Denis Hutchinson’s real contribution to the game has been as a teacher and a broadcaster.
As bucket-list moments go, the room was unprepossessing: a draughty steel container more usually associated with the back of a lorry.
But the only other occupant of the container was Denis Hutchinson and, while Hutchy and I have known each other for a quarter of a century, we had never commentated together before.
Nervous does not come close to describing my mental state.
But, as is the case whenever you hear him describing the progress of a putt, Hutchy has a way of calming you down. His rich baritone voice seems to travel through the lip-mike and straight into the chill receptors of the brain. Several times over the weekend of the Tour Championship at Serengeti, I found myself forgetting to commentate because I was too busy listening.
When our first stint was finished and we handed over to Dale Hayes and Paul Marks, we commandeered a golf cart and headed off to Serengeti’s spectacular clubhouse in search of lunch. And spending time thus with Hutchy, you start to understand what he means to the game in this country. Absolutely everyone knows Hutchy and he has a kind, familiar word for all of them.
The SuperSport production lorries were parked between the 10th green and the 11th tee box, so on the way back from lunch we sat for 20 minutes watching two-balls holing out and walking on. And every single player paused on his march, to come over and shake Hutchy’s hand.
Back in the commentary box I was a good deal more relaxed for our second stint. I even got to tell Hutchy something he didn’t know; that the tournament leader (at that stage), Dean Burmester, was born in Mutare. ‘Really?’ he said, looking at me with raised eyebrows. ‘But that’s my home town. Umtali, as it was back then, of course. So Dean’s from there. I thought he was a Bulawayo boy.’
It was at that very moment that I started to doubt my sources. What, after all, is Google, compared to the vast treasure trove of information stored in the brain of Denis Hutchinson? This is the last amateur to win the SA Open, back in 1959, at which point I was a few months shy of being born.
Hutchy turned 86 the week of the Tour Championship. He still plays every week with his old mates at Royal Johannesburg & Kensington, breaking his age with metronomic consistency, putting the eyes out of the ball, day in and day out.
In July he’s off on a trip that would be bucket list for virtually every other golf enthusiast, but for Hutchy is just a few days in the office – The Open Championship at Carnoustie, followed by the Senior Open at St Andrews.
Hutchy’s best finishes at The Open were tie-18th at Royal Birkdale in 1961 and tie-16th at Troon in 1962. Arnold Palmer lifted the Claret Jug on both occasions. But it seems simply pointless to talk about Hutchy as a touring pro. Good though he was as a player, his real contribution to the game has been as a teacher and a broadcaster.
Generations of our pros have benefited from his flat-stick wisdom, and the rest of us have been privileged to listen to a gentleman of the old school, describing beautifully the capriciousness of the game of golf. I salute you, old friend.
– This article first appeared in the May issue of Compleat Golfer, now on sale!