Brian Barnes, 74, Dies; Golfer Bested Nicklaus Back to Back

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Brian Barnes, a charismatic pipe-smoking English golfer who was best known for beating Jack Nicklaus twice in one day in Ryder Cup singles matches, died on Monday at his home in Virginia Water, England, southwest of London. He was 74.

The European Tour, which confirmed the death, said he had cancer.

A nine-time winner on the European Tour, Barnes — known for playing with a pipe in his mouth and a bottle of vodka and orange juice in his bag — was most famous for his two victories over Nicklaus at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pa., in 1975, when the Ryder Cup was a contest between the United States and Britain and Ireland. (It now pits an American team against a European team.)

Barnes won in the morning singles, 4 and 2 (in match play, he was four strokes ahead with two holes to play), and Nicklaus asked the United States captain, Arnold Palmer, if he could play Barnes again in the afternoon. Bernard Hunt, Europe’s captain, agreed to a change in the draw, and Barnes won again, 2 and 1.

“The Americans couldn’t believe it,” said Bernard Gallacher, Barnes’s friend and Ryder Cup partner, “and they were all congratulating him saying they never thought anybody could beat Jack.”

Barnes told Today’s Golfer magazine in 2012, “When we went to the press tent after the morning round, everybody acted as if I’d beaten Jesus Christ.”

In its coverage of the event, The New York Times called Barnes “Brian the Jack Killer,” describing him as “a huge man who keeps smoking a pipe on all but the drives and long iron shots.”

Despite Barnes’s heroics, the Ryder Cup competition turned into a three-day rout by one of the strongest American teams ever fielded. Besides Nicklaus, the roster included Billy Casper, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino, Gene Littler, Tom Weiskopf and Raymond Floyd. (Palmer, a co-founder of Laurel Valley, did not play.)

Barnes played in the Ryder Cup, a biennial event, in six straight matches, from 1969 to 1979, when players from Continental Europe joined the event for the first time. Barnes finished in the top 10 of the European Tour’s Order of Merit every season from 1972, the first year of the tour, to 1978.

Brian William Barnes was born in Addington, south of London, on June 3, 1945. He grew up in southwest England, where he went to private prep schools and where his father, the secretary of the prestigious Burnham & Barrow Golf Club, taught him the game. Brian won the British Youths Open Amateur Championship in 1964 before turning pro.

His survivors include his two children, Didi and Guy. His wife, Hilary Barnes, an award-winning gardener and the daughter of the 1951 British Open champion, Max Faulkner, died in 2014.

Barnes won the Senior British Open at Royal Portrush in 1995 and 1996.

He liked a drink and famously marked his ball on the final hole of the 1982 Scottish Professional Championship with a beer can before putting out for the win. He received treatment for alcoholism in 1993.

“He will always be rightly remembered for defeating Jack twice in one day in 1975,” said David Williams, chairman of the European Tour, “but his impact was felt far beyond that as one of the tour’s great characters and entertainers.”

The New York Times contributed reporting.


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