True lovers of golf fondly remember Tug Dudley and his exploits on the golf course back in the day. Some say you have not discovered golf until you have come to terms with the ‘big loss’. Unkind people refer to it as the ‘big choke’, but here at GolfDom we honour the greats of the game. Why he lost that championship will be discussed in golfing circles from now to eternity. It is a fact, that in golf and in most sports, everyone remembers who won and pays scant attention to whoever came second. Runner-up is a strange term and sounds like a call for competitors at the starting line. Apparently, first used in 1842 for ‘the dog that loses only the final race’. From 1885 refers to ‘team or competitor that takes second place.’
Losing The Seemingly Unlosable Cup: Our Tug
It was a cold and windy morning. According to Tug, dawn broke like that first ciggy in the shower, the cinders sizzling amid a light spray. Cloud cover was grey and unrelenting, but Tug holding an 11 shot lead going into the final round was feeling buoyant. Newspaper hacks were cupping polystyrene cups of tea in their hands next to a gas stove down at the caddies’ shed in a bid to keep warm. Old SP betting tickets from yesterday’s nag racing littered the ground at their feet. Those that were there, said it was a day like any other and nobody had any inkling about what was to unfold.
The Importance of Warm Balls At The Open
Golfers at the pointy end talk about the importance of the hands in how you play on any given day. That you can feel it in the hands when it is gonna be your day. Maybe that you can also tell when it is not your day. Tug could feel the chill of the morning stiffening his gnarly digits and knuckles. Indeed, back in the old country pro golfers used to warm their golf balls in front of radiators the night before The Open. A warm ball will travel further than a cold one, especially back in the day. Keeping your hands and balls warm in such brisk weather is a must for the touring pro.
Small balls on chilly days makes for hard golf and few birdies, according to Tug’s golfing wisdom. The day in question, would, of course, turn out to be tough and no prisoners were taken. The carnage was legendary and most of the blood spilt was Tugs’. Could things have played out differently if Tug had done things differently? Who knows, hypotheticals are for armchair critics and drunks in the pub to mull over. An 11 shot lead seems big and almost unassailable, but in golf, no lead is ever large enough. Greg Norman at the Masters in 1996 probably thought he would win his first green jacket, only to suffer the biggest choke in PGA history. Norman was classy in defeat, however, you have to hand that to him. Tug Dudley, likewise, quietly thought that he would romp home and played like a busted arse to hand the trophy to an unlikely outsider. Golf on grey days in cold climates can paint some of the most depressing scenes seen outside of that painting of Whistler’s mother. Watching a golf tournament slip away from a favourite is like bearing witness to a car crash in slow motion. You can’t take your eyes off it but some part of you wishes you were somewhere else.
Arnold Palmer lost the 1966 US Open to Billy Casper and this was considered the biggest choke in major history prior to Norman’s surrender to Faldo. Arnie was the crowd favourite and the most popular man in golf at the time. The fans were barracking for him and they were gutted to see the swashbuckling Palmer lose a 7 shot lead with 9 holes to play. Golf can be like that, a brutal mistress capable of emasculating even the most macho golfer. Adam Scott dropped 4 shots over the last 4 holes to lose The Open to Ernie Els at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 2012. I remember watching that myself and feeling sick with disbelief as it unfolded – as it came from nowhere. Scott had been making pars and trundling along merrily up until those last 4 holes. Golf can do that to you like no other sporting contest. Tug Dudley knows all about that, he wrote the record book on it with his own near freakish collapse.
Why he lost that championship. Whether it was the big dog feeling like a poisonous snake in his hands on most par 5s and long par 4s. Or, perhaps, it was the knee knocking tremblers that failed to go in on half a dozen greens. The game of golf seemingly deserted Tug on that fateful day in July. It was reported to me that Tug’s old man’s cocker spaniel Brownie died on the spot during that final round. Some say coincidence and others just nod and shake their heads sadly. It was just not meant to be. Tug wasn’t as graceful as Norman in defeat but who could blame the blacksmith’s son from Ballarat. It was a bitter pill to swallow and something few of us will ever forget. RIP Tug.