by Neil Fissler.
IF it wasn’t for the efforts of a former Millwall footballer, this week’s Ryder Cup probably wouldn’t be taking place.
Charles Burgess – known as “Chay” – has been largely forgotten in the history of golf’s most prestigious team competition.
But without the vision and drive of this Scotsman to keep the fledgling competition alive, the Ryder Cup could have died a long time ago.
Burgess – born in 1873 – joined Southern League Millwall Athletic in 1898, arriving in London’s East Ferry Road after spells at home-town Montrose, Sunderland and Dundee.
He was to make 62 appearances for The Lions before going on to Newcastle United and Portsmouth where he won a Southern League winners’ medal in 1902.
But it was a full 18 years after emigrating to the United States in 1910 that destiny called him to play a pivotal role arose in the survival of golf’s greatest competition – to be contested for the 40th time when the continents of Europe and the US meet on Friday at Gleneagles.
In 1927, the first Ryder Cup was played at Worcester, Massachussetts with the USA thrashing Great Britain 9.5 to 2.5. It was felt that a contest in 1928 would be too costly and impractical so it was decided that the event would be played every two years. But in 1929, the US PGA once again didn’t have the funds to send a team by liner across the Atlantic to England to defend the trophy.
Burgess, however, was determined to keep the cross-Atlantic competition alive so he arranged an impressive fund-raising tournament involving some of the greatest names in the history of American golf.
Walter Hagen, who was to play a pivotal role in the early history of the Ryder Cup, captaining the USA in the first six competitions, partnered Gene Sarazen. Hagen and Sarazen, the first man to win all the major titles, played against US Open Champion Johnny Farrell and Bobby Jones, who co-founded the Masters Championship. The tournament proved to be a major success – raising the $10,000 needed to send the US team, which included Farrell and Sarazen to the Moortown Golf Club in Leeds and save the Ryder Cup.
Burgess’s role has largely been overlooked – but he was also one of the leading golf coaches in the world for many years and a true pioneer of the game when it was a fledgling sport in the USA.
Burgess – who was professional at Woodland Golf Club in Massachussetts – would teach stars like crooner Bing Crosby and entertainer Al Jolson and baseball legend Babe Ruth to play the game.
His first major success was as tutor to Francis Ouimet, America’s first golfing hero and the first amateur to win the US Open in 1913. “Whatever progress I have made in golf I owe directly to Charlie Burgess” Ouimet admitted.
Burgess lived in Massachusetts until his death in 1960, at the age of 86, leaving his role in the Ryder Cup as his proud – if not wholly recognised – legacy.
This article originally appeared on The.Express.co.uk