Eric Brown was a Scottish professional golfer best-known for his successes in his home country and in Ryder Cup singles matches. He won the Scottish PGA Championship eight times, for example (his tournament wins are listed below), and won a famously contentious Ryder Cup singles match against Tommy Bolt. Brown won many tournaments in the U.K. and several national opens, too, mostly in the 1950s but stretching into the 1960s.

Full name: Eric Chalmers Brown

Date of birth: February 15, 1925

Place of birth: Edinburgh, Scotland

Date and place of death: March 6, 1986 in Edinburgh, Scotland

Nickname: Bomber or "Bad Boy Brown"

In the Majors

Brown appeared in only one of the four majors of men's golf, the British Open. He first played it in 1948 and last in 1971. In 21 total appearances in the Open, Brown had six Top 10 finishes and 12 Top 25 finishes.

His best showings were back-to-back thirds, solo third in the 1957 British Open (he was the second-round leader) and tied third in the 1958 British Open (one stroke out of a playoff). He tied for fifth in the 1961 Open and had ninth-place finishes in 1952, 1953 and 1960.

According to The Encyclopedia of Golf (1975, Steel/Ryde), Brown once shared the British Open's 18-hole scoring record with a 65; and was the first golfer in British Open history to twice record a score of 30 for nine holes.

Brown In the Ryder Cup

Eric Brown played in the four Ryder Cups from 1953 through 1959, and captained the Great Britain & Ireland side in the Ryder Cups of 1969 and 1971. As a player, he had one of his team's all-time best singles records: He played four singles matches and won all four.

Most famous (or perhaps infamous) among those was his match against Tommy Bolt in the 1957 Ryder Cup. Bolt was a showman famous for his club-throwing temper; Brown was famous for his on-course intensity. Jimmy Demaret, in attendance that day but not playing, joked that he last saw them before the match throwing clubs at each other from 50 paces.

Brown was known as a speedy player, so in an act of gamesmanship, Bolt started playing very, very slow. The GB&I fans (it was played in England) began heckling Bolt, while Brown whispered something to his caddie and sent him running to the clubhouse. While the caddie was gone, Brown pulled his own golf bag. When the caddie returned, he had a folding chair. Then, when Bolt took forever to play a stroke in an attempt to annoy him, Brown unfolded the chair, took a seat, and waited Bolt out.

In the end, Brown took a 4-and-3 victory. The opponents did not shake hands. Bolt reportedly snapped to Brown, "Can't say I enjoyed the game." Brown reportedly retorted something along the lines of, "I don't supposed you did since you got stuffed."

Team GB&I had gone into that 1957 singles session trailing, 3-1. But as the lead-off man in singles, Brown set the tone. GB&I dominated the singles session and won the Ryder Cup, 7.5 to 4.5. It was the only GB&I victory from 1935 until Team Europe won the 1985 Ryder Cup.

In the 1953 Ryder Cup, Brown defeated Lloyd Mangrum in singles, 2-up. In the 1955 Ryder Cup, he beat Jerry Barber, 3 and 2. And in the 1959 Ryder Cup, Brown defeated Cary Middlecoff, 4 and 3. (These were all 36-hole matches.) He lost all four of the foursomes matches he played, however, so his overall Ryder Cup record was 4-4-0.

During that 1935-83 stretch with only a single Ryder Cup victory, the other time Team GB&I came closest to winning was the 1969 Ryder Cup, Brown's first turn as team captain. That event famously ended in a 16-16 tie when Jack Nicklaus conceded a short putt to Tony Jacklin on the final green, ensuring a tie and infuriating Team USA captain Sam Snead.

In his second go as team captain, in the 1971 Ryder Cup, Brown's squad again acquitted itself respectably, losing by an 18.5 to 13.5 score (which was a fairly close result for GB&I in those days, especially for a Ryder Cup played in America).

More About Eric Brown

Do any reading about Scotland's Eric Brown and you'll see him described as a "hard man" on the golf course with a "volatile temperament." Peter Alliss once wrote that Brown "was at his best as a match player, thriving on the greater element of personal combat in that form of golf."

The authors of The Encyclopedia of Golf (affiliate links used in this article) described him this way:

"At his peak, Brown was a great, inspirational player, capable of marvellous bursts of scoring, but dogged by lapses which were more attributable to flaws in technique, particularly in his grip, than of temperament."
What about that grip? He "had a hooker's left-hand grip," Alliss wrote in his Who's Who of Golf (1983), "and played with laid-off woods to alleviate his problems off the tee." That is to say, Brown used a very strong left-hand grip that caused him to hook the ball, so he opened the clubface of his woods to try to correct for that.

Alliss also wrote that, "For most of his career (Brown) was one of the best pitchers of the ball and a courageous putter."

Born in Edinburg, Brown's family moved to Bathgate, Scotland, before he turned two, and that is where he grew up. He learned golf at a course down the road from the family home. By 1946, when he was 21 years old, he claimed his first big tournament win: the Scottish Amateur.

Brown turned pro later that year. By 1950, he was notching successes, including finishing runner-up to Roberto De Vicenzo in the 1950 Dutch Open, and finishing second in the Swiss Open that year. But he also got his first pro win in 1950 at the Northern Open, a tournament in Scotland Brown went on to win five times total.

His first big win on the British PGA circuit was the 1952 Penfold Tournament (he was runner-up two later times), and Brown won the Swiss Open in 1951, Italian Open in 1952, and Irish and Portuguese opens in 1953. His first win in the Scottish PGA Championship was 1956. Brown won that tournament seven more times, eight times total, last in 1968. He was also runner-up four times in the Scottish PGA, last in 1971.

But 1957 was his biggest and best season of golf. There was his win over Bolt at the Ryder Cup that helped inspire Team GB&I to victory, of course. But Brown also had four tournament wins that year. Two were the previously mentioned Scottish tournaments he dominated; he also won the Dunlop Masters (better-known today as the British Masters) and partnered George Will to victory in the Gleneagles-Saxone Foursomes Tournament. Brown led the British circuit in scoring average that year, and was the 1957 Harry Vardon Trophy winner as the leading money-earner.

The biggest match-play tournament in Europe at the time, and one of the most-prestigious events overall, was the News of the World Match Play (also known as the British PGA Matchplay Championship). Brown reached the championship match in 1955 before falling to Ken Bousfield, 4 and 3. He made the semifinals in 1957.

Then Brown won the tournament twice in the early 1960s, when, as Alliss put it, "he was a little past his best days." In 1960, Brown beat Harry Weetman in the final, 3 and 2. In 1962, he defeated Ross Whitehead in the championship match, 1-up on the 19th hole.

Brown continued winning in Scotland through the 1960s, last taking the Scottish PGA in 1968. He was runner-up in the Alcan Golfer of the Year Championship in 1970, and, as previously noted, runner-up in the Scottish PGA in 1971. Those were his last hurrahs in big tournament golf, just as the European Tour was being created.

In addition to representing Scotland four times in the Ryder Cup on Team GB&I, Brown played for Scotland 13 times in the World Cup. He played that tournament every from 1954 through 1962, plus 1965 and 1966-68.

Brown wrote two books that were published in Great Britain, Knave of Clubs (1961) and Out of the Bag (1964). He was only 61 years old when he died of a stroke in 1986.

Eric Brown's Biggest Tournament Wins

All tournaments listed were won by Brown as a professional except for the first:

1946 Scottish Amateur
1950 Northern Open
1951 Swiss Open
1952 Italian Open
1952 Penfold Tournament
1953 Irish Open
1953 Northern Open
1953 Portuguese Open
1954 Northern Open
1955 Northern Open
1956 Stuart C. Goodwin Tournament (tie with John Fallon)
1956 Scottish Professional Championship
1957 Dunlop Masters
1957 Gleneagles-Saxone Foursomes Tournament (partnered by George Will)
1957 Northern Open
1957 Scottish Professional Championship
1958 Yorkshire Evening News Tournament (tie with Harold Henning)
1958 Hennessy Tournament
1958 Scottish Professional Championship
1960 News of the World Match Play
1960 Dunlop Tournament (tie with Ralph Moffitt)
1960 Scottish Professional Championship
1962 News of the World Match Play
1962 Scottish Professional Championship
1965 Scottish Professional Championship
1966 Scottish Professional Championship (tie with John Panton)
1968 Scottish Professional Championship

Photo credit: JohnReid Edinburgh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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