I Got the Breaks
Says the Canadian who defeated America’s best golfers :
YOU MUST.” said the editor of Maclean's Magazine, “go to London and get an interview with Sandy Somerville." I said: “Yes, sir.” "Find out," said the editor, looking like Mussolini telling off a socialist, “how he won the United States Amateur Golf Championship; find out if he planned a deliberate campaign toward his history-making triumph or if it just happened; ask him if he was nervous during the game; find out to what he attributes his success in life; ask . . .” It was a close, muggy sort of day. In hot weather editors sometimes get like that. On the way to London, I read Toronto newspapers. Their information was upsetting. Somerville, they stated, was a fighting bearcat, also a lone wolf; he was dour; he liad a poker face; American writers had dubbed him "Silent Sandy” (they would); he never talked to anybody, on the links or off ; he was aloof, inaccessible, hard to reach, and he had tiptoed into his native city on the day after his Baltimore conquest by way of the back alleys, avoiding the inevitable ballyhoo as he would have avoided smallpox.
It occurred to me that almost any day now the editor might send me to Egypt to interview the Sphinx.
Sports experts in London murmured, “Hmmm; very int’reoting,” when I explained my errand and begged advice.
“We had one heck of a time getting him to give us a short interview,” a local sports writer told me, with tears in his
At the London Hunt and Country Club, Kiemie Marsh, who has tutored Somerville for close on fourteen years, pulled down the comers of his mouth, which usually turn up, and said: “Well. I’ll do what I can to help you, but Sandy just doesn’t go in for speaking words. Not to any extent.”
One of the club’s officials gazed over my head toward the stables, where a scarlet coated M. F. H. was mustering a group of horsey folks for an afternoon canter and mourned: “Boy, you’ve sure got a tough job ahead of you.”
A cigar-stand clerk in the hotel scattered one pale ray of sunshine with this:
“I played hockey with Sandy. He’s one swell guy. No, he doesn’t talk much. Never, unless he’s got something to say. Why should he?”
I took a deep breath and telephoned Sandy Somerville’s apartment. He said:
“Come right up. It’s only a block away.”
Those legends which describe Sandy Somerville as dour, aloof, inaccessible, are the bunk. He is serious-minded, sparing of words, and he possesses a highly developed sense of values. The cigar-counter clerk who used to play hockey
was right. Somerville sees no sense in meaningless conversation. Mere chit-chat would bore him (o the point where he would at once remove himself to a spot some distance away from the gabble. One can see that, and sympathize with his attitude. He is a splendid person, but he would never be a hit in Hollywood or on Broadway. Groping for a contrast, this reporter would say that C. Ross Somerville is the direct antithesis of Jimmy Walker, ex-mayor of New York. Skill and Luck
CANADA’S first United States amateur golf champion lives with his mother in a modest, homey apartment on one of London’s broad, tree-lined residential avenues, one long block from the centre of the town and ten minutes by car from the London Hunt and Country Club if you observe legal speed limits. His father, one time mayor of the City of London, is dead. While he lived he was Sandy’s constant companion and friend. The boy Somerville went everywhere with his parents. That he worshipped his father is evident in his references to their happy days together. Now all his affection is concentrated on his mother.
A golfing friend at the Hunt Club said:
“I saw him out with a girl once, but I think she must have been a cousin or something.”
When he returned from Baltimore, Somerville left the train at St. Thomas, where a couple of trusted friends of the family met him w’ith a car. They drove into London, and their destination was Mrs. Somerville’s apartment. Sandy wanted first of all to show her the medal he had won. and the ornate solid gold Havemeyer trophy—valued, if you are interested, at $22,000—which represents the greatest achievement in amateur golf on this continent today.
Mrs. Somerville said:
“My only regret is that his father is not here to welcome him home. He would have been so proud.”
Naturally, the new champion regards his Baltimore victory as the high point in his career; but he would not admit that he had planned a special drive to win the United States title this year on a now-or-never basis.
“I am always trying to improve my golf,” he told me. “I want to be better every year than I was the year before. This summer I followed my usual course. I put in, as a rule, perhaps two, sometimes three, hourly sessions a week at practice—or, if I feel like it, a little longer—and I play two or three rounds a week with my friends. This summer, because I knew that I would have to play with the larger American ball, I used it in all my games and in my practice. I knew that my game was better this year than it has ever been before; but I had to get the breaks. It happened this time that I got them.
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of the long route, and then run into just a little streak of sheer bad luck that will cost him the game. I played my best golf against Bill Blaney in the third round—the card show's that, and you can’t get away from the figures—but Goodman gave me the hardest battle. In the final, fortunately, I was able to put up an even game. From most tees I had a bit the advantage in length and could use my irons for my second shots, whereas Johnny had to go to his woods for the sake of distance, sometimes at the expense of accuracy; and my putts were dropping. That is all important. Most golf matches are won and lost on the greens.”
Golf Not For Youngsters
SOMERVILLE is a four sport man. He played football for Toronto Varsity, w'here he was known as one of the best drop kickers of his day. He made two Varsity hockey squads, Junior and Senior; and after he left college he wore the London colors in senior amateur hockey, winding up his career on skates as the chief scoring threat of the London Tw-elfth Battery team which won the Intermediate O. H. A. title. He was, the hockey fans will tell you, the most unselfish player and one of the most skilful playmakers in mid-ice ever seen in action in the O. H. A. Several professional clubs angled for him. He wasn’t interested.
His prep, school was Ridley, and there he was compelled by the then existing regulations to go in for cricket. Unlike most Canadian youngsters—the London Somervilles are Canadian bom for two generations back—Ross took to cricket with the quietly determined enthusiasm which is so striking a trait of his character. He starred at bat and in the field, and he w'as considerable of a bowler, too. When he returned to his native city, he was an asset to the London Cricket Club, and he toured the British Isles with the team which Norman Seagram took over a few years ago.
Stretched out in an armchair and puffing placidly at a cigarette, Somerville sang the praises of the great English game with a warmth of expression unusual in this taciturn man.
“Cricket is fine. I played this summer quite a bit. The London club had been reorganized and they thought I could help them out, so I did my bit. I don’t go in much for bowling now. One or two overs are enough for me. I find it has a tendency to stiffen up the muscles I use for golf.
“Of course, golf is my game now. Don’t forget I am a business man, and I simply cannot afford the time it takes to keep fit for the more strenuous team sports. I’m afraid I am all washed up in hockey and football. I haven’t had skates on more than once or twice in a winter for several seasons.
“All the same, I think youngsters still at school or in college should not be encouraged to go in heavily for golf. It is too individualistic. Essentially it is a selfish game, offering no opportunities for team play,
co-operation. I am strongly of the opinion that full development of character in boys in their ’teens is best attained by participation in sports requiring unselfish subordination of the individual to the welfare of the team. Hockey, cricket and football, especially cricket, emphasize this to a greater degree than golf or tennis.”
A Poor Beginning
CERTAIN often repeated statements regarding the beginnings of his golf career were mentioned.
“Oh, that. It is true that I played around with golf sticks at a very early age, but the toy clubs I owned were no more important than any other of my toys. My father j made a trip to Pinehurst. N.C., every year, and he took me along. Then Pinehurst was not at all the fashionable resort it is now; just an ordinary winter vacation spot. But j there was some golf, and I had a putter. J and I think another iron club. When I was five years old I was batting old golf balls up and down at Pinehurst, but that w'as just play. I didn’t begin to take golf seriously until ten or twelve years ago. I was far too much interested in my cricket and hockey and football to fuss about my golf, up to that time.
“You understand”—one of Somerville’s great fears is that his expressed views may be misinterpreted—“my reference to youngsters and golf applies only to the difficult concentrated grind of tournament play. I think it is a fine thing that boys who are interested in the game should be encouraged to play it simply as a pastime. Especially is it a fine thing for golf. My point is that team sports are more important to the development of character in boys than individual sports. In the ’teen ages golf should be secondary to those games that cultivate the team spirit, which doesn’t mean that it should be off the list entirely.
“I was past my majority when I first entered the Canadian amateur tournament; and my golf was terrible. Not only did I not qualify, I didn’t even tum in a card. But I was interested enough to keep at it, and my game has improved steadily since that first disastrous effort.”
Indeed, yes. Somerville won the Canadian amateur title in 1926. the Ontario amateur in 1927, both the Canadian and Ontario championships in 1928. Next year he took the Ontario crown for the third consecutive season, and in 1930 and 1931 he repeated in the Canadian amateur tournament. He has held his club championship several times, but he doesn’t enter any more. He says it spoils the fun for the others, and that isn’t fair.
“I want to give Kiemie Marsh a whole lot of credit for developing my game.” he said earnestly. “He is one of the finest teachers I have ever known. He not only tells you what you should do to improve your game, but makes you understand the sound and logical reasons for doing it. He is a swell player, too. If he had more time for practice
he would quickly become one of the first professional players in Canada.”
Marsh is equally enthusiastic about his pupil.
"He is a pupil worth taking some trouble with,” the Hunt and Country Club professional told me. “He doesn’t argue with you. He takes instruction seriously, practises faithfully, accepts suggestions in good part, and all the time is seeking to make his game better. Proud of him? You bet your life I’m proud of him. But he didn’t surprise me. I’ve known for years he could do it, once he got an even break in the luck.”
His Real Ambition
IN SPITE of his phenomenal success, golf remains a game with Somerville. Many inferior players give far more time to the links than does Sandy, whose real ambition is to become an outstanding figure in insurance, which is his profession as it was his father’s before him.
“After I had all I felt I needed of my arts course at ’Varsity,” he said, “I took part of the commerce course and then came back to London to enter the Northern Life office. Until recently I have been in the actuarial department, but in the immediate future I plan to do field work. I see the necessity for long hours of work inside, but I don’t enjoy them.”
Whether or not there is any significance in the fact is beyond the analytical powers of this reporter, but it is true that Somerville, the champion, and Johnny Goodman, the runner-up in the United States amateur golf tournament this year, are both engaged in the insurance business. So, too, is that grand old-timer, George S. Lyon, who, beside Somerville, is the only Canadian golfer to have reached the final round in a United States amateur championship.
Nerves were mentioned. No less an authority than the solemnly accurate New York Times called Somerville at Baltimore, “that unruffled golfer with nerves of steel and almost flawless skill.”
Sandy grinned and shook his head.
"I’d hate to say that my nerves are steel. I get ’em in a tight corner, just as every other normally constituted individual gets ’em. I had nerves at Baltimore plenty of ; times. It’s my theory that a certain degree of nervousness is good for a man when he’s up against stiff competition in tournament play with a big prize at stake. The condition keeps him on his toes. He’s keyed up to his best and he doesn’t dare let down. Of course, he mustn’t permit himself to become over-tense; but every good golfer knows the danger of that.
“Big crowds don’t bother me half as much as just a handful of a gallery. If there are a few people watching your game with critical eyes, you cannot avoid the consciousness of their presence. When there are a few thousands they become merely a part of the landscape.
“Certainly I slept well. Why not? When I am playing in matches that mean a lot to ; me, I eat sparingly and only such food as I ! know by experience is best suited to my digestion. In my case, that means a little meat and a lot of vegetables and fruit. I have very little lunch. Golf is different from other sports—football, say—in that respect. When you have a tough football game in the afternoon you can eat a big steak and all the trimmings for lunch. There is ample time
for digestion before the game. In golf tournament the time between morning and afternoon rounds is so short that ä heavy lunch is just an invitation to trouble.
“I read a lot. Apart from outdoor sports, reading is my only recreation, and I read everything I can get hold of that seems likely to be interesting—magazines, novels, biographies and more serious books of the type which are useful in my business life. But during a tournament I read only light fiction. Plenty of times a man is physically tired after a hard day’s golf, while his brain is still too active to permit him to drop off to sleep right away. In such circumstances, give me a book that you don’t have to think about. I read myself to sleep every night during the Baltimore tournament.”
Views Regarding Open Tournaments
A CLASS MASTER at Ridley is responsible for C. Ross Somerville’s nickname, which has no connection whatever with his real names.
“W’hen I was a kid,” he explained, “my hair was several shades lighter than it is now. One of the masters at Ridley dubbed me ‘Sandy,’ and the name has stuck to me ever since.”
Somerville is of medium height—about five feet nine or ten—but, standing erect, he appears tall because his legs are so long. His face is long and thin, with marked lines and laughterand sun-wrinkles around his blue-grey eyes. His forehead is high, and his brown hair, parted at the side, waves naturally on top. His hands are unusually large and, even in repose, obviously powerful. He speaks in a low, even voice, with" a marked drawl, almost a cross between a New England and Southern accent, if you can imagine such a combination. There is nothing of the clipped, staccato speech of the average Canadian business executive in his talk, and he pauses before each sentence, making quite sure that what he is about to say expresses accurately and fully the thought in his mind. He smiles readily. Dour is completely the thing which he is not. As for the future :
“Certainly I am going to try to repeat,” he said. “I shall enter other American tournaments next season, too. Of course my plans are not made yet, but I think it unlikely that I shall play much tournament golf this winter. I can’t afford the time off from business. After all, business is more important than golf.
“The American Open? No, I think not. I am not a very good medal player, and the Open is a medal affair all the way through. Besides, I have a conviction that it is fair that a professional should win the Open tournaments. For the professional, there is a considerable cash prize at stake as well as prestige which is valuable in his business. For an amateur, it is just another title. That’s just a personal opinion, but I intend to stick to it.”
On the afternoon when Somerville granted me this interview officials of the London Hunt Club, officials of the Northern Life Assurance Company and the Mayor and City Council of London were all of them intensely occupied with the task of getting their new champion to set dates upon which he would consent to accept their homage at various public and semi-public functions.
Sandy wishes they wouldn’t fuss so. He can’t see what all the hullabaloo is about.