One of golf’s greatest career amateurs, Joe Carr possessed a swashbuckling playing style and a poetic Irish soul.
During a prime that lasted from the end of World War II to the 1960s, Carr was a dashing figure. Tall and lean, he was an exceptionally long hitter with an ability to recover from trouble with winning strokes. As a competitor, he cut a wide swath. At the top of the list of more than three dozen significant victories were three British Amateur championships (1953, 1958 and 1960), and four Irish Open Amateurs (1946, 1950, 1954 and 1956). Carr was also a Walker Cup stalwart, playing on 10 teams from 1947 to 1965, the most by any player from either side in the biennial matches.
“Stroke play is a better test of golf,” said Carr, who also captained two Walker Cup sides, “but match play is a better test of character.”
As an ambassador, his impact was even greater. In 1961 he became the first non-American to receive the USGA’s Bob Jones Award for distinguished sportsmanship. In 1967, the same year he became the first native Irishman to play in the Masters, he was given the Hagen Trophy for his contribution to Anglo-American goodwill. In 1991, he was chosen the captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the first Irishman to hold the post.
"Stroke play is a better test of golf, but match play is a better test of character."
Carr was born Feb. 18, 1922 on the outskirts of Dublin, the fifth of seven children. At 10 days old, he was adopted by his mother’s sister and her husband, James Carr, who had just been appointed steward and stewardess of the Portmarnock Golf Club. It allowed young Joe to play golf from a very early age, and he developed a self-taught slash that he once described as “very agricultural.”
His fondest victory was the 1958 British Amateur at St. Andrews. Carr was desperate to win it, and in the months before the championship, he embarked on a strict daily regimen that began with a morning run along the sea front followed by a session with the driver on the practice tee.
After several hours attending to his prosperous clothing business, he would return for an evening session with his irons, often under makeshift floodlights. Before bed he would practice putting on his carpet. On his way to St. Andrews, he told his wife, Dorothy, with whom he won nine Irish mixed foursomes championships, “No one else has done the work I have done. They can’t beat me.”
Joe Carr was the first Irishman to compete in the Masters Tournament in 1967.
Carr was an astute student of the game, who, after working with swing coach John Jacobs, played his best golf as he was approaching 40. He also had a keen eye. After losing in the semi-finals of the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach in 1961, Carr returned to Ireland and wrote a newspaper article that called the championship winner, Jack Nicklaus, “the best player the world will ever see.”
Carr was never an outstanding putter, which made his singles victory over Charlie Coe in the 1959 Walker Cup at Muirfield particularly memorable. Carr was 1 up with seven to play when someone in the large gallery inadvertently stepped on his putter, snapping it in two. Carr went to his 3-iron, and closed out the match with a 15-footer on the 35th green.
When he died on June 2, 2004, the tributes poured in. “I consider myself very fortunate to have played golf in the Joe Carr era,” said his rival and close friend Michael Bonallack. “I still have yet to meet a finer sportsman.” Carr spent his last days near Portmarnock, in a home that shared a wall with the one where the poet W.B. Yeats had lived.