Amidst the roar of laughter from the
spectators, the official confided to me: “I don’t know whether I
should declare it open or closed”. After the opening fireworks the
match afterwards was something of an anti-climax.
I was fifth in the News Chronicle tournament, played at East Brighton, a lovely downland course near to Roedean School. It was there that I shot my lowest round in a top line event, a 64 in the first round setting the course record, for which I received a gold watch made in the shape of half a golf ball. I had only 29 putts, despite three putting twice and missing a few from inside six feet. The record equalled the lowest score in a First Class British event set by Reg Whitcombe in the Dunlop Southport at Hesketh in 1934, but it only lasted for 20 minutes as Sam King came in with a 63, which was only the third recorded in tournament play at that time. (Reg Whitcombe was the first to do it in the West of England Pro Championship at Parkstone in1933 and Percy Alliss shot a 63 in the 1935 Italian Open). Sam King was another of the few survivors from those days who made it into the twenty-first century. He passed away in February 2003 at the age of 91. He was a great character, fond of fishing and bird watching. At the 1935 Open at Muirfield he went out on a bird watching expedition to the Bass Rock and I remember him having to make a hasty return to get onto the tee in time. Sam would pick up any club he fancied and put it in his bag, often ending up with five or six different models. We were not sponsored by golf club makers in those days; golf ball companies and shaft manufacturers were the principal sponsors.
The 6450-yard East Brighton course was the scene of much low scoring in the ideal conditions prevailing that week. The ground was baked hard and running so fast that the downhill 400 yard par-4 18th was almost in range. Max Faulkner, who also had a 64 in the first round, won £15 and my 5th place was worth £25. The £200 first prize (double that received by Cotton at Carnoustie) went to 47-years- old Ernest Whitcombe, who finished with another 64 to set the record aggregate score for a British PGA event of 268 (67,65,72,64) and beat his son Eddie, who had set a record aggregate of 200 for three rounds.
The English Amateur Championship that year was at the superb Saunton club in North Devon, a venue that is worthy of an Open, but sadly does not meet all the criteria required by the R&A to stage the big event. This would be the last championship at Saunton before the area was commandeered as a ‘battle school’ during the war and the club would be closed for over a decade. The finalists were two Walker Cup players, J. J. F. Pennink of Royal Ashdown Forest and L.G.Crawley from my old club Brancepeth Castle. Strangely the experienced L. G., champion in 1931 and playing in his third final, was extremely nervous and had not slept the night before. As a result he played well below his best, even missing an eighteen-inch putt at the first in the afternoon round. Pennink won by 6 & 5 and went on to successfully defend the title the following year at Moortown, the year that he was a member of our winning Walker Cup team. Frank Pennink was to join a firm of course architects in the 1950’s and one of his best-known designs was the Saunton West Course.
In 1937 a four man South African amateur team, including the young Bobby Locke, was touring Britain playing matches against teams selected by various golf clubs. In the match at Sunningdale L. G. defeated Locke by 3&2.
As Paddy had predicted the Irish Open was a turning point and 1937 turned out to be a very good year – my annus mirabilis. My winnings totalled about £400 - I had never earned more than around £250/300 up to then; I wouldn’t get much change if I spent it on the latest driver now. I finished in the top twelve of the Professional averages for the year, which also qualified me for the Penfold League Tournament of 1938. Sadly I had left it too late to attract the attention of the Ryder Cup selectors that year and would have to wait another two years for a chance to fulfil my greatest ambition.