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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

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  1. ROY

    Jun 14, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Interesting info – thanks

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Opinion & Analysis

The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from the Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses, Crispin, are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Klieves Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of the risk/reward available without that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the at of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pic up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There’s a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Podcasts

Two Guys Talkin’ Golf: “Are pro golfers actually underpaid?”

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Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX editor Andrew Tursky argue whether PGA Tour players are actually underpaid or not. They also discuss Blades vs. Cavity backs, Jordan Spieth vs. Justin Thomas and John Daly’s ridiculous 142 mph clubhead speed.

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Podcasts

Legend Rees Jones speaks on designing Danzante Bay in Mexico

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Hall-of-Fame golf course architect Rees Jones talks about his newest course design, Danzante Bay at Villa Del Palmar in Mexico. Also, Jeff Herold of TRS Luggage has an exclusive holiday discount offer for GolfWRX listeners!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

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