MEMORY LANE: The schoolboy who took on Gary Player – and won

Making the news in 1974
Making the news in 1974

IT’S not every day that a young schoolboy gets the chance of a round of golf with top professional Gary Player.

And it’s even more unusual for that youngster to beat one of the world’s finest players.

But, as the Mail reported on New Year’s Eve 40 years ago, that’s what 13-year-old David Whelan achieved – and on the South African legend’s home course as well.

The Mail reported: “David’s golfing career has just teed off to a fine start after Gary saw him play and invited him to his home to learn some of the finer points of the game.”

It happened when David, of Tees Close, Peterlee, and his family were on holiday in Spain, at the La Manga golf resort.

David took part in a pro-am competition and spent four days following Gary Player around the course.

The top professional got to know him and said David had fantastic potential.

Gary invited David, a Shotton Hall Comprehensive pupil and member at Seaton Carew Golf Club, to his Honeydew ranch, in South Africa, and flew him 250 miles in his private plane to his home.

That’s where David, who had begun playing golf two years earlier with part of a pram handle as his first club, made his mark by beating the multiple major champion.

The Mail reported: “Now David’s parents are hoping to find a tutor to coach him so he can play every day.

“And it looks like the family’s holiday in Spain has launched David on a sporting career.”

The Mail’s prediction would turn out to be true.

David went on to win British and England Boys caps and turned professional, where his finest hour came in 1988 when he beat Nick Faldo, England’s most successful golfer of the century, in a play-off for the Barcelona Open.

That victory came after Whelan turned to Faldo’s own coach David Leadbetter for help with his game, something that would eventually lead him into teaching at the Leadbetter Academy at Wynyard Golf Club, then as his European director of instruction before moving to the US in 2003.

He would go on to become director of golf instruction at Leadbetter’s Lake Nona academy, coaching a long list of top players including former Open Champion Paul Lawrie and US Women’s Champion Paula Creamer.

Email or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.

Also in the news:

DAVID Whelan wasn’t the only visitor to South Africa featured in the Mail 40 years ago today.

Mr and Mrs John Sanderson, of Belmonte Avenue, Blackhall Rocks, had just returned from a five-week holiday in the country, and told the Mail they were surprised to find no television over there.

Mr Sanderson, a Hartlepool Post Office supervisor, told the Mail: “They seem to get along very well without it.

“Once they get TV, my guess is it will spoil their way of life.”

l IT was a miserable New Year for 500 workers at luxury car makers Aston Martin, which was put into liquidation 40 years ago this week.

Managing director CharlesWarden blamed the Government, saying: “Why they should allow a company like Aston Martin, part of our heritage and our way of life, to fail, God only knows.”

l FIGURES showed that inflation broke the 20 per cent barrier in 1974, with 25 per cent inflation forecast for 1975.

But average wages were already rising by 26.5 per cent a year.

l SUN Discount, in York Road, Hartlepool, reported shoppers queuing from 3.30am to buy one of six £25 washing machines.

Manager Kevin Hooks told the Mail: “I came down to the shop at about 8.55am and there were about 30 people waiting.”

l YOUNG film fans were well catered for a local cinemas, with the Odeon in Hartlepool offering Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too and Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz at the Ritz in Horden.

TV highlights included New Year’s Eve at the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club with Matt Munro and Charlie Williams.

l HARTLEPOOL off-licences were having to cope with an “unprecedented” last-minute rush for wines and spirits for the night’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.

“Many stores in the town reported long queues,” said the Mail.

Police were expecting their busiest night of the year.

“We find we are called out frequently right up to 6am, be it to punch-ups, accidents or complaints about noise,” said a spokesman.