Two-time Masters’ winner Horton Smith, who began the final round in 10th place, five-shots off the lead, fashioned a brilliant seven-under par 65 to win the hotly-contested second event of The Great Depression Tour held at the rain-soaked “K” Club in County Kildare, Ireland.
Smith, whose vaunted short game and deft putter had let him down badly on the Tour’s initial stop at Hoylake, where he had shot four consecutive 73’s, had continued his erratic play here. His first-round 75 leaving him far down the leaderboard; seven strokes off the pace set by Denny Shute, winner of the 1933 British Open in a playoff over Craig Wood.
Smith’s uphill struggle continued into the back nine of the final round; at which point, he was in a group of five that included himself, Wood, Jug McSpaden, Bill Dudley, and Bobby Jones – the quintet was three shots behind Shute.
Shute had taken over the lead from the long-hitting Wood at the 430-yard, par-4 7th hole, the course’s toughest. His 6-iron approach handily cleared the fronting lake; and he canned the 11′-birdie putt. Playing behind his old rival, Wood, the third-round leader, had followed up his dead-centre tee shot on number 7 with a fat 8-iron that did not clear the water. The resultant double bogey coupled with Shute’s birdie, made for a new leader. But a watery grave also awaited Shute – and would pave the way for Horton Smith.
Although Smith had been playing very well, he was still three shots to the rear of Shute when he hooked his drive into the trees on the par-4 number 11. What followed, a majestic 6-iron that soared over the trees, avoided the always-present water, and landed 8′ away from the cup, was to be the turning point of the tournament. Having regained his putting touch, Smith made no mistake; he now stood 7-under par.
Fifteen minutes later, after a fine drive, Shute hooked his 9-iron approach to that eleventh green a bit too much, and had to watch as it slid mercilessly from the very edge of the green, down the steep embankment, and into the water. A foot or so to the right, and Shute would have kept his lead – and his head. Instead, visibly shaken, he took three putts to get down and carded a seven. Smith had now taken over a very precarious lead, with four others nipping at his heels. But it was a lead that, though challenged, was never relinquished.
Because the “K” Club’s championship course is of the modern style, the last few holes are designed to provide tight finishes and elicit the maximum in drama. Such was certainly the case now.
The sixteenth and eighteenth holes are both par-5’s, and are the two easiest holes on the course, and because of the brisk, following wind, each had very real eagle possibilities. The seventeenth is also birdieable, but is the “K’s” second-most difficult. All three, of course, bring significant water to bear.
Having birdied both 16 and 18 and gotten his par at 17, Smith was in the clubhoise at -9. But McSpaden and Jones were still out on the course – on the sixteenth tee. Although three shots down, the pair were still very much in the running.
A hooked drive prevented Jones from an eagle attempt on 16, but he did sink a 13-footer for a birdie. On 17, his approach left him a 28-footer that did not drop. Now needing an eagle on the finishing hole for a share of the lead, Jones went for it – but hooked his 3-wood second shot into the water. He saved par with another long putt, and finished at -7, tied with Shute for thrid place.
McSpaden, who with Byron Nelson had dominated professional golf during the war years, was charging, and had just birdied number 15. Despite being in the rough off the 16th tee, he played a 5-iron with the wind, over the water, and onto the green. But because of the heavy going, the ball died 50 feet from the cup. McSpaden wisely lagged the putt and got down in two. The birdie left him two shots behind Smith.
Now on seventeen, fearing a hook that would land him in the water and out of the running, McSpaden over-corrected, badly slicing his drive through a stand of trees and onto a cart path. He was forced to chip out, but a well-struck 7-iron followed by an 18-foot putt preserved his par. And, like Jones before him, he now needed an eagle to forge a tie. That attempt did present itself – from just off the green – in the form of a delicate 16-yard pitch-and-run shot. The ball finished pin high, but a few feet to the right.
Smith, who won that initial Masters in 1934 by one stroke over Wood, and had repeated his narrow victory two years later over Harry Cooper, is an unassuming, reserved type who neither smokes nor drinks. One time, when asked if he had any vices at all, a blushing Smith had admitted: “Yes, I sometimes leave my putts short.”
The 40-golfer contingent now re-crosses the Irish Sea, and makes its way to the east coast of Scotland, and the historic Carnoustie Golf Links, seven times home to the British Open. The Silver Scot, Tommy Armour, who has had top-10 finishes at both Hoylake and the “K” Club, won the Claret Jug here in 1931, and has to be considered one of the favourites.
Seventy-five years after Armour’s victory, Ireland’s Padraig Harrington won the last British Open contested at Carnoustie. Armour had taken home the first prize of £100 (about $500 American at the time). Harrington’s win earned him a cheque for £750,000 (about $1.2 million at today’s exchange rate).
No wonder that it was called The Great Depression.