Draw In The Dunes
by Neil Sagebiel
Teachers’ Comments: Compelling and instructive.
Neil Sabiel’s Draw In The Dunes is a compelling account of the 1969 Ryder Cup, which was perhaps the most important competition in the event’s history. While that Cup is best known for “The Concession”—the final putt that Jack Nicklaus gave to Tony Jacklin to tie the score—that the competition was that close in the first place speaks to an extraordinary sequence of events.
GIven the United States’ recent struggles in the Ryder Cup, the backdrop to the 1969 edition is instructive. Great Britain’s team had struggled for years, and the Cup was quickly becoming an afterthought. Sagebiel says people openly wondered if the US team would even bother to make the Transatlantic trip.
The Cup was taken far more seriously in Britain, however, where Golf Illustrated writer and illustrator Paul Trevillion was frenetically working to boost the morale of both the players and fans.
“Trevillion wrote that big money on the US tour bred complacency rather than champions and boldly predicted that the “hungry young lions of Great Britain would rise up to dominate world golf in five years time. Then he offered this in all capital letters: THEY FEAR NO MAN AND THEY WILL START THE BALL ROLLING AT BIRKDALE THIS YEAR WHEN WE WIN THE RYDER CUP.”
With that, the stage was set for a truly memorable event.
The stars of the event surely were Jack Nickaus and Tony Jacklin, who fittingly were last on the course. But there was a host of memorable characters, including Peter Alliss, Bernard Gallacher, Christy O’Connor, Miller Barber, Billy Casper, Raymond Floyd and Michigan’s own irascible Dave Hill (I play the his brother Mike Hill’s course in Jackson, Michigan on a regular basis).
The competition ended with Jack Nicklaus’ now-legendary concession of a putt to Tony Jacklin. Jacklin, Nicklaus fully realized, was a British golfing hero and he wasn’t going to give him a chance to be the goat:
Upon conceding the putt and shaking Jacklin’s hand, Nicklaus said, “I don’t believe you’d have missed that putt, but I would never give you the opportunity in these circumstances.”
The 1969 Ryder Cup is a great story and Sabiel tells it with great skill. There was no television coverage to speak of (just three minutes by some accounts), so Sabiel relies heavily on the memories of the participants, as well as newspaper and archival sources. The pacing is perfect, and there is just enough detail. to satisfy real golf fans without turning off the casual reader.
The 1969 Ryder Cup did not end Britain’s losing streak, but it did offer a glimpse of hope for a beleaguered team. Further, “The Concession” created a new spirit of competition in the Cup that kept interest in the event alive throughout the next fourteen years of generally lopsided US wins. Given the chaos surround the recent streak of US losses in the Ryder Cup, I think American golf would do well to see what lessons can be derived from that 1969 competition.
Highly recommended. This would make a perfect Christmas or Holiday gift for the golfer in your life.