Tributes paid to Brian Barnes, one of golf’s great characters

He is the golfer who’ll be remembered for beating the great Jack Nicklaus twice in one day and also for marking his ball with a can of beer in a tournament at Dalmahoy.

Brian Barnes, one of golf's great characters, takes a break during the Scottish Open practice day at Turnberry in July 1977.
Brian Barnes, one of golf's great characters, takes a break during the Scottish Open practice day at Turnberry in July 1977.

As perfectly illustrated by those two moments in his career, Brian Barnes, who died on Monday at the age 
of 74 after losing a battle with cancer, was not only a great golfer but also one of the game’s great characters.

“Sad, sad day,” wrote Ewen Murray, the Sky Sports Golf commentator, on Twitter in summing up the feeling in the golf world as it came to terms with the news.

Overnight, Nicklaus said on social media: “(Wife) Barbara & I learned from Brian Barnes’ daughter, Didi, that her father & our friend Brian had lost his battle with cancer & passed.

“Her words, beautiful & comforting, said if she was to lose her father, it was as close to a “model passing” as any loving family member could want.”

Addington-born Barnes, who had a Turnberry-born father and Glaswegian mother, actually represented England at international level until 1971, when he joined the Scottish PGA.

He became one of the Butten Boys, five proteges earmarked to become future Open champs with their development funded by the financier, Ernest Butten.

He recorded nine wins on the European Tour and 20 overall in the paid ranks, including the Scottish PGA Championship at Dalmahoy in both 1981 and 1982. In the first of those successes, he famously marked his ball with a can of beer in an event that was sponsored by brewing company Drybrough.

Barnes played for Great Britain & Ireland and, subsequently, Europe in six consecutive Ryder Cups from 1969 to 1979, enjoying a successful partnership with Bathgate’s Bernard Gallacher.

However, he is best remembered for beating Nicklaus twice in one day at Laurel Valley in 1975, winning 4&2 in the morning then adding a 2&1 victory.

“It was matchplay where anyone can beat anyone,” he once said, trying to play down his greatest day. “Jack had won two majors that year and Arnold Palmer [US captain] wanted someone to give him a game. Then [after the morning match] Jack said to Arnie: ‘Give me that Barnes again.’

“What did we talk about? Oh, fishing, our families – anything but golf. Jack, as ever, was an absolute gent. Mind you, he was bloody pissed off at the end. I can still hear the thump of his golf shoes being flung into the locker.”

After turning 50, Barnes, the son-in-law of 1951 Open champion Max Faulkner, won the Senior British Open Championship in 1995 and became the first man to successfully defend the title in 1996. The first of those successes was an emotional affair at Royal Portrush, where Faulkner had recorded his victory in the main Claret Jug in 1951 – the last time the R&A event had been held at the Antrim venue until this year.

He topped the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit in 1995 and went on to play the Champions Tour in the US.

Arthritis hampered his career and forced him to leave tournament golf in 2000.

It is said he would regularly tee off with a bottle of vodka and orange juice in his bag and one year – at the Zambia Open – downed three pints in the clubhouse, checked his watch and headed for the door.

“I better be going now,” he said. “I’m on the 10th tee.”

However, the drinking took its toll and Barnes came close to committing suicide before eventually receiving treatment for alcoholism in 1993.

“The passing of Brian Barnes has hit pretty hard as it will all of you who had the privilege of being his friend,” added Murray yesterday. “We tread many footsteps together in many parts of the world. The hurt now will give way to glorious memories in time. We’ll meet again Barnsy.”

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