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Chapter 8. The Turning of the Tide

In 1934 the Open was back on the Kent coast at Royal St. George’s and I was leading qualifier, after a 71 at Deal followed by a 69 at the Open venue, the low round of the day. Henry Cotton, Jimmy Adams and Percy Alliss qualified a shot behind. Sixty-six players made up the field, including my brother George – then forty-four years old. After two rounds George was ahead of me by three shots, but he finished 80,82 for a total of 309. I had peaked too early and finished in a tie for twenty-first place on 302, the same mark as Gene Sarazen and one stroke behind the defending champion, Denny Shute. I am not sure what our prize was, but it would be around £10 or so.

During the tournament a doorman confronted Gene when he went to the ‘wrong’ clubhouse entrance. He picked the man up by the shoulders and moved him aside - Gene’s diminutive frame contained remarkable strength. I remember Henry Cotton doing a similar thing when he was told to move on in a car park - the attendant finished on his backside in a hedge.

Joe Kirkwood playing an exhibition match with Walter Hagen 1937Joe Kirkwood was in contention again, finishing in a share of fourth on 292. During a globe-trotting career, begun in his native Australia, it was estimated that Joe played 6470 golf courses. He was a famous trick shot exponent and his act included driving a ball from the glass face of a watch. He used a watch for a tee when scoring one of his 29 holes-in-one. On Christmas Day 1960, aged 63, he shot a 62 on his home course. He travelled the world on exhibition tours with his friend Walter Hagen, about whom he had many stories to relate, one concerning a bet they had at the 1928 Tijuana Open. Hagen wagered $50 that he could knock his ball back to the hotel in less shots than Kirkwood. Hagen did reach the destination in fewer shots, but lost the bet when he took too many to chip his ball into the toilet bowl, which they had agreed should be the place to hole out. Another story concerned Leo Diegel and his ‘elbows out’ putting style. Hagen and Kirkwood were late for Diegel’s funeral; the Haig having imbibed at some length and led them into the wrong ceremony. When they eventually arrived at the cemetery Hagen waited until the last mourner had gone then opened some beers and said that he wanted to share them with Leo for the long trip ahead.” And by the way”, he asked, “How the blazes did they get you in there with those elbows stuck out?” Leo was buried with his lucky putter and before he departed Walter said, “May you and your putter rust in peace”.

Joe left another amusing quote behind - on his own tombstone. It reads: -

Tell your story of hard luck shots, of each one straight and true,
But when you are done,
Remember son,
That nobody cares but you

Henry Cotton had gone over to America as a twenty-one year old in 1928/29 and had learned much from American pros such as Hagen, Sarazen and Tommy Armour. He had worked very hard at his game and that week he was playing brilliant golf. His scores for the first 36 holes were 67 and 65 - a championship record. The Dunlop 65 ball was named to mark the achievement, for which Henry received £150 per annum from Dunlop for a number of years, totalling around £5000. He could certainly have made a lot more out of it when you consider that the ball was still the best seller forty years later. “It was the worst deal I ever made”, he said in an interview some years afterwards. The record lasted until 1977, when American Mark Hayes had a 63 in the first Turnberry Open. Ironically the 70-year-old Cotton was playing in that Open to mark the 50th anniversary of his first appearance in the championship.