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The 150th Open

Decades of The Open


The 1930s

Sir Henry Cotton with the Claret Jug

Everything has led to this.

As we continue to count down the days to The 150th Open at St Andrews in July, our Decades of The Open series is celebrating the remarkable journey of golf and its original Championship.

This latest article focuses on the 1930s, a decade that initially brought continued American dominance before a flurry of English players enjoyed success.


Unstoppable Jones bows out with a bang

Bobby Jones’ third and final victory at The Open retains a unique place in golfing history. Success at Royal Liverpool in 1930 formed part of an unprecedented Grand Slam, which saw Jones win The Amateur Championship, The Open, the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur – the four premier Championships of his era - in the same year.

Jones held a share of the lead after each of the first two rounds of The Open, but then trailed by one through 54 holes as Archie Compston hit the front with a superb 68.

However, Compston then faltered badly in the final round, posting an 82, and Jones triumphed by two strokes from Leo Diegel and Macdonald Smith courtesy of a closing 75.

Bobby Jones, the Champion Golfer of 1930, at St Andrews

Bobby Jones tees off in front of a huge crowd

The superstar amateur would never play in The Open again. After completing his extraordinary Grand Slam, Jones sensationally retired from competitive golf at the age of 28.


Armour among Champions as venue list continues to expand

Carnoustie and Prince’s became the 10th and 11th courses to have hosted The Open when they staged the respective Championships of 1931 and 1932.

Eight new venues – including five in England - had now been added in the space of 40 years, illustrating the growth of an event that had been staged exclusively on three Scottish courses – Prestwick, St Andrews and Musselburgh Links - for its first 31 editions.

Another sign of The Open’s broadening appeal beyond its place of origin was the continued flow of overseas winners, as three Americans in succession followed Jones’ example by lifting the Claret Jug.

However, although Tommy Armour represented the United States in 1931, the ‘Silver Scot’ had been born and educated in Edinburgh and his victory at Carnoustie was certainly a cause for celebration in his native country.

One of the more fascinating Open Champions of any era, Armour had lost sight in one of his eyes during World War I. Despite this, he enjoyed great golfing success upon moving to America, triumphing in both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship before he came from five behind after 54 holes to win The 66th Open.

Tommy Armour receives the Claret Jug in 1931

A delighted Tommy Armour receives the Claret Jug in 1931

Cotton halts American streak

Armour’s success in 1931 was followed by a victory for the great Gene Sarazen in the only Open ever to be held at Prince’s. Sarazen debuted his new 'sand wedge' to great effect, going wire-to-wire in 1932. Denny Shute then prevailed at St Andrews in a tightly-contested Championship in 1933, beating fellow American Craig Wood in a 36-hole playoff.

With much of the 1920s having been dominated by Walter Hagen and Jones, American players had now put together a lengthy winning run in The Open.

However, that streak ended in 1934 as Sir Henry Cotton, the finest English golfer of his generation, stormed to victory at Royal St George’s.

Cotton was a remarkable nine shots clear through 36 holes after he improved on his opening-round 67 with a 65, a new record score in The Open.

A 72 on a rainy final morning extended his lead to 10 and ensured Cotton was able to triumph comfortably despite being blighted by stomach cramps in his last round. The ailing leader stumbled to a 79, but still finished five clear of Sid Brews with a total of 283.

Cotton had become only the fourth player to lead after every round of a 72-hole Open, emulating Sarazen from two years prior, and he would lift the Claret Jug again at Carnoustie three years later, getting the better of the entire American Ryder Cup team.


A win in the wind for Whitcombe

Each of the remaining Opens in the 1930s were also won by English players, as Alf Perry, Alf Padgham, Reg Whitcombe and Dick Burton enjoyed success either side of Cotton’s second victory.

Whitcombe’s win at Royal St George’s in 1938 was a triumph of endurance as he coped best with some of the most atrocious weather ever seen at The Open.

Reg Whitcombe (right)

Reg Whitcombe (right) shakes the hand of Sid Brews

Severe flooding earlier in the year had necessitated a late change in venue from nearby Royal Cinque Ports. The first two days of the Championship were played in calm conditions, but a tremendous storm then blew across Sandwich for the final day, meaning scores skyrocketed in rounds three and four.

On a day when the Exhibition Tent at the course was ripped apart, sending debris as far as the Prince’s clubhouse a mile away, Whitcombe battled to scores of 75 and 78 for a winning total of 295.

The second- and third-placed finishers, Jimmy Adams and Henry Cotton, were the only other players to break 300 in the howling gales.


The Champion Golfers of the 1930s

1930, Royal Liverpool – Bobby Jones

1931, Carnoustie – Tommy Armour

1932, Prince’s – Gene Sarazen

1933, St Andrews – Denny Shute

1934, Royal St George’s – Henry Cotton

1935, Muirfield – Alf Perry

1936, Royal Liverpool – Alf Padgham

1937, Carnoustie – Henry Cotton

1938, Royal St George’s – Reg Whitcombe

1939, St Andrews – Dick Burton

Dick Burton, the Champion Golfer of 1939

The Champion Golfer of 1939, Dick Burton

Did You Know?

No Champion Golfer has ever held the Claret Jug for longer than Dick Burton.

His victory at St Andrews in 1939 was followed by the outbreak of World War II, which prevented The Open from taking place again until 1946.

When Burton – who enlisted in the RAF - defended his title seven years on from his triumph, he said: “I was lucky. A lot of those who watched me at St Andrews also went off to war and they never came back. Some of my friends didn’t make it either. I did.”


Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1930s: 31


Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1930s: Five English (Cotton, Perry, Padgham, Whitcombe, Burton), four American (Jones, Armour, Sarazen, Shute).

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