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.
You can read our previous Decades of The Open articles via the links below.
Our latest article focuses on the 1940s, a decade that featured only four editions of The Open but nevertheless provided a host of iconic Champions.
A return from war
The Champion Golfer of 1939, Dick Burton, ultimately held the Claret Jug for seven years as the outbreak of World War II led to the longest hiatus in The Open’s history.
When the Championship was able to resume in 1946, it did so at St Andrews, the host of the previous Open.
Having served in the RAF throughout the war, Burton returned to defend the Claret Jug and finished in a creditable 12th place.
Yet on this occasion, victory went to a player who was well on the way to establishing himself as one of golf’s all-time greats.
Sam Snead boasted a glorious swing that was the envy of his peers and the powerful American proved the class of the field over the Old Course.
On a windy final day, scores of 74 and 75 were enough to give Snead a four-stroke victory over Bobby Locke and Johnny Bulla. No Champion Golfer has since recorded a higher final-round score, but Snead’s closing 75 represented a fine effort in the conditions.
The Claret Jug crosses the Irish Sea
Forty years on from France’s Arnaud Massy recording an historic victory at Royal Liverpool, Hoylake played host to another notable first in The Open.
No player from the island of Ireland had previously secured the Claret Jug, but that all changed in 1947 as Portrush’s Fred Daly triumphed in a dramatic finish.
Daly led by four at the halfway stage, but a third-round 78 – in another Championship notable for strengthening gusts – left him in a four-way tie with Henry Cotton, Arthur Lees and Norman van Nida.
As Cotton, Lees and Van Nida all struggled to 76s in the final round, Daly produced a fine inward nine to finish with a 72 and edge out Reg Horne (71) by one.
Frank Stranahan almost forced a play-off in remarkable fashion, but his second shot to the 18th finished a foot from the cup and the resulting birdie merely secured a share of second alongside Horne.
Daly drew laughter from the crowd in his winner’s speech as he said: “It’s a great honour for me to take this cup (the Claret Jug) back to Ireland with me. It has never been over there before and I hope the change of air will help it.”
Cotton cements his legacy as an Open great
Daly followed up his ground-breaking victory in impressive fashion by finishing second at Muirfield the following year.
However, the Championship of 1948 was dominated by Henry Cotton, as the Englishman won The Open for the third time, 14 years after first doing so and 11 years on from his previous success.
Cotton lost what surely would have been some of the best years of his career to the war, but he was still a formidable force as he moved into his early forties.
In the 77th Open, he stormed clear at the top of the leaderboard with a second-round 66 – a score only bettered in Championship history at that time by his own 65 at Royal St George’s in 1934 - and ultimately finished five shots clear of Daly with a total of 284.
Locke capitalises on bizarre Bradshaw incident
The decade was rounded off with a first Open success for South Africa, courtesy of Bobby Locke’s play-off victory over Harry Bradshaw at Royal St George’s.
Locke proved unstoppable in the 36 extra holes as he completed rounds of 67 and 68 to defeat his opponent by 12 strokes.
However, things could have been very different had Bradshaw not been involved in a costly incident in the second round of the Championship.
On the fifth hole at Sandwich, Bradshaw’s ball ended up in the bottom of a broken beer bottle that lay in the rough. Unaware that he was entitled to relief, the Irishman opted to play the ball as it lay and – after thankfully avoiding injury – ran up a costly six.
Bradshaw put the unpleasant incident behind him to post a four-round total of 283 that was only matched by Locke. Yet as Locke then cantered to a convincing play-off win, Bradshaw could have been forgiven for wondering what might have been.
The Champion Golfers of the 1940s:
Did You Know?
No Champion has had a longer gap between Open victories than the 11 years that separated Henry Cotton’s second and third wins. However, The Open was not played in six of those years due to war.
Next on the list comes Ernie Els, who triumphed 10 years apart in 2002 and 2012, while four players – Willie Park Snr, Bob Martin, J.H. Taylor and Gary Player – have regained the Claret Jug after a gap of nine years.
Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1940s: 35
Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1940s: One American (Snead), one Northern Irishman (Daly), one Englishman (Cotton), one South African (Locke).