58th Open - Royal Troon 1923
Havers birdies the last to beat Hagen
It was left to a young English professional from Coombe Hill, Arthur Havers, to battle the might of the American contenders for the Claret Jug. Havers’ win at Troon in 1923 was the only home success between George Duncan winning at Deal in 1920 and Henry Cotton’s triumph at Sandwich in 1934.
With a tall, slim build, Havers was not best equipped for the windy conditions of Troon’s first Open but he kept the ball in play with a powerful four-knuckle left-hand grip and opened with three rounds of 73. Lurking in fourth place, two strokes behind, was Walter Hagen, the defending Champion, who had rounds of 76, 71 and 74.
Almost inevitably Hagen piled on the pressure in the final round and when Havers bunkered his second shot to the 18th green it looked as if the door was open. But Havers was made of sterner stuff and he holed out from the bunker for a 76 to set a target of 295. Moments later Hagen found the same bunker, but could not match the brilliance of Havers’ recovery, although he came very close. Macdonald Smith was third and Australian Joe Kirkwood fourth.
There was controversy before the start when it was found that the iron clubs of Gene Sarazen and other American players had holes punched deep into the faces, creating backspin and giving great control on the bone-hard greens. The clubs were declared illegal and there was much late-night work with files brought in from the Glasgow shipyards before the clubs once again conformed. Sarazen, the US Open and PGA Champion, then failed to qualify in gale-force conditions, in which Aubrey Boomer had the unfortunate experience of blasting his ball from sand only to watch it curl back over his head in the wind and drop into his jacket pocket.