Mike Clayton: Remembering The Rat’s finest hour - PGA of Australia

Mike Clayton: Remembering The Rat’s finest hour

It was a Friday evening at the 1987 PLM Open in Sweden. The bus was taking the players back to the hotel and one lone golfer was taking advantage of a long Swedish summer’s light and grinding away on the practice fairway.

Noel Ratcliffe had just missed the cut by eight shots and, with some justification, we wondered what the hell he was doing. There were better times to be had in Malmo on Friday night than hitting balls on the range.

Ratcliffe was 42, and golf on the tour only gets harder over 40. But he loved playing the tour and like most at such a vulnerable age for professional golfers, he was trying desperately to hang on.

The next week we played the Benson and Hedges tournament, one of the most prestigious on the tour, in York and the most remarkable thing happened. The Sunday morning leaderboard was stacked with the big names on the European Tour including Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Jose Maria Canizares and Ian Baker-Finch. Ratcliffe, a shot behind Faldo and two behind the leader, Langer, went out and shot 66 to beat them all. Nine years earlier, he and Neil Coles lost a playoff to Lee Trevino, making his win part redemption and part resurrection.

‘The Rat’ died this week, aged 79, and is remembered by all who knew him as someone who truly loved playing golf. He was, fair to say, the most deliberate player on the tour, which was a high bar given fellow Sydneysider Peter Fowler was out there as well.

He was a late starter to golf but by the very early 1970s ‘Rat’ was one of the very best amateurs in the country and he represented Australia the 1972 Eisenhower Cup in Argentina alongside Tony Gresham (who won the Individual Trophy), Mike Cahill and Terry Gale. It was arguably the finest ever Australian team to play the Eisenhower and they were second behind a great American team which included Ben Crenshaw, Vinny Giles and Mark Hayes.

He turned pro a couple of years later after the Australian PGA changed its rules and sensibly made it easier for the best amateurs to play the tour without going through the charade of spending a year working in a pro shop before being allowed to play professionally.

In 1977, he finally won in Australia, beating David Galloway in a playoff at the South Australian Open at Royal Adelaide. The following season in Europe he beat fellow New South Welshman Chris Tickner in a playoff at the Belgium Open.

Much of his success came as a senior player in Europe where he won eight times and led the money list in 2000. Four other years he was in the top handful of players on the over-50s tour.

Rat had a beautiful long swing, one likely the main reason he played so well as he aged as his contemporaries were losing their flexibility and wondering where all their length had gone.

He was a wonderful man, a great friend and, if you asked, a source of good advice.

We’ll all miss him, even if he did add 15 minutes to all our rounds!

Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

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