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1937 Ryder Cup

Southport & Ainsdale is privileged to have staged two Ryder Cups – this is the story of the how the Americans became the first team to win an overseas match with victory over Great Britain in 1937

1937 Ryder Cup

American captain Walter Hagen was again in bullish mood as his team returned to Southport for the sixth staging of the Ryder Cup in late June. “No matter how I figure it, I think we will win,” claimed the 44-year-old, who was a non-playing captain for the first time in the 10-year history of the biennial event – although he mischievously added that they would have an even better chance if “Mister Hagen” was playing. The 11-time major champion had also boldly predicted a victory for his team when S&A hosted the 1933 event, only to lose by the narrowest of margins. However, his confidence in 1937 was rewarded as the Americans became the first team to win the Ryder Cup on foreign soil. And they did so despite the high winds and heavy rain that battered the links; weather that many people thought the home side would be more capable of playing in.

The only man Hagen feared in the home line-up was Henry Cotton. The 30-year-old Englishman, who won the first of his three Open Championships in 1934 and his second immediately after this Ryder Cup, was back in the British team for the first time since 1929. He had missed out in 1931 because he wanted to stay on in the US after the matches, while the selection committee insisted all players to travel out and back together.

In 1933 and 35 he was deemed ineligible because he was a club professional in Belgium, However, at the start of 1937, he moved to Ashridge Golf Club in Hertfordshire and was selected for the team. Hagen said: “Henry Cotton will give us plenty of trouble but we have too much strength all through the line-up.”

And so it proved.

Tuesday’s foursomes

Once again, the Ryder Cup would be contested in midweek to lessen the impact on weekend play for the club’s members. In the opening match, Cotton was paired with reigning Open champion Alf Padgham to play Masters winner Byron Nelson, who was making his Ryder Cup debut, and Ed Dudley, who in 1937 became the first player to finish in the top 10 of all four majors. The British pair were 2UP with three to play in the morning round of the 36-hole match. However, Nelson won the par-five 16th with a four after smashing a 2-iron onto the green. And the Americans won the 17th to level the contest after the British pair three-putted from around 10 feet.

Nelson and Dudley started the afternoon round quickly, winning the first three holes and then the fifth to go 4UP and it was a lead they would not relinquish, eventually triumphing 4&2 to put the first point on the board. Arthur Lacey and Bill Cox held a slender 1UP lead after the first 18 holes of their match with Ralph Guldahl and Tony Manero and were 2UP after six holes of the afternoon round. But the Americans won the seventh and eighth holes to level and birdies on the 16th and 17th holes gave them a 2&1 victory and 2-0 overall lead.

The third match saw Dai Rees and captain Charles Whitcombe struggle with the putter in the morning against Gene Sarazen and Densmore Shute, who were equally as wild off the tee. Rees raced several putts by the hole and Whitcombe missed the returns, while the Americans struggled to find the fairway with any consistency. A halved match was perhaps a fair outcome, although it required a deft Rees chip to set up a three-foot putt for Whitcombe to win the 17th and level the match, after Sarazen had missed a six-foot putt. And the Welshman then kept his nerve to halve the 18th from five feet.

The half point came shortly after Percy Alliss and Dick Burton had secured Britain’s only full point of the opening day. They were 3UP after the morning 18 on Henry Picard and Johnny Revolta, eventually running out 2&1 winners, meaning the Americans would take a one-point lead, 2½-1½, into the eight singles matches.

Wednesday’s singles

Torrential rain and high winds swept across the course as the singles got under way with Open champion Padgham facing Guldahl, who had won the US Open title a couple of weeks earlier.

Guldahl, who had temporarily quit the sport in 1935 to become a car salesman, raced into the lead and was 6UP after the morning round, before going on to complete an 8&7 victory. His was the biggest of the five wins recorded by the Americans but the other four came after the British team had fought back to level the contest at 4-4. Cotton atoned for his defeat in the foursomes with a 5&3 victory over 1936 US Open champion Manero, while Rees beat Nelson 3&1 and Sam King halved his match with Shute. But any hopes of a British victory were extinguished when Sam Snead, still five years away from winning the first of his seven majors, routed Burton 5&4. And seven-time major champion Sarazen secured the point that retained the trophy with a 1UP victory over Alliss.

The Englishman had been 3UP with nine holes to play but Sarazen levelled the match by the 14th. On the short 15th, he enjoyed a stroke of good fortune when his tee shot landed in the lap of a woman and the ball bounced onto the green as she stood up to shake it off. The American holed the 25-foot birdie putt to edge into a winning lead.

At 6-4 ahead with two matches to finish, the Americans knew they would be at least taking the trophy home with them. Dudley completed a 2&1 victory over Alf Perry before Picard defeated Arthur Lacey by the same margin to complete a comprehensive 8-4 triumph. “I’ve had the greatest thrill of my golfing life, we have won that beautiful gold trophy for the first time on American soil,” declared Hagen, briefly forgetting where he was before correcting himself with “British” amid much laughter among the estimated 12,000 spectators who had braved the horrendous conditions. “I want to congratulate captain Whitcombe for the grand showing that he has made with all the boys.

They have done their very best and the matches were very close. “It was only towards the last few matches that I didn’t have to eat the cigarettes, I could smoke them!” Whitcombe said: “Surely this must dispel the notion that the Americans cannot play well under our weather conditions. “It is now our job to find young players capable of going to America and bringing the cup back with them in 1939.” However, there would be no 1939 match because of the intervention of World War II.

The Americans continued to play a Ryder Cup style event between themselves on home soil before the contest was eventually restarted in 1947 at Portland Golf Club, Oregon. Given the successes of the two Ryder Cups hosted by S&A, it was speculated that the club would host the next home match and become the British home of the Ryder Cup, but Ganton, near Scarborough was chosen to host in 1949.