Joe Carr, Irish Amateur Golf Great

Irish golfer Joe Carr
Joe Carr is generally regarded as the greatest Irish amateur golfer of all-time. He won the British Amateur three times, the Irish Amateur four times. And he won around 35 other significant amateur championships. He was praised for his sportsmanship and his dedication to "the spirit of the game," and given awards for those very things by golf organizations around the world, including the USGA. A Walker Cup record-setter, he also captained the R&A.

Full name: Joseph Benedict Carr

Date of birth: February 22, 1922

Place of birth: Inchicore, Ireland

Date and place of death: June 3, 2004 in Dublin, Ireland

Also known as: J.B. Carr, Joseph B. Carr

Carr's British Amateur Victories

  • 1953 British Amateur: His march to the championship match wasn't an easy one — Carr was taken to extra holes three times. Then, upon reaching the final, Carr found the defending champion, Harvie Ward, waiting for him. The outcome was a hard-fought, 2-up victory, one earned after the match was all square going to the 30th hole. Time Magazine reported that "an Irish clothing merchant" (Carr) had beaten the defending champion. Afterward, Ward called Carr "one of the finest golfers I have ever seen."

  • 1958 British Amateur: It was another tough road to the final, with Carr conquering, along the way, Philip Scrutton in the fifth round; Gerald Micklem, 3 and 2, in the quarterfinals; and Michael Bonallack, 4 and 3, in the semifinals. In the championship match, Carr defeated Alan Thirlwell, 3 and 2. Carr's lead was a slim 1-up after the 29th hole, but on the 30th he drove the green on a par-4 and won the hole. Then he won the 31st after playing a great recovery shot out of a fairway bunker onto the green. This victory happened at St. Andrews.

  • 1960 British Amateur: A win in Northern Ireland (at Royal Portrush) for the Irishman. Carr had to get past Bonallack again, and beat him 2 and 1 in the quarterfinals. The championship match was a breeze for Carr this time. He was 10-up against Bob Cochran after 28 holes, and won by a final score of 8 and 7.

In the Walker Cup

Joe Carr is the all-time Walker Cup leader in playing appearances, with 10: He played for Team GB&I in the Walker Cups of 1947, 1949, 1951, 1953, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1963 and 1967. That is two more playing appearances than GB&I's Michael Bonallack, and one more than the Team USA leader, Jay Sigel.

He also holds the Team GB&I record for most years between first (1947) and last (1967) playing appearances; and he has the second-most matches played (20) for GB&I in Walker Cup history, third-most overall.

Carr captained GB&I in the 1965 Walker Cup, and was playing-captain in the 1967 Walker Cup.

In his 1947 Walker Cup debut at St. Andrews, Carr lost in foursomes partnering Cecil Ewing to Ted Bishop and Skee Riegel, 3 and 2. But in singles, Carr defeated Bishop, 5 and 3.

In 1951, Carr and Ronnie White halved Frank Stranahan and William C. Campbell in foursomes, then Carr beat Stranahan in singles, 2 and 1.

In 1959, Carr beat Charlie Coe in singles, 2 and 1, putting the final seven holes using his 3-iron. He was 1-up with seven holes to go when a fan unwittingly stepped on Carr's putter, breaking the shaft. Putting was already Carr's weakness, but that turned out to be a good thing, in this case: Sometimes he got so frustrated with his putting that he willingly switched to putting with a long iron. It was unwilling this time, but it still worked out for him. Carr closed out the match by making, with his 3-iron, a 15-foot putt on the 35th hole.

In the 1963 Walker Cup, Carr beat R.H. Sikes in singles, 7 and 5.

Carr's singles losses were to Johnny Dawson in 1949, Harvie Ward in 1953 (several months after they had met in the British Amateur championship match), Don Cherry in 1955, William C. Campbell in 1957, and, in the 1961 Walker Cup, 6 and 4 to Jack Nicklaus.

Carr was technically a playing captain in 1965, but did not select himself for any matches. Team GB&I halved that Walker Cup with Team USA, 11 to 11. It was the only one of the 11 Walker Cups Carr participated in that was not won by the American side. That American domination of the period puts Carr's overall Walker Cup playing record of 5-14-1 into some perspective: The American teams of the era were loaded, as we've seen just in the listed names of Carr's opponents.

Carr was player-captain again in 1967, but Team USA won that one, 13-7. (Carr played one match, a foursomes, but lost.)

More About Joe Carr

How admired was Joe Carr in the golf world of his time? He was the first Irishman ever invited to play in The Masters, and Bobby Jones wrote letters to him extolling his sportsmanship and respect for the game. He was the first non-American given the Bob Jones Award by the United States Golf Association.

And when U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower traveled to Ireland and wanted to play golf, he asked for Carr to play with him. Ike, in poor health with a heart condition by that time, needed a riding cart for the round — but there weren't any in Ireland. Carr arranged the use of Rolls-Royce convertible, and that is how Eisenhower and Carr rode around Portmarnock Golf Club that day.

In 1991 and 1992, he was the first Irishman to captain the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews. In 2007, he was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame. And in 2014, Carr was posthumously the honoree at The Memorial Tournament (after watching Nicklaus play during the 1961 U.S. Amateur, Carr predicted that Nicklaus would be "the best player the world will ever see").

All of that and much more like it was built on a remarkable career as an amateur golfer. In addition to his three wins (1953, 1958 and 1960) in the British Amateur Championships, Carr won his native Irish Open Amateur four times (1946, 1950, 1954, 1956). He also won the Irish Close Amateur ("close" meaning only Irish golfers could enter) six times. In regional play, Carr won the West of Ireland Amateur and East of Ireland Amateur 12 times each, and added on three titles in the South of Ireland Amateur.

The 1941 East of Ireland was his first significant title, at age 18; and the 1969 South of Ireland Amateur his last, at age 47. Carr had more than 40 wins in significant amateur tournaments over his career. Also included in those were the 1951 Golf Illustrated Gold Vase in England; the 1955 Gleneagles-Saxone Foursomes Tournament, a big pro-am of the era, with pro Harry Bradshaw as partner; and the 1959 Berkshire Trophy in England.

Carr was described by the World Golf Hall of Fame this way:

"Tall and lean, he was an exceptionally long hitter with an ability to recover from trouble with winning strokes."
Peter Alliss, Carr's contemporary although a pro, wrote that Carr was "an extremely long hitter, employing, until he modified it, a swaying slash of a swing with a pronounced lean into the shot and the right hand quite well under the shaft. The method, not surprisingly, got him into wild country, and frequent experience there made his recovery shots excellent. He was also an outstandingly good sand player. His only weakness was on the greens, it was by no means unknown for him to resort to using a long iron when all putters had failed him."

Carr was a very hard worker on his game. He ran a very successful clothing business, and through that success bought a house overlooking Sutton Golf Club near Dublin. The club allowed him to erect floodlights at one point on the golf course so he could continue practicing after the sun went down.

He was born in a town on the outskirts of Dublin to parents who already had seven kids. A childless aunt and uncle (those were the Carrs) adopted him when he was 10 days old. And that set Carr on his path: his adoptive parents had just been named steward and stewardess at Portmarnock Golf Club. Carr was able to play that famous course beginning very early in his youth.

In addition to all the wins that piled up over his golf career, Carr came close many other times. In the 1950s, he made it to the semifinals of the British Amateur three other times. In 1968, at age 46, he lost the British Amateur championship match to Michael Bonallack, 7 and 6. Carr also reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur in 1961.

Carr also played in 18 professional majors, first at the 1951 British Open and last in the 1971 British Open. He was low amateur in the British Open in 1956 and 1958. His best showing was solo eighth place in the 1960 Open Championship (but he wasn't low amateur that year because Guy Wolstenholme finished sixth).

Carr also made the cut in two of the three Masters Tournaments he played. He became the first Irishman to play in The Masters in 1967, and later was given membership in Augusta National Golf Club.

In addition to the Walker Cup, Carr represented Ireland (or GB&I) in numerous other team competitions, both as player and captain. He was on the GB&I team at two Eisenhower Cups and in two St. Andrews Cups; he led Team Ireland to victory in the European Amateur Team Championship in 1965 and 1967.

Two years after the last of Carr's own Walker Cup appearances, his son Roddy played for GB&I in 1971, and later spent several years on the European Tour. Another son, John, reached the semifinals of the 1981 British Amateur.

List of Joe Carr's Tournament Wins

His biggest wins include these:
  • 1946 Irish Amateur
  • 1950 Irish Amateur
  • 1951 Golf Illustrated Gold Vase
  • 1953 British Amateur
  • 1954 Irish Amateur
  • 1955 Gleneagles-Saxone Foursomes (partnered by Harry Bradshaw)
  • 1956 Irish Amateur
  • 1958 British Amateur
  • 1959 Berkshire Trophy
  • 1960 British Amateur
In addition, Carr had numerous wins in regional Irish tournaments, plus the Irish Close Amateur (open only to Irish golfers):
  • East of Ireland Amateur: 1941, 1943, 1945, 1946, 1948, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1964, 1969
  • West of Ireland Amateur: 1946, 1947, 1948, 1951, 1953, 1954, 1956, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1966
  • South of Ireland Amateur: 1948, 1966, 1969
  • Irish Close Amateur: 1954, 1957, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1967

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