‘Captain Mom’ and a 1981 United States Ryder Cup Team that doesn’t get the Love
When Dave Marr captained the 1981 U.S. Ryder Cup Team at Walton Heath Golf Club in Tadworth, England, there were no vice captains on either side. However, Marr had an ace up his sleeve -- his mom -- who contributed mightily on the road to support a team rich in depth.
Grace Marr, then in her 70s and the widow of a PGA Professional, walked 36 holes each day on the classic, heather-filled course, reporting on the U.S. players to her son.
“Lee Trevino overheard my grandmother talking to my dad and nicknamed her ‘Captain Mom’ ” said David Marr III, who along with his brother Tony were not allowed on the trip by their father who declared college studies came first.
The U.S. Team featured 11 of 12 players who had won 36 of their combined 49 majors by that week; only Bruce Lietzke was a non-major winner.. Nine became World Golf Hall of Fame members.
Captain Marr—who’d won the 1965 PGA Championship and played in that year’s Ryder Cup—called his experience 16 years later at Walton Heath “a different kind of nervous. This time, there was nothing I could do but watch.”
Adding to Marr’s anxiety was a mixup in the transfer of clubs from the U.S. Team’s practice bags to their “game” bags.” It happened just before the first match between the team of Trevino and Larry Nelson against Europe’s Bernhard Langer and Manuel Pinero.
“The practice bags had all the tees in them and the game bags were empty,” said David. “My dad had to run into the golf shop to get tees.”
Despite their lofty pedigree, the American team got off to a shaky start, tied after the Morning Foursomes and down by a point after Day 1. Marr was thinking about his cousin, Jack Burke Jr., who was the last U.S. Captain to lose a Ryder Cup (1973 at Muirfield). David said his dad “thought he was cursed.”
He walked into the team room at the close of play on Day 1 balancing a cigarette and glass of wine in one hand and a second lit cigarette in the other.
Someone later told David that upon seeing Marr, one of the players said, “Dave, don’t worry. We’ve got this.”
Both teams battled downpours and wind, but the Americans got the better of it, powering to win 15 of the remaining 20 points for an 18½ to 9½ triumph. Larry Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, and Trevino each finished 4-0-0 in what would be the final Ryder Cup playing appearances for Nicklaus and Trevino.
There were no official assignments or duties at that time for a Ryder Cup assistant, but Marr knew that when his mom said something about a player her scouting reports could be trusted.
“Grandmother called her trip a dream come true,” said David. “The players celebrated her, they treasured her and she was the heart and soul of the team.
“The guys on that team embraced my grandmother and treated my dad with such great love and respect. They remained friends with me and were friendly and helpful to me throughout my career.”
Grace Marr’s health failed in 1999, but she was able to watch TV as 1981-team-member-turned-Captain Ben Crenshaw guided an inspired team to capture the Ryder Cup at The Country Club in Brookline Brookline, Massachusetts.
Crenshaw later asked David Marr about “Captain Mom” and learned that she was ill but still overjoyed to see that U.S. victory.
“Ben wrote a letter to my grandmother, which she kept beside her bed the last month of her life,” said David.