On June 6th, 1924, Cyril Walker of Manchester, England, won the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills Country Club for his sole major title. In the process, he defeated eventual Augusta National Founder Bobby Jones, who happened to be the reigning champion of the event.
At the time, Walker was a club professional at Englewood Golf Club in the New Jersey sector, and he had been playing on the professional tour since 1917. After many attempts, he had finally flourished in a major championship. Many big names were in the field and contesting for the title, including two-time winner Walter Hagen, Leo Diegel, Bobby Cruickshank, and 1922 champion Gene Sarazen.
Fun Fact: The 1924 U. S. Open marked the first time the USGA allowed the use of steel-shafted putters.
The decisive point of the round came at the 16th hole, where a dogleg par-4 with water protecting the green was playing especially difficult. Wind was pushing back toward the players, which made them think twice about getting home in two. Walker’s playing partner, Leo Diegel, went for it and got caught up in the wind before his ball was summoned to the drink. In the scheme of things, Diegel was out of contention and the penalty stroke made no difference to him, but if Walker would share the same fate it could have cost him the tournament.
Walker, known for his slow play, studied the shot meticulously and walked out the yardage over and over again. He kept switching from a mid-iron to a driving iron before settling on the driving iron and sticking one to 8 feet. This shot was awed by spectators as “the finest ever seen in championship play.” There were many other great shots during the final round, but none counted as much as this particular one.
What won the event for Walker was his amazing consistency. He shot three rounds of 74 and a final round of 75 for a 297 total to claim the title. Jones, Melhorn, and Cruickshank all finished with final rounds of 78. This, of course, is just one day of Walker’s life. What happened to him after he won the 1924 U.S. Open is more astonishing than the win.
The 1929 Los Angeles Open
As noted above, Walker was a slow golfer. He studied and over analyzed every shot, which made playing alongside him irritating over 18 holes of golf. This brings us to Cyril Walker’s disqualification from the 1929 Los Angeles Open held at Riviera Country Club.
Walker was usually paired in the last group or with a marker so he didn’t even have the opportunity to hold other players up. By the time he reached No. 5, he was far behind the next group in front of him. Tournament officials requested two police officers to ask Walker to “speed up” pace of play. Walker refused, recanting that he was a major champion and he could play as slow as he wants. Some time passed and Walker looked like he was playing slower than before. Tournament officials did not hesitate any longer. The next scene was an unusual one for a professional golf tournament, as two police officers forcibly removed Walker for the golf course.
Walker’s Rapid Fall and Decline
Walkers decline did not stop there. His career demised as the years went on, and he faltered in business and was left penniless in 1930 after a bad real-estate investment. In 1937, The Eugene Register reports of him returning to the caddy ranks and working at a driving range at a Florida golf club.
On August 14th, 1931 Walker was accused of beating a minor at Saddle River Golf Club. John Pagano, 15 at the time, claimed the former U.S. Open Champion struck him with his fists. The case was later dropped when Pagano admitted it was a case of mistaken identity.
On June 15th 1934, Walker’s driver’s license was revoked for two years on a charge of driving a vehicle while intoxicated, and he was fined $262.50 including costs. It should be noted that Walker was arrested on Main Street in the middle of the afternoon. After being fined, he proclaimed that he didn’t have the money, and stayed in a jail cell until it was paid for him.
In 1948, The Toledo Blade reported Walkers death at a local New Jersey prison where he went for shelter. Guards found Walkers body while making their morning rounds.