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Opinion & Analysis

The Stubborn Tale of 1924 U.S. Open Champion Cyril Walker

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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.

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Josh is the Editor and Owner of GolfHistoryToday.com, an area of the web dedicated to golfing history involving players, courses, and events from 1800s Scotland to present. Frequent Weekend Caddy...USGA Volunteer.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. ROY

    Jun 14, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Interesting info – thanks

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Opinion & Analysis

Barney Adams: Why we play golf

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I played golf the other day with friends. COVID-19 restrictions, but we got out. They will attest that I stunk, but that isn’t news or the basis for this piece.

Normally that kind of golfing experience has me in borderline depression searching for a swing change that I know will allow me to play at my fantasy level. What was remarkably different was the pleasure. Being outside, sunshine, fresh air, joking with friends, enduring the glares from my partner. It was four hours that were singular in their positivity made more so by the daily media barrage of doom and being essentially quarantined for all other activities.

To start, one of the great things about golf is when you play, it requires total concentration—world events, personal issues are put on hold. You see, golf isn’t fun, it’s hard and that element is what brings us joy no matter how small our victories.

I’ve played the game for some 70 years and studied it for 40, working in the industry. One of my favorite exercises over the years has been to ask someone who played recently to describe their best shot of their previous round. Immediate answers flow accompanied by a smile or whimsical expression. Whether it’s a tee shot, a chip, putt, it’s a moment of slaying the dragon. And this is golf. Not an 18 or even 9-hole score—one shot, immediate recall and the reason to play again.

We find ourselves today bordering on panic—daily feeds from the media, warning us, frightening us. For those who play the game, it is a needed respite. There have been some articles, and I’m sure more coming, about what will happen in the distant morning. Massive unemployment, lost wages, and crashing investment portfolios, a small sample. Sadly, the media is going to have bad news to emphasize for months to come and there is no question that some of the collateral damage will be human lives and financial well-being.

It’s easy to sit and critique humans making decisions. But when asked the question about affecting lives now or in the future, it’s way more complex. Political expediency focuses on the now knowing there will be a pivot down the road.

What does all this have to do with golf? The game provides an instant middle ground. People can have four hours in the sun and fresh air and the difficulty involved forces them to temporarily shelve daily tribulations. Even with reduced course services as a precaution, just the chance to go to bed at night knowing the weather looks great and you can escape to the course for a few hours…it’s something that brightens one’s outlook.

So, I’m championing the playing of golf, while accepting various related restrictions. I’m championing a few hours where we can forget the drama, the panic, and get our butts kicked by a little white ball. And when done, we’ll make arrangements to play again.

Oh yes, now that the internet is overflowing with tips from golf teaching experts, I really need to play, because I have this new move that is guaranteed, guaranteed, to produce 12 more yards off the tee. You see, it all has to do with the position of the shaft vs. the left knee and…

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Opinion & Analysis

Everyone sucks at golf sometimes

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“Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with tools singularly ill-designed for the purpose.”

This quote dates back over 100 years, and has been credited to a number of people through history including Winston Churchill and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Although the game and the tools have changed a lot in 100 years, this quote remains timeless because golf is inherently difficult, and is impossible to master, which is exactly what also makes it so endearing to those that play it.

No matter how hard we practice, or how much time we spend trying to improve there will inevitably be times when we will suck at golf. Just like with other aspects of the game the idea of “sucking” will vary based on your skillset, but a PGA Tour player can hit a hosel rocket shank just as well as a 25 handicap. As Tom Brady proved this past weekend, any golfer can have a bad day, but even during a poor round of golf there are glimmers of hope—like a holed-out wedge, even if it is followed by having your pants rip out on live TV.

I distinctly remember one time during a broadcast when Chris DiMarco hit a poor iron shot on a par 3 and the microphone caught hit exclaim “Come on Chris, you’re hitting it like a 4 handicap out here today” – the shot just barely caught the right side of the green and I imagine a lot of higher handicap golfers said to themselves ” I’d love to hit it like a 4 handicap!”. This is just one example of the expectations we put on ourselves even when most golfers will admit to playing their best when expectations are thrown out the window.

– Gary Larson

Dr. Bob Rotella says golf is not a game of perfect, and that’s totally ok. The game is about the constant pursuit of improvement, not perfection and with that in mind there are going to be days when no matter what we just suck.

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Opinion & Analysis

By definition, there will be no 2020 U.S. Open. Here’s why the USGA should reconsider

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In 1942, the USGA decided to cancel the U.S. Open because it was scheduled so soon after U.S. entry into WWII.  They did this out of respect for the nation and those called to war. There was a Championship however called The Hale America National Open Golf Tournament, which was contested at Chicago’s  Ridgemoor Country Club. It was a great distraction from the horror of war and raised money for the great cause.

All the top players of the era (except Sam Snead) played, and the organizers (USGA, Chicago Golf Association, and the PGA of America) did hold qualifying at some 70 sites around the country. So effectively, it was the 1942 U.S. Open—but the USGA never recognized it as such. They labeled it a “wartime effort to raise money” for the cause.  Their objection to it being the official U.S. Open was never clear, although the sub-standard Ridgemoor course (a veritable birdie fest) was certainly part of it.

The USGA co-sponsored the event but did not host it at one of their premier venues, where they typically set the golf course up unusually difficult to test the best players. Anyway, Ben Hogan won the event and many thought this should have counted as his fifth U.S. Open win. The USGA disagreed. That debate may never be settled in golfer’s minds.

Ahead to the 1964 U.S. Open…Ken Venturi, the eventual winner, qualified to play in the tournament. His game at the time was a shell of what it was just a few years earlier, but Kenny caught lighting in a bottle, got through both stages of qualifying, and realized his lifelong dream of winning the U.S. Open at Congressional.

Ahead to the 1969 U.S. Open…Orville Moody, a former army sergeant had been playing the PGA Tour for two years with moderate success-at best. But the golfing gods shone brightly upon “sarge” through both stages of qualifying, and the tournament, as he too realized the dream of a lifetime in Houston.

Ahead to 2009 U.S. Open…Lucas Glover was the 71st ranked player in the world and had never made the cut in his three previous U.S. Opens. But he did get through the final stage of qualifying and went on to win the title at Bethpage in New York.

Ahead to 2020…The USGA has decided to postpone the event this year to September because of the Covid-19 virus. This was for the fear of the global pandemic. But this year there is a fundamental difference—the USGA has announced there will be no qualifying for the event. It will be an exempt-only event. By doing so, the event loses it status as an “open event,” by definition.

This is more than a slight difference in semantics.

The U.S. Open, our national championship, is the crown jewel of all USGA events for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is just that: open. Granted, the likelihood of a club professional or a highly-ranked amateur winning the event—or even making the cut—is slim, but that misses the point: they have been stripped of their chance to do so, and have thereby lost a perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity to realize something they have worked for their whole lives. Although I respect the decision from a  health perspective, golf is being played now across the country, (The Match and Driving Relief—apparently safely)

So, what to do? I believe it would be possible to have one-day 36-hole qualifiers (complete with social distancing regulations) all over the country to open the field. Perhaps, the current health crisis limits the opportunity to hold the qualifiers at the normally premier qualifying sites around the country but, as always, everyone is playing the same course and is at least given the chance to play in tournament.

In light of the recent “opening” of the country, I am asking that the USGA reconsider the decision.

 

featured image modified from USGA image

 

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