Dick Burton secures last pre-war title for Britain
There had been a string of five home victories since Densmore Shute captured the 1933 title at St Andrews, two of them by Henry Cotton, and he was one of the clear favourites to win again in the unreal atmosphere of the months leading to the outbreak of the second world war. Bobby Locke, then a slim teenager, was another much fancied player, but there was only a small American contingent led by powerful Johnny Bulla and former double US Amateur champion Lawson Little.
Locke completed the course in an opening round of 70 despite an ugly eight at the newly lengthened 14th hole where he took two to get clear of the Beardies bunkers and then found the vast expanse of Hell. Only a fine putt saved him further embarrassment. Next day he over-corrected and put his ball out-of-bounds on the opposite side of the fairway, leading to a slide out of contention.
Despite his problems Locke’s first round 70 was equalled by only one man, blunt speaking, big-hitting Lancastrian Dick Burton. His powerful play enabled him to cope well with the lengthened course in tough weather conditions and he and the equally powerful Bulla were level after three rounds. Cotton’s early promise faded with a pair of 76s on the final day and the surprise leader with one round to play was John Fallon.
But the slightly built Scot could not cope with the strong winds and quickly moved out of contention. Bulla hit a huge drive at the second hole, but hooked the ball badly, crossing the parallel 17th fairway and disappearing over a wall into the railway yard. He completed a round of 73, setting Burton, who was only just starting out, a target of 72 for the title. After an impressive display of power golf he needed a four at the last to achieve that total, hit a drive more than 300 yards, pitched to 15 feet and holed the putt.
Within weeks he was serving in the RAF and although he held the Open title until the championship was revived after the war, he had no chance to capitalise on his success. This loss of opportunity was shrugged off in typical Burton fashion — he had survived the war while many who had watched him win the championship had not.