Date: November 15, 2006
Author: Jim Webster

The Iron Man returns

By Jim Webster It was a half-century ago, but for Bruce Crampton, Australian golf&aposs original &aposIron Man&apos, those memories are as excitingly alive and emotive as though it had all just happened. As he wanders these very fairways this week, what unfolded over those few days will all become even more pointed even more meaningful even more telling. Crampton has returned, as a guest of Golf Australia, to share in the 2006 MFS Australian Open championship celebrations and undoubtedly reminisce about the 1956 championship here at Royal Sydney. His presence, and the accompanying memories, will remind all of us of the immensely impressive figure he was to become. After all, it was this championship which took the talented 20-year-old and launched him onto the world golfing stage, where he stood so proudly among the greatest players of his generation. He went on to win the US Tour&aposs Vardon Trophy, given to the player with the lowest scoring average, in 1973 and 1975. He also was the first foreign-born member of the Tour to win $US1 million in prizemoney. Crampton had 14 career victories on the US Tour between 1961 and 1975 and was runner-up in four of the world&aposs major championships (one US Open, one US Masters and two US PGA Championships). Other victories included the New Zealand PGA Championship, the Far East Open and the Philippines Open. Then on the Champions Tour he won a handful of 20 more tournaments and topped the money-list in 1986. His last victory was the 1997 Cadillac NFL Championship on the Senior Tour. Nowadays, Crampton doesn&apost play golf and won&apost be making an exception here. It&aposs more than seven years since he last swung a club. He and his family live in Annapolis, Maryland, having been encouraged to move there by a good friend who is an Anheuser-Busch distributor and who also took him into his business to run the sign department and accompanying computer-related work. Even in his spare time he cannot be tempted onto the course. He candidly admitted in an exclusive interview for this program that: “I have no desire to play golf and honestly do not miss it. I&aposve climbed that mountain twice, and that&aposs enough. Without all the training and practising I now have time for other things.” But he says what transpired all those years ago, especially here at Royal Sydney, will never be erased. He remembers everything just as it happened in that 1956 Open and was able to recall for us, without notes or a reminder, every detail, so important was it to him. Well, that&aposs not entirely true. Crampton does have a constant reminder in the large picture frame containing eight black-and-white photographs taken the day of his win, including one of the scoreboard detailing his victory total of 289 over the luminous parade of Kel Nagle (291), Ossie Pickworth (295) and Norman von Nida (296). To defeat such a trio, at just 20 years of age, says more than anything of Crampton&aposs greatness. That photograph sits right outside his workday office, so whenever headed to or from his office/computer he cannot help but look at it, and remember Crampton takes up the story himself of that week: “I remember Royal Sydney as one of the top A Grade courses in the Sydney area, very exclusive, and an excellent layout. I am aware that the course has undergone lots of changes since I last saw it, so I am anxiously looking forward to being able to walk around it again, and see how much looks familiar.” “I recall the 1st hole being a very short par 4 which could be reached with a good tee shot.” “Following my third-round 78 that year (the championship finished on Saturday with 36 holes being played) I recall sitting on the terrace overlooking the 1st hole and watching Kel (Nagle) only make a par on hole No 1 at the start of his final round and telling myself that if I could birdie it I would only be five shots behind.” “As fate had it, I not only birdied No 1, but No 2 as well.” “I think Kel and I were tied as I came to the 15th hole, which was a downwind par-5, as was No 16. When I failed to birdie either, I was confronted with having to par the last two to tie.” “The 17th was a 220-yard plus par-3, playing right into the southerly which was blowing. I managed to kill&apos a 3-wood and put my tee shot onto the very front corner of the green. The cup was cut towards the back left corner. I can still visualise that putt of some 50 feet or more going into the hole. I then managed to hit a 3-wood and 6-iron about five feet short of the hole on the 72nd green, hole the putt, and win by two shots.” Until this year, the only definitive reminder of his having won the 1956 Australian Open was those photographs hanging near his office. Now he has another. “Australia did not have television in 1956 and I had not obtained a copy of any film clips which might have been available. Yet I remember going to the State Theatre in Market Street the week after my victory to see a Movietone News piece about my win. ” “Well, this year, thanks to the thoughtfulness and generosity of Peter Bleeck (former NSW Golf Association official), I now have a copy of that black-and-white Movietone News clip, which is probably not more than 90 seconds in length, but certainly as significant a piece of memorabilia as I possess.” Just why those reminders are so important is because Crampton says that “whenever I am asked what my biggest victory was, I always say that it was my victory in the 1956 Australian Open.” After all, every sportsman and woman strives to become the national champion of their own country. It not only gave Crampton that distinction, but earned him an invitation to the 1957 Masters Tournament in Augusta, which took him to the US. “Thus, all that followed and it has been quite a ride,” Crampton says “is a direct result of that victory.” Accompanying him on this visit is his older son, Jay, who has not been here since he was a youngster. They&aposve just had three days&apos trout fishing in New Zealand and here they&aposll be seeing family (Crampton&aposs oldest relative here has just turned 101), friends and renewing acquaintances, visiting ancestors&apos resting places and nourishing Jay&aposs passion about Ned Kelly&aposs life. Golf remains part of Crampton&aposs life through Australia&aposs voluminous talent. “It is very gratifying to see the success Australian golfers are having throughout the world. In America, there is much being written and spoken about the Australian contingent and how many good players Australia is producing. Although I do not watch each and every week&aposs telecasts of the tournaments, I do pay attention to the scores. “Now, the four majors are different. I always try to watch the final two rounds and certainly was watching as Geoff Ogilvy made history by winning at Winged Foot.”