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Brian Bellenger, who has died, aged 76
Brian Bellenger, who has died, aged 76, was a pioneering caddie who earned a unique place in golfing history by working for both a winning European and United States Ryder Cup team.
“Big Brian” – he stood 6’ 6’’ tall and towered over 5’ 4 ½ ‘’ US Masters champion Ian Woosnam when he caddied for him – was ‘on the bag’ for Bill Rogers when the much heralded United States team won at Walton Heath in 1981 and four years later alongside Ken Brown at The Belfry where Europe regained the coveted trophy for the first time since 1957.
Bellenger had worked for Rogers in 1979 when the American won the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth Club but his biggest regret was electing not to work for him at The Open Championship at Royal St Georges in 1981 because he felt Rogers lacked the length for the Kent links. The lightly-built Texan won by four ahead of Bernhard Langer.
Brian Bellenger was born and raised in Leyton in East London and left school to follow his father as a machinist. A keen sportsman – he excelled at tennis, darts and snooker – Bellenger was at Wembley in 1953 when Hungary demolished England 6-3. Golf, however, was his passion so much so that he took a job as a milkman because the 5am starts meant he was able each day to finish one round and start another on the Hainault Forest course where he gained a six handicap.
Bellenger first caddied for Graham Burroughs following the birth of The European Tour in 1972 and so began a life on the fairways of the world. His first ‘boss’ was John O’Leary followed by Peter Dawson, both Ryder Cup golfers, and he founded, with the likes of Dave Musgrove, Andy Prodger, Pete Coleman, Jimmy Cousins and Rod Wooler, the first contingent of caddies to travel the continent as The European Tour expanded.
This pioneering group taught themselves to ‘do the job’, laying the foundations for future generations, and were creative in their choice of transportation. For one year they toured in an Ambulance which provided the space for them to take the clubs of the professionals for whom they worked although on some occasions a player would ‘hitch’ a ride with them between countries.
Bellenger was hugely in demand because being a big man his stride was considered to be the most consistent for pacing the ‘yardages’, an increasingly important part of a caddies’ responsibility, and his reputation as an outstanding and forthright judge led to him working in the United States first for Gene Littler and then Andy North, both US Open champions.
Indeed it was with North at the US Masters in 1983 that he helped contribute to another piece of history when he was one of a select group of caddies invited to work at Augusta National where since the start of the tournament in 1934 all players had been previously compelled to take caddies only employed by the club.
Among the many highlights for Bellenger was standing alongside Japan’s Isao Aoki when he became the first player from that country to win on the US PGA Tour by famously holing a 128-yards wedge shot for an eagle three at the last hole in the 1983 Hawaiian Open at Waialee to beat Jack Renner by one shot and the next year caddying for Ayako Okamoto when she won the Ladies British Open by 11 shots at Woburn Golf & Country Club.
Bellenger was eventually compelled to retire from caddying because of ill health although he was employed by the BBC, linking again with Ken Brown, to offer his views as a commentator and he also helped to manage caddie arrangements for members at The Wisley Golf Club close to where he latterly lived in Woking. He had a collection of antique golf books of which he was immensely proud.
There was another ‘side’ to Bellenger because he suffered from dextrocadia, a congenital defect in which the apex of the heart is situated on the right side of the body, but he dismissed the condition with the same light-heartedness that he took through life. He also enjoyed a gamble and the week before he passed away he told his good friend Musgrove, well known as caddie for Seve Ballesteros and Sandy Lyle, that Jim Furyk would win the US PGA Tour event the week following the US Masters. Furyk won.
The funeral will take place at Woking Crematorium, Hermitage Road, Woking GU21 8TJ at 1.15 on Monday, May 18. Donations please to Woking and Sam Beare Hospices, Hill View Road, Woking, Surrey, GU22 7HW
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