Bruen, Jimmy

Jimmy Bruen Born: Belfast, 8 May 1920

For a golfer who had only a relatively short competitive spell in the royal and ancient game the stories that abound are of near mythical proportions. Was it true he could regularly drive the ball over 350 yards? Had he equalled Bobby Jones’ record of 68 on the Old Course during the Walker Cup trials? Did he (at 19) lead the qualifiers in the Open Championship at St. Andrews in 1939 with two 69s and four shots ahead of Cotton and Little?

Born 8 May 1920 in Belfast to James and Margaret Bruen. At eleven years of age while on holiday at Rosapenna he started to play golf at Bundoran G.C. with cut-down golf clubs. His playing partner at that time was co-incidentially to become his future wife {Nell}. His father saw the potential and purchased a set of cut down clubs which he used during long hours of practice at the Cork G.C.. While there he came to the attention of Jack Higgins the local pro and runner-up to Fred Daly in the 1940 Irish Professional championship. JB also played at Muskerry where is received his first handicap of 6 at 15 years old.

He won the Boys Championship at only his second attempt in 1936 beating William Innes {Lanark} by 11/9 at Royal Birkdale his handicap by now was +1 and tales of his genius were beginning to permeate there way into the public domain as witnesses were recounting tales of his length. He had just taken delivery of a set of Fred Smyth golf clubs and a Ben Sayers putter from Birkdale. In 1937 he beat John Burke in the Irish Close Championship by 3/2 and proceeded to play in the Irish Open Championship at Portrush despite being asked to withdraw for medical reasons and was leading Irish amateur with joint 6th overall. He clocked up many notable results during the 1937 season all of which secured his place on the Walker Cup team which was to rack up its first win for the GB+I team at St. Andrews. His practice rounds during the Walker cup trials were to manifest his genius at the game and many accolades were being paid to him even before the formal event. He had equalled Jones record of 68 around St. Andrews and was putting below par figures together for all his practice rounds. George Greenwood of the Telegraph wrote “Bruen is as much a golfing genius as Jones or Henry Cotton…”

Bruen’s odyssey began with his victory in the Boys’ Amateur Championship in Royal Birkdale in 1936 but effectively came to an end in March 1947 after suffering a wrist injury. His maturity when playing the game was exceptional in the Boys’ Championship he recorded a 71 in his first round which was 7 strokes below the SSS. The following year at Ballybunion he beat John Burke by 3 and 2 in the final of the Irish Amateur Close Championship when Burke was the undisputed King of the Irish links and at the height of his powers.

The protege or infant phenomenon had only five playing years as war had intervened yet his reputation was near hegemony. At the age of 18 he led the Walker Cup team into battle and while caught in his slipstream they were victorious for the first time ever. By 1946 he was favourite to take both the Open Championship and Amateur Championship and while he won the Amateur he decided not to play in the Open citing business commitments at home allowing insufficient time to prepare for the event.

The loop in his swing allowing him to generate great power and speed at impact but his short game also earned many plaudits as did his silky smooth and amazing powers of recovery . However it was the enormous distances he achieved with his unorthodox swing that made their way into golfing folklore.

What they said:

“This young gentleman from Ireland regularly, whether in practice or in a trial match, went round the Old Course in about 69 or 70 and made it look quite an easy thing to do”

Bernard Darwin

“How good Bruen may be when golf begins again I know not; perhaps better still; perhaps never quite so good again in having lost that first careless rapture. At any rate he was excitingly good then.”

Bernard Darwin

“A golfing genius had suddenly come among us and it gave the side a tremendous lift.”

Leonard Crawley

“Bruen gave the Americans a bit of an inferiority complex”

John Beck, Captain 1938 Walker Cup team

Video footage

Open Championship 1938 Sandwich, Kent

Reading Sources:

  • Crosbie, George F. : The Bruen Loop [1998] Mercier Press
  • Simmonds, Gordon G. : The Walker Cup 1922-1999 Golf’s Finest Contest
  • Muskerry Golf Club – History complied by Tim O’Brien <click here>