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The 150th Open

Decades of The Open

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The 1920s

Bobby Jones tees off at St Andrews

Everything has led to this.

Our Decades of The Open series is celebrating the remarkable journey of golf and its original Championship in the lead-up to The 150th Open at St Andrews in July 2022.

This latest article focuses on the 1920s, a decade of unprecedented American dominance.

 

St Andrews native opens floodgates for USA

Prior to the 1920s, every Open Championship bar one had been won by a player from Great Britain, with Arnaud Massy of France responsible for the sole overseas victory in 1907.

However, a sea change then occurred as players representing the United States recorded victories in seven out of 10 Opens.

The first of those successes was actually achieved by a man who had been born and raised in St Andrews. Jock Hutchison emigrated to the USA prior to World War I but returned to his home town in 1921 to claim the Claret Jug.

Hutchison defeated English amateur Roger Wethered in a 36-hole play-off after both men had posted scores of 296 for four rounds.

No one could have known it at the time, but an era of sustained American success at the Open had begun.

 

Hagen’s handsome haul

Walter Hagen in action at Troon in 1923

Walter Hagen, the winner of four Open Championships in the 1920s

Hutchison was succeeded as Champion by the great Walter Hagen, who would end the decade with four Open titles to his name.

Already the winner of three majors prior to his Open triumphs, Hagen twice won at Royal St George’s in 1922 and 1928, either side of a come-from-behind victory at Royal Liverpool in 1924.

His 11th and final major win was recorded at Muirfield in 1929 as he enjoyed a first successful defence of the Claret Jug. In the second round, he became the first man to shoot 67 in The Open.

 

Jones goes from zero to hero at St Andrews

A three-time Champion Golfer who completed an unprecedented Grand Slam in 1930, Bobby Jones is widely regarded as one of golf’s all-time greats.

Yet he endured a torrid time on his Open debut at St Andrews in 1921, when he famously tore up his card in frustration in the third round after taking four to escape Hill bunker on the 11th hole.

Jones’ first appearance in golf’s original Championship may not have gone to plan, but it would not be long before he was making history for all the right reasons.

On his next visit to The Open in 1926, he claimed a dramatic victory at Royal Lytham & St Annes, thanks largely to a remarkable shot on the 71st hole. Playing semi-blind off a sandy area from approximately 175 yards, the amateur star elected to boldly use a mashie and somehow found the green. A plaque was duly laid on the course to mark the improbable shot, while the club used by Jones resides in Lytham’s clubhouse.

Bobby Jones receives the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham & St Annes in 1926

Bobby Jones is presented with the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham & St Annes

As if that was not enough, he then retained the Claret Jug in style at St Andrews the following year. A wire-to-wire win at the Home of Golf illustrated Jones’ rare class and represented quite the turnaround from his previous Open at the Old Course.

 

A 13-shot comeback!

Prior to the rush of American winners. George Duncan of Scotland was crowned Champion Golfer of the Year in extraordinary circumstances at Royal Cinque Ports in 1920, as The Open resumed after a six-year hiatus due to World War I.

Duncan looked set to finish among the also-rans as he reached the halfway stage of the Championship 13 strokes off the pace set by England’s Abe Mitchell.

However, after purchasing a new driver from the Exhibition Tent at the course, Duncan improved significantly on two opening scores of 80 by shooting 71 and 72 respectively in rounds three and four.

Incredibly, that proved enough to earn a two-stroke victory over perennial challenger Sandy Herd as Mitchell fell apart and finished fourth.

 

Havers’ perfect finish

Hagen may have won four Opens in the 1920s, but he could so easily have made that five if not for a moment of sheer brilliance from Arthur Havers in the first Open to be held at Troon.

The Open of 1923 went down to the wire and long-time leader Havers looked in danger of cracking under the pressure when he found a bunker with his approach to the final hole.

However, the Englishman sensationally holed out from the sand to post a target of 295. When Hagen narrowly failed to repeat the trick from the same bunker, Havers could celebrate the most dramatic of one-shot victories.

Arthur Havers, the Champion Golfer of 1923

Arthur Havers, the Champion Golfer of 1923

The Champion Golfers of the 1920s

1920, Royal Cinque Ports – George Duncan

1921, St Andrews – Jock Hutchison

1922, Royal St George’s – Walter Hagen

1923, Troon – Arthur Havers

1924, Royal Liverpool – Walter Hagen

1925, Prestwick – Jim Barnes

1926, Royal Lytham & St Annes – Bobby Jones

1927, St Andrews – Bobby Jones

1928, Royal St George’s – Walter Hagen

1929, Muirfield – Walter Hagen

 

Did You Know?

The Championship of 1925, won by Jim Barnes, was the final Open to be held at Prestwick.

The original birthplace of the Championship was simply no longer suitable for the growing size of the event, which was attracting ever-increasing crowds.

Macdonald Smith crosses the burn during the final Open Championship at Prestwick

An image from the final Open Championship at Prestwick in 1925

Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1920s: 32

Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1920s: Three Americans (Hutchison, Hagen, Jones), two English (Havers, Barnes), one Scottish (Duncan).

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