I well remember the 1967 Ryder Cup matches at the Champions Golf Club in Houston for several reasons, a couple of them having nothing to do with golf!
I’d had a very successful series of matches in the 1965 Ryder Cup played at Royal Birkdale, so I was looking forward to another encounter, particularly as it was to be played at the new club jointly owned by Jack Burke and Jimmy Demaret. I’d heard that they’d bought hundreds of acres 30 miles outside Houston on which to build their own club. Most of their friends thought they’d gone mad. Hundreds of acres of scrub and swamp, infested with mosquitos and all sorts of other creepy-crawlies. What on earth were they doing? I knew them both, neither was stupid, so I was anxious to see how it had turned out.
The clubhouse appeared to be one huge building and not much else, but once inside what a difference. At that time it was one of the best facilities I had seen in the golfing world.
The captain of the U.S. team was Ben Hogan, someone I’d corresponded with on a couple of occasions and for whom I had great respect. I found him an interesting man with one or two complexes, which, I was later told, were perhaps due to the fact that he had not gone to university so felt that he lacked a certain degree of education. I don’t think he ever realized that he had become one of the most elegant and erudite sportsmen in the world at that time.
The opening ceremony began with hundreds, not thousands, of spectators. The flags were raised and our captain, Dai Rees, announced Great Britain’s team. “And now may I introduce so and so, who has just won such and such…” All relatively minor competitions compared with the mighty tournaments being played in the United States. All this was met with relatively polite applause.
Then it was Hogan’s turn. He gestured for his team to rise and said simply, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce the finest golfers in the world.” Whether we admitted it at the time, we all felt rather deflated.
There seemed at that time a slight feeling of animosity between Hogan and Arnold Palmer. Perhaps it was professional jealousy. Hogan had pretty well had his time, and brilliant as he was, it didn’t compare to the razzmatazz Palmer had created. Palmer also had a new toy, a fantastic airplane that he delighted in flying over the golf course, twisting and turning to the delight of the spectators and his teammates. Well, all but one: Ben Hogan. The story goes that after landing and journeying back to the course, Palmer enquired as to whom he would be playing with the next day, to which Hogan reputedly snapped back, “I’m not sure you’ll be playing at all.”
One of my good friends was Doug Sanders, who was on the U.S. team. Hogan caught us knocking a few balls about together when nobody else was around and he nearly blew a gasket, suggesting Doug should not fraternize with the enemy.
The end result was a win for the United States, 23½ to 8½—a thrashing! No one could deny that. Even Captain Rees, an ever-affable chap, could not raise a smile. But many of the matches were close so from that point of view it wasn’t a total humiliation.
I played only one more Ryder Cup, in 1969 at Royal Birkdale, then retired from international play aged 38. The Ryder Cup and the game of golf have brought the Alliss family some pain over the years but also a great deal of joy and so many fond memories.