Barclay Howard

27th January 2015

D. Barclay Howard, the Scottish amateur golfer, was born in Glasgow on 27th January 1953.  Whilst by no means an amateur great his roller coaster life on and off the course made him something of a legendary figure in Scottish and, to a degree, British golf.

Barclay Howard Open 1997

Barclay Howard at the 1997 Open Championship at Royal Troon

He was raised in Johnstone, a town 12 miles west of Glasgow in Renfrewshire.  He went to school with Sky Sports golf presenter David Livingstone.  Both played golf at their local club, Cochrane Castle Golf Club to which Barclay was associated all his life.  He joined his father, David, there starting as a Junior in 1960.  Indeed the family home was just a pitching wedge away from the course.  He was made an honorary life member of Cochrane Castle in 1980.

Howard tragically died from pneumonia on 19th May 2008, aged just 55.  His health had not been good for many years due to chain smoking, his well publicised alcoholism and the legacy of contracting leukaemia when he was 44.  The latter illness afflicted him just six weeks after probably his finest golfing moment, winning the Silver Medal at the 1997 Open.  He started to feel unwell at that year’s Walker Cup and later in 1997 underwent both a stem-cell operation and a course of chemotherapy to aid his recovery.  His weight dropped from 14st to 9st 6lb.  It took around 3 years for him to fully recover and return to the golf course; it was another two before he had the strength to enjoy his golf again.  He first contracted pneumonia in 2006 and already weakened by the cancer never really recovered from it.

His first competitive golf tournament for this ‘natural’ came as a 13-year-old when he played in the 1966 Scottish Boys Championship at North Berwick.  In his younger days he also lost the final of the 1969 West of Scotland Boys Championship 3 & 2 to Sam Torrance.  Torrance later recalled the two things that first struck him about Howard: “his unmistakeable golfing talent and his engaging personality.  He was good fun to be around”.  His game continued to develop and was sufficiently good for him to be selected for the Great Britain & Ireland (GB&I) Youths Team that played Europe in 1971.

Howard joined Clydesdale Bank straight from school in 1971.  While there he met and married Sandra in 1972.  He was just 19 and the marriage, triggered by the impending birth of a daughter, Linda (b. 1972), almost certainly came too soon for both of them.  The family struggled to make ends meet and Barclay ended up moving to Rolls Royce in 1973, where he worked at their Hillington factory.  He also started to drive an ice cream van in the weekday evenings to bring in more money.  A second daughter, Lorraine (b. 1976) followed which only added to the personal and financial pressures.  The couple inevitably split up in 1978 and sadly Barclay lost touch with all three of them.  With these work and family responsibilities any thought of turning Pro at an early age seems to have simply past him by.

Following his divorce, and now with a little more time on his hands, Howard started to drink more and it became clear to his friends that he was becoming an alcoholic.  With the benefit of hindsight Barclay later timed his drinking demise to 1980.  Despite this he remarried another local girl, Alison, in 1981.  With Barclay’s addiction now reaching something of a peak she showed huge patience in staying with him until 1985.  As he said himself: “I was a truly awful husband.  From the age of 18 to 38 my life was a mess.  I was a lost cause for a while”.

In 1979 he was called up for Scotland’s Mens team for the first time, playing against England.  Despite his drinking he still managed to perform on the course and continued to be selected for his country and GB&I in the early 1980s.  However, his alcoholism and all too frequent drunken and abusive behaviour – frequently whilst on team duty –  led to him being excluded from international competition in 1984.  At the time he tended to pack lager and vodka in his bag before his balls and tees, needing a regular drink during a round to steady his on-course nerves.

Having lost most of his friends he was eventually persuaded in the summer of 1991 to join Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  A decision almost certainly triggered by him receiving a 12 month ban from Cochrane Castle in June of that year and a handicap suspension (thus preventing him from playing in any competitions).  He had not helped himself by turning up to his disciplinary meeting with the Club’s Committee drunk.  He thankfully worked things out and eventually overcame the ‘disease’.  He hardly drunk at all in the following years and completely stopped in 1997.

A reformed character he started up a new relationship with Letitia, the daughter, of one of his AA sponsors, Davie Muir.  This also gave him more conviction in the new path he was treading and he soon married Tish in April 1992, who was already pregnant with their daughter Laura-Jane (b. August 1992).  It weighed heavily on the reformed Barclay that Laura-Jane turned five and started school while he was in the States playing in the 1997 Walker Cup and US Amateur.

He amazingly managed to keep his job at Rolls Royce throughout his personal turmoils – mainly by restricting his big drinking sessions to the weekend.  During the winter of 1991/92, the final months of his enforced exile, he used the company gym to get himself fit, losing two and half stone in the process.  Cochrane Castle got wind of his progress and eventually allowed him to return in April 1992, two months early.  He shot a gross 68 in the April Medal and was off and running.  He re-dedicated himself to the game and when he was made redundant in 1993, along with hundreds over other workers at his plant, he chose to commit himself fully to golf.  Tish was happy as long as he didn’t start drinking again.  Things went well and Barclay was re-selected for Scotland in 1993 and then for the GB&I St. Andrews Trophy team in 1994.  During his subsequent years as a full time amateur he did some work in customer relations for club-maker John Letters.

Over his career he won over 100 amateur competitions, many of which came after he had beaten the dreaded drink.  Whilst he fell short of winning any of the amateur majors he did record a number of notable victories: –

  • 1975, 1984 & 1995 Cameron Corbett Vase
  • 1993 West of Scotland Open
  • 1994 Leven Gold Medal
  • 1994 & 1996 St. Andrews Links Trophy
  • 1997 Scottish Open Amateur Stroke Play (at Monifieth and Panmure)

His status in the game in the 1990s and new found sobriety meant he was regularly picked for national team competitions again between 1993 and 1997.  He played on the GB&I team in the Eisenhower Trophy in 1996 and in the St. Andrews Trophy twice, 1994 and 1996.  Indeed in 1996 he was named Scottish Amateur Golfer Of The Year by the Scottish Golf Union.

However, it was his Walker cup appearances that obviously meant the most to him, particularly as they came when he was 42 and 44, an exceptional age for the GB&I Team in the modern era. Howard played in the Walker Cup twice, winning in 1995 at Royal Porthcawl (P3 W0 H2 L1) and losing in 1997 at Quaker Ridge, New York (P3 W0 H0 L3).  As can be seen in the photo below the 1995 GB&I team contained Padraig Harrington, David Howell and Stephen Gallacher and famously overcame a strong US team containing Tiger Woods.

The Great Britain And Ireland Team Wins The Walker Cup

Barclay Howard (front left) with the successful 1995 Walker Cup Team.

Without question Barclay’s most famous golfing achievement came at the 1997 Open at Royal Troon when he secured the low amateur Silver Medal.  In the end he finished 60th on 293, tied with the great Jack Nicklaus.  This was the first time a Scot had achieved the honour since Charlie Green in 1962.  In round one Howard birdied four of his first six holes to take a share of the lead.  He had a four foot birdie putt on the ‘Postage Stamp’ 8th to take the lead on his own but mistakenly looked at a leaderboard as he walked onto the green.  Despite falling back into the pack he carried this early momentum throughout the Championship to secure the famous prize.

His performance in The Open, and let’s remember he was 44, caught the public’s imagination and won him plaudits from around the world.  Indeed he was invited to play in a number of professional tournaments on the back of his impressive Open showing.  It even saw the Republic of Tadjikistan in Central Asia produce a commemorative stamp featuring him !

Barclay Howard Stamp

Barclay Howard’s Tadjikistan Commemorative 1997 Open Stamp

Howard made the news again shortly afterwards.  After playing in the Walker Cup match he stayed in the States to play in the US Amateur at Cog Hill.  Well rested he qualified for the match play stage after rounds of 70 and 71 – the only member of the Walker Cup team to do so.  However, he was later disqualified for signing a wrong scorecard – due to a matter that he brought to the attention of the USGA.  He had inadvertently been given a different make of ball by his caddie to play the 18th hole of his second round thus contravening the ‘one ball’ rule that existed in the US at the time.  Having bogeyed his last hole he put the ball in his pocket and whilst finishing his lunch came across it and realized the error that had been made.  Having not added the two penalty shots to his score for 18, with the benefit of hindsight he knew he should have, he quickly disqualified himself from the Championship.  To his eternal credit Howard said of his decision at the time: “I would know.  Say I was walking up to win this on the weekend, how could I live with myself. Yes, I’ve had my share of problems, but after 44 years, you’re going to start cheating? No! I could never do that”.  He was hailed a hero by the US golfing press in the days that followed.

Having returned to Scotland Barclay set about preparing for his supposed swan song – the 1997 Home Internationals – having announced his retirement from international play whilst at the Walker Cup the previous month.  Unfortunately he never got to play.  Illness beset him and he was soon diagnosed with the cancer he would fight for the rest of his life.

Looking back on his career and serious illness Barclay said: “The biggest regret I have is not turning professional.  Once I had got myself sorted out with the drinking I started to work much harder on my game.  I felt that even in 1997 I hadn’t reached my full potential.  I was 44 then and I was thinking about the Seniors Tour a few years down the line but then that was all taken away from me.”

In his 2001 autobiography, ‘Out Of The Rough: Booze, Birdies and a Driving Ambition’, written with the help of Jonathan Russell, he candidly discusses his career and battle with alcohol. It was typical of his generosity that he donated the royalties from the book to the leukaemia unit at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Barclay Howard Open 1997

Barclay Howard’s ‘Out Of The Rough’ Autobiography

In 2006, despite being frail, Howard was appointed Captain of the Scottish Youths team by the Scottish Golf Union, a role he relished.  Far from an act of compassion he earned the role having captained Renfrewshire to the Scottish Area Team Championship in 2005.

Upon his death Sir Michael Bonallack said “Barclay played golf the way he lived life.  He was a great fighter, someone who wouldn’t give up. He will be sorely missed”.

With the 2016 Open Championship again staged at Royal Troon the opportunity arose for a number of tributes to be paid to Barclay. Jimmy Roberts did a great job for NBC Channel.

Jimmy Roberts looks into the life of Barclay Howard for NBC and the Golf Channel. 

In a life and golfing career of real extremes Barclay Howard is a golfer and man we should all remember and can no doubt learn from when we face our own adversities.  What a comeback story.  Yes he made some poor decisions and missed some opportunities but who hasn’t.  His tenacity served him well on the course and in dealing with his numerous health issues, whilst his honesty and generosity were a credit to himself and the game he loved.

ME.

Copyright © 2015, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

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