Brian Barnes: Golfer who beat Jack Nicklaus twice in one day
An outsize character on and off the course, Barnes played in six Ryder Cup teams
Big-hitting golfer Brian Barnes regularly enraged the golfing authorities but thrilled spectators. Invariably dressed in tartan shorts and long socks – with pipe in mouth and can in hand – Barnes, who has died aged 74, could be a match for anyone in the game in his day.
Born in Addington, south London, Brian William Barnes was brought up by a Scottish-born golf professional and his music teacher wife. Educated at Millfield School, his academic achievements there were undistinguished but he did find sporting success.
Turning professional after winning the 1964 British Youths’ Championship, Barnes became one of the “Butten Boys”, an elite group based at Sundridge Park Golf Club and sponsored by a businessman, Ernest Butten. There they received tuition from Max Faulkner, a former British Open Champion (later Barnes’ father in law).
Barnes’ first professional win came at the 1967 Flame Lily Open, held in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). His initial British success came in 1969 at the Agfa-Gevaert Tournament at Stoke Poges. Later that year, he won the Coca-Cola Young Professionals’ Championship (for under-25s).
In 1971, he surprised many by successfully applying to join the Scottish PGA, going on to represent them throughout the 1970s. With his wife Hilary unwilling to relocate, Barnes duly returned his US tour card, focusing instead on the rapidly emerging European tour. His first victory there came at the 1972 Martini International event.
Over the next nine years, a further eight European wins followed. Though never winning a major, between 1968 and 1982 he completed all four rounds of the Open Championship, with best finishes of fifth and sixth. Likewise, in each year between 1972 and 1980, he was ranked in the top 10 of the European Order of Merit.
Other tournament successes included the Wills Masters in Australia, the Dutch, Spanish, Zambian, Portuguese, French, Zimbabwean, Italian and Kenyan Opens. He also represented Scotland in four World Cups and at the Double Diamond International Tournament.
Often in partnership with his friend Bernard Gallacher, Barnes played 25 Ryder Cup matches, including three on his last appearance in 1979. Winning 10, halving one and losing 14 of his encounters remains a respectable record in an era when the USA were very much the dominant force. In the 1975 contest, the first of his two victories came in the Sunday morning singles matches when he had a comfortable victory over Jack Nicklaus, 4 and 2. With Nicklaus intent on instant revenge by returning in the afternoon pairings, he instead lost again to Barnes, 2 and 1.
In his field, Barnes was a well-liked and humorous presence, but he struggled with alcoholism and depression, contemplating suicide on a number of occasions. It affected his game: in 1983, following a poor opening round of 81, he was disqualified and later fined for arriving late on the tee for the second round of the Lawrence Batley tournament.
Twelve months later he was fined £1,500 by the Professional Golfers’ Association – at that time the largest penalty ever levied in the sport – for allegedly derogatory remarks about the PGA and its staff. And he was once fined £250 for playing one-handed on his way to a round of 79 at Gleneagles. When then shooting a 63 for a new course record, the sponsors rewarded him for all the publicity.
He focused on course design and golf commentary during his break from competition, but attempted a comeback in the mid-1990s with lucrative senior tours. He was victorious in the British Seniors Open at Royal Portrush in 1995 and topped the European Seniors Tour Order of Merit in the same year. Successfully defending his British title 12 months later, a further victory followed at the 1998 Canadian Senior Open Championship. However, the onset of rheumatoid arthritis finally forced his retirement in 2000.
His wife predeceased him. He is survived by a son and daughter.
Brian Barnes, golfer, born 3 June 1945, died 9 September 2019