Fred Daly, Portrush born and bred, became the first Irish major champion when he won The Open at Royal Liverpool in 1947

Fred Daly: Ireland’s original Open champ

Fred Daly knew how to seize the moment. When the Ulsterman won The Open in 1947 he did it with a 30-foot birdie putt at the last hole to win by one.

Daly became the first Irishman to win a major title at Hoylake, with a golf game shaped out of the links of Portrush.

He was born in Lower Causeway Street in the heart of Portrush in 1911, and on his death in 1990 he was buried in the graveyard of Ballywillan Church, on the edge of town.

By the age of 10 Daly was established among the caddie ranks at Royal Portrush. He caddied for a local hotelier in particular – Mr. MacMillan – and Daly would borrow his clubs to win the caddies’ tournament.

A few years later, as an aspiring professional, Daly was recruited to help shape course changes, as prescribed by Harry Colt.

“Fred was employed as a part-time member of the greens staff because an awful lot of work had to be done in a very short time,” says Ian Bamford, club historian at Royal Portrush.

“Colt’s final design was ready in 1932 and the course was officially opened, with 17 changed holes, in July 1933.”

And when Daly won The Open in 1947 he did so playing with a set of woods made for him by Portrush head professional P.G. Stevenson.

“His name was Philip George Stevenson but we just called him ‘Stevie’,” says Bamford. “Stevie was a renowned coach and clubmaker. If you were looking for a good set of woods – a driver, brassie and spoon – you always went to Stevie.

“In those days the clubs were hand-crafted from persimmon wood, before some of the manufacturers began to mass-produce them in the late ‘50s.”

Clubmakers in Stevie’s day would hold a stock of partially-shaped clubheads, ready for customisation and hand-finishing.

“And Daly used those clubs for quite a while, many years,” adds Bamford.

“I was a teenager when Fred won The Open and I would watch him play a friendly fourball at Portrush nearly every Sunday afternoon. There would be more than 100 people out watching him.

“A very fine golfer he was. He would address the ball with a few wiggles of the club and then before he would take the club back he would move his right foot back just about two inches, to help his rhythm.

“He used that method for most of his life. I have tried it. Sometimes if you are off your game it can be a good tip.”