The Leeside Legends series: Jimmy Bruen was a golfing genius from an early age

The Leeside Legends series: Jimmy Bruen was a golfing genius from an early age

Jimmy Bruen watches as Dr Billy O'Sullivan tees off in the Muskerry versus Cork match in the Irish Senior Cup at Douglas in May 1939.

JIMMY BRUEN was one of a long list of Irish golfers who scorned conventional wisdom and become one of the charismatic golfers of all time.

At 17 years of age, Bruen was hailed as the greatest discovery of modern times in golf.

Jimmy was born in Belfast in 1920 but was reared in Cork and he first used a golf club at the age of 11 while on holiday in the West of Ireland.

That first encounter of golf was to sow the seeds of a prestigious career as shortly after that holiday his father got Jimmy his first cut-down clubs.

His famous looped swing could be seen even at that young age as Bruen married a natural ability with perseverance to come within a shot of the Walker Cup team within six years.

The two outstanding years in his all too brief career were 1937 and 1938 and certainly they were his busiest years.

Jimmy Bruen.
Jimmy Bruen.

It all began in the Easter of 1937 at the Cork Scratch Cup, a major event with an array of talented players that included Billy O’Sullivan, Redmond Simcox, J D McCormack and JC Browne of Waterford playing in it.

Youngster Bruen breezed into the final dispatched Simcox seven and six as the loser was only five over par for the holes putting Bruen’s score into perspective.

The following month Bruen went to Sandwich to play in the St George’s Gold Vase competition, which was then a 36-hole Strokeplay competition.

Bruen scored a 73 and 74 and finished second in front of players such as Leonard Crowley, Joe Browne, and Cecil Ewing.

The performance of Bruen saw a leading newspaper in England suggesting that Bruen was a superstar in the making.

Jimmy in due course helped Cork win the Irish Senior Cup and the Barton Shield at Ballybunion.

The Kerry venue of Ballybunion hosted the Irish Close Championship the following week and once again the brilliance of Bruen saw him reach the final against John Burke of Lahinch.

Burke was highly fancied as an Irish International but the superb Bruen produced champagne golf and defeated him three and two.

The sportswriters in Ireland and England continued to rave about the boy wonder from Cork but sadly the outbreak of war saw the edge go off Bruen’s magic as he became immensely successful in the insurance business.

In 1943 he married Eleanor Cremin and settled down in their home near Blackrock Castle.

Having virtually vanished from the golf scene, Bruen’s entry for the 1946 British Amateur championship caused quite a stir.

Jimmy scored arguably his greatest achievement in the sport when he defeated American Robert Sweeney by four and three in the 36-hole final.

This is how the famous golf writer and commentator Henry Longhurst described the magnificent win.

“He was a most popular winner as people like him for the fact that he played so well without giving himself airs and graces and to the spectator he is full value for the money.”

It was to be his last major championship success as Bruen appeared to simply lose his appetite for the rough and tumble of championship golf.

That was never stated by Jimmy-but then again he never said a lot about himself.

In April 1947, Jimmy suffered an injury to his wrist was limited his ability to compete with the very best, though he remained a fine golfer.

Jimmy Bruen and George Crosbie who contested the Scratch Cup Final at Little Island in 1953.
Jimmy Bruen and George Crosbie who contested the Scratch Cup Final at Little Island in 1953.

In 1963, Jimmy came out of retirement when the Irish Close championship was held in Killarney and, in a match that is still talked about today, he lost on the 18th in the semi-final.

Bruen was summed best by the legendary Henry Coton who once described the outstanding Bruen.

“His swing had an unusual kind of a kink in it but with close scrutiny the kind was the result of an unusually sound grip of the club at the top of the swing that thousands of golfers would pay to acquire,” said Coton.

Chapters have been written about Jimmy Bruen since his untimely death in 1972 but his famous feats have surely been best celebrated in The Bruen Loop, the 1998 book by George F Crosbie, himself a noted golfer.

FACTFILE: 

Jimmy Bruen was only 17 when he played number one on the British and Irish teams that won the Walker Cup against America at St Andrew’s in 1938.

In that Walker Cup trials championship scored a remarkable 282 in four rounds of golf.

He was born in Belfast in 1920 but was reared in Cork.

In April 1947 he suffered a wrist injury that proved decisive in putting an end to his remarkable career.

Sadly, Jimmy Bruen died in 1972 at the age of 51.

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