Brian Barnes, the golfer who beat Jack Nicklaus twice in a day, dies aged 74

James Corrigan
The Telegraph
The son of a golf club secretary, Brian Barnes was regarded as one of the great characters of the European Tour - PGA of America
The son of a golf club secretary, Brian Barnes was regarded as one of the great characters of the European Tour - PGA of America

Brian Barnes, the Scotsman who famously beat Jack Nicklaus twice in a single day at the Ryder Cup, has died, aged 74, following a short illness.

The son of a golf club secretary was regarded as one of the great characters of the European Tour who would often play in shorts and long socks and swing with his pipe in his mouth. But his eccentricity could not conceal the breadth of his talent. Barnes won 15 times on Tour and finished in the top 10 of the Open on three occasions including when fifth at Muirfield in 1972. 

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There were also six successive Ryder Cup appearances, with Barnes best known for his heroics at the 1975 match at Laurel Valley in Pennsylvania. Bernard Gallacher, his close friend and Ryder Cup team-mate, explained the scenes.

“When he beat Jack Nicklaus [4&2] in the morning singles we were so pleased for him and then we found out that Arnold Palmer had gone to Bernard Hunt, our captain, and said that Jack wanted to play Brian again in the afternoon,” Gallacher recalled on Tuesday. 

“All the crowd wanted it so Bernard asked Brian and he agreed. It was an amazing moment for British golf when Brian won again [2&1]. The Americans couldn’t believe it and they were all congratulating him saying they never though anybody could beat Jack.”

That achievement has long passed into golfing folklore, with Nicklaus, himself, telling Golf Digest a few years ago: “Barnesy told me 15 years later, 'you know, when I beat you that day I was stone drunk’.” 

Alas, that was very likely true. Barnes would regularly tee off with a bottle of vodka and orange juice in his bag and on the final green at the Scottish PGA Championship at Dalmahoy in 1981 employed his beer can as a ball marker before holing out for victory. However, the drinking took its toll and Barnes came close to committing suicide before eventually receiving treatment for alcoholism in 1993.

Barnes found his second life as a professional two years later, when turning 50 and becoming eligible for the Senior Tour and this is when he won his most prestigious title.  Barnes prevailed at the Senior Open at Royal Portrush that year and then successfully defended the title at the same venue 12 months later. The Northern Irish links  played an important part in Barnes's life as it was there his father-in-law Max Faulkner won the Open Championship in 1951.

Barnes also claimed a maiden victory on the Champions Tour in America at the Canada Senior Open in 1998 before arthritis brought his career to an end in 2000 and he moved into commentating, working for Sky Sports. Barnes passed away from cancer at his home in on Monday with his daughter, Didi, and son, Guy, by his side. His wife, Hilary, died in 2014.

"I knew Brian ever since I turned pro back in 1968 and we often played practice rounds together,” Gallacher said. “In some ways they were more enjoyable than the tournaments. He was a terrific driver of the ball - long and straight - and if he had enjoyed travelling more, he had the potential to be one of the best players in the world.”

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