he had won that summer by holing a ‘stout’ putt on the last green.
“What would have happened if that ball had not gone in?”, he asked,
“It is only one of the interesting but futile ‘ifs’ of history. The
ball did go in, and went on going in”. That season he hit top form
and swept all before him in the run-up to the Open, winning the
Dunlop Southport, the Silver King at Moor Park and the Daily Mail at
Bramshot [where Bert opened with a 69, starting with three 3’s then
three putting four times. He finished in 8th place.] The only
worthwhile trophy Alf did not take was the News of the World
Matchplay, won by up and coming Dai Rees; It was the best run since
Vardon was in his prime.
The caddies employed to trudge around Hoylake’s 7078 yard course were disgruntled when told that their fees were reduced to three shillings a round and, on the final morning, Alf discovered that his clubs were locked in the clubmaker's shop and his caddie was nowhere to be found. Caddies did not have much responsibility for a player’s clubs in those days, they were usually just bag carriers and there were few travelling caddies. They would give an opinion on club choice if asked and information about the line to take, but they were hardly ever asked to read a putt. So far as I can remember the only player who routinely asked his caddie to read his putts was Reg Whitcombe. Nowadays caddies will be very disappointed if they don’t make more in tips than we were getting in prize money back then.
The window of the shop was smashed, the clubs retrieved and Alf went out to shoot 71, finishing with a three to win with a total of 287. He completed a British hat trick and a ‘natural progression’ for himself - he had been third in 1934 and second in 1935. Many players would have been put off their stride by the problematic start to his day, but Alf had a very good temperament - nothing ever seemed to upset him. “Whatever betide”, said Darwin, “he wears the same half smile and walks along at exactly the same pace, as if not positively bored with the proceedings, but just a little sleepy”. He had a short but wonderfully smooth and rhythmical swing with which he could get great distance and he was one of the longest drivers of the day. Sandy Herd said his swing was nearer to Harry Vardon than he had seen in any other player, although he was essentially modern in his simplification of the game. At that time and for many years at the height of his career Alf represented the Sundridge Park club in Kent, but the Padgham family will always be associated with Royal Ashdown Forest. Set in glorious rolling East Sussex countryside with magnificent views over the forest, the course has no bunkers because the Forest authorities have never permitted the club to dig holes on the course. The family of Abe Mitchell also came from there and there is still a Mitchell on the Greens staff.
In 1936 the forerunner of the ‘European Tour’ was beginning to take off, with increasing sponsorship by equipment companies and British newspaper groups. That year there were sixteen events – seven National Opens and nine sponsored tournaments. Alf was leading money winner with £1,226 and his stroke average of 71.37 was the best of the season. With six years soon to be lost to war, it was not bettered until 1947.
Alf’s birdie finish at Hoylake pipped Jimmy Adams by a shot leaving him in second place, a position he occupied several times in big open events. Jimmy’s beautiful putting stroke had nearly got him a tie, but his valiant putt at the last jumped out of the hole. He was to be second in the Open Championship again in 1938 and was given the unkind nickname of ‘James the Second’. Jimmy was still coming close as late as the fifties, but he never made the final breakthrough. Henry Cotton, who had gone out of bounds at the 1st, was in a share of third place, with Marcel Dallemagne, the brilliant Frenchman who had challenged me in the 1933 French Open. (Marcel won the French that year, the first of three in a row). Three players shared fourth place: Percy Alliss, Gene Sarazen (the only big name American there that year) and my international partner at Muirfield, Tom Green. I finished in a tie for 21st with the twenty-year-old Max Faulkner.
A slim 19-year-old South African finished in 8th place and won the amateur medal. His name was Arthur D’Arcy (Bobby) Locke. He was said to have acquired the name of Bobby because his boyhood hero was the winner of the previous Hoylake Open - Bobby Jones, but it was apparently bestowed upon him by his African nanny because of his habit of bobbing up and down in his pram.
Alf Padgham was not the only one with caddie problems that year. Like Ian Woosnam at the 2001 Open, I gave my caddie a job to do and he couldn’t do it, but in this case it was not too many clubs but none at all. (In any case there was no restriction on the number of clubs British golfers could carry, but I seldom had more than twelve in my bag). I was going on my annual trip to the Irish Open - at Royal Dublin that year - and my caddie offered to take my clubs to Liverpool and put them on board the ferry. I had some last minute jobs to attend to, so I gladly accepted. After the ferry had set sail I went to collect the clubs but they were nowhere to be found. Enquiries revealed that they were in the waiting room on the Liverpool landing stage, where the caddie had left them. A West Cheshire member, who was in the shipping business, picked them up and put them on a ship bound for Dublin. Meanwhile, I had borrowed a set of clubs for the first round from the club’s pro, Fred Smyth, and found the driver much to my liking. I asked him if I could borrow it for the rest of the week. “No”, he said, “I will give it to you”. The driver served me well and I came joint fifth in the tournament. I used it for some time afterwards. [George Duncan considered Fred Smyth to be the best clubmaker in these islands].