Date: May 16, 2013
Author: Mike Clayton /

Clayton: Don’t overlook Graham’s journey

Peter Stone, an Australian golf writer from an era long ago when newspapers had proper golf writers has forcefully made the case on this website for the induction of David Graham into the World Golf Hall of Fame. The irony of this particularly American concept is that the World Golf Hall of Fame has an International Section. It would make more sense for it to have an American section but given it was founded, and is based, in America it is hardly surprising that s the way it is. Less surprising is that the irony is seemingly lost on the Americans who, if they have a tendency, it is to award lesser importance to golfing achievements outside of their shores. Until we in Australia have another player who wins multiple major championships, Graham will rank as our third most significant Australian male golfer behind Peter Thomson and Greg Norman. Twice when he was at the peak of his game he played extraordinary rounds to win the game s biggest championships. The 1979 US PGA Championship was played at Oakland Hills in Detroit, a course so difficult Ben Hogan had described it as a monster after he had won the 1951 U.S Open. Graham hit a succession of characteristically brilliant iron shots in the final round and came to the final tee seven under par but he double bogeyed the 72nd hole to finish in 65. Facing Ben Crenshaw in a sudden-death playoff he snap-hooked his first tee shot into the rough and finished up facing a twenty-five footer just to keep the playoff alive. Graham made that putt, then a tying ten footer at the next before a brilliant birdie two at Oakland Hills 12th hole gave him the trophy. Then two summers later he came to historic Merion in suburban Philadelphia and played one of the truly great final rounds in U.S Open history. On a narrow, penal golf course he played the most precise golf from tee to green, missing a single fairway and not one green in regulation figures. He won six other tour events in America including Jack Nicklaus Memorial Tournament, recognised as having one of the strongest fields of the year. Some will no doubt argue that Graham did not win enough in America to qualify but to me they entirely dismiss the Australian s unusually difficult journey through the game. It is a perfectly legitimate argument to say that shouldn t matter and all that counts is a man s record. After all, Lee Trevino, Ben Hogan and more recently Angel Cabrera came from even more difficult personal circumstances than Graham. Let me put the other case. Graham was born in Melbourne and into what was from all accounts a miserably unhappy home. His parents barely spoke to each other and when the 15 year-old announced to his father that he was going to become a golf professional the response was; do that and I will never talk to you again. Hardly the words of an encouraging, even if he was disapproving, father. He broke his word only once when he turned up at the 1970 U.S Open at Haseltine. They had lunch and with little amicable to say to each other they parted for good. He worked at Riversdale, a nice club with a short but very good golf course and there he learned to play the game all over again for on his first day in the shop his boss, George Naismith, told him he should abandon his left handed clubs and play right-handed. Tales are legion of the kid who refused to give up even when he was struggling to break a hundred and despite the barbs from those contemporaries more talented. In the late 1960s he took a club professional&aposs job in Tasmania but he went bankrupt and to pay off his debts he moved to Sydney and took a job working for Clare Higson, a kindly man and the owner of Precision Golf Forging, a company then making the finest clubs in Australia. By early in 1970 he was tearing through the then significant state open championships, beating most of the country&aposs best players. He was a chronically slow player who ground his way to good scores and many thought him surly and difficult but here was a man more determined than any of his local rivals. At the end of that year he and Bruce Devlin dominated the World Cup in Argentina. Encouraged by his second place finish in the individual event behind local hero Roberto de Vicenzo and the genial Devlin (then one of the best players on the tour) Graham went to America and earned his tour card at the end of 1971. If the Hall of Fame take International play seriously then surely a man who has won on six continents, the World Match Play Championship and The Australian Open when it boasted a field of world-class players including Nicklaus and Crenshaw, then Graham is a man worthy of greater recognition in America. In Australia his achievements will always receive full marks because his countrymen well understand just how far it is from the back of George Naismith s pro-shop to the very top of the game.