The story of The 72nd Open
In the second instalment of our historical features on The Open at Carnoustie we feature Henry Cotton's second Open success in 1937.
An American taking the applause of the crowd and kissing the Claret Jug has become a familiar sight during the 21st century. Indeed, ten of the 17 Champion Golfers this century hail from across the Atlantic. But back in 1937 - the second occasion that Carnoustie hosted The Open – Americans descending en masse in a bid to be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year was more of a rarity.
Following on from the Ryder Cup, held in Southport prior to The Open, where the USA had won at a canter, the likes of Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead were all in town for The 72nd Open.
But it was an Englishman, Henry Cotton – hailing from Cheshire – who held them all at bay to claim the second of his three Claret Jugs. And it was his fourth round that has gone down in folklore, played in driving rain and still rated by many as one of the greatest in Open history.
The Americans had emerged comfortable 8-4 victors in the Ryder Cup in June and in their ranks were the Masters champion in Byron Nelson and the US Open champion Ralph Guldahl.
Snead would win The Open on his next visit – to St Andrews nine years later – while Hagen, a four-time Champion Golfer of the Year, was playing his final Open.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the experience stakes, the field also included a certain Bobby Locke. The 19-year-old, still playing as an amateur, made the cut and tied for 17th before turning professional. He would go on to be Champion Golfer of the Year four times.
But despite such a star-studded field it was Reg Whitcombe – still stinging from being left out of Great Britain’s Ryder Cup team – that made the early running. The youngest of three Whitcombe brothers trailed America’s Ed Dudley – unbeaten in Southport the month before – after the first round but broke clear in rounds two and three. But he hadn’t counted on Cotton – who on Friday’s final day produced a stunning round for the ages while disaster struck for Whitcombe.
Tied for fourth after two rounds, Cotton was timing his run to perfection.
As you would expect from a man who finished his career with three Claret Jugs, and an almost equally impressive 17 top-ten Open finishes, experience was the key.
And when Friday came, with heavy rain, it was Whitcombe who blinked first. He topped his drive off the tee at the seventh hole when his grip slipped, the ball only travelling 40 yards, made a six and never recovered. Meanwhile, Cotton was up ahead saving his best for last.
Having never led over the first three days, Cotton’s final round of 71 took him to a total of 290. This was a man who fired a 65 at Royal St Georges and a 66 at Muirfield in his illustrious career.
But this final round 71, in the driving wind and rain, was his masterpiece. On a course where holes change direction constantly, with no more than two in row facing the same angle into the wind, Cotton had to be at his scrambling best.
His final round contained only 26 putts and the rest of the field could not match him. Cotton ended up winning by two strokes from Whitcombe – who avenged his final round 76 by lifting the Claret Jug a year later at Sandwich.
Cotton was suitably ecstatic after the victory: “I feel my victory was well-earned, especially with the formidable Americans over here this year,” he said.