Jug McSpaden, who was a runner-up to Byron Nelson so often in the 1940’s that the duo became known as “The Gold Dust Twins”, turned the table on his long-time friend and rival and defeated him by by three shots to win the third stop of the The Great Depression Tour.
But the real winner of the event was the Carnoustie Golf Links Situated on Scotland’s blustery east coast, the ancient course, with some help from the swirling, unrelenting, gusting winds, was a force to be reckoned with. It yielded only one score which equalled par – McSpaden’s winning 70-68-74-72 284. One stroke behind Nelson’s 3-over was Ralph Guldahl. After these three, the blood-letting continued all the way down the leaderboard to Bobby Cruickshank’s 310. An ex-prisoner of war, this diminutive, short-hitting transplaned Scot who came to America in his twenties, came in at 26 strokes above regulation.
After four days of high winds, bad lies, impossible bunkers, whin bushes, and fast greens, the average score was in excess of 74, more than 3 shots above par. But even that figure is somewhat misleading, because on the second day, with the harsh winds subsiding somewhat, the golfers took full advantage of the reprieve and shot par; nine rounds coming in under 70.
The top round of that second day was Guldahl’s 66. The winner of the Tour’s first stop at Hoylake, who had begun with a 74, eventually caught McSpaden at the very end of Round Three when Jug had come apart at the 18th hole: Hooking his drive out of bounds, flubbing another shot, and finishing with triple-bogey 7.
McSpaden quickly fell behind Guldahl in the early going of the final round, only to regain the lead when Guldahl fell victim to the vagaries of the wind and the evils lurking in the bunkers, and had carded a pair of sixes at the par-4 fifth and six holes. No lead was safe; each hole had the potential of wiping out any advantage; McSpaden played accordingly.
Leaving his driver in the bag, McSpaden was succeeding to preserve his new-found ascendancy by playing steady if not spectacular golf with an array of knockdown long irons. His edge at the final turn was three strokes over his playing partner Guldahl – and no one else was within five shots of his lead. But Guldahl wasn’t finished, and with two flying-under the-wind eight iron approaches, he sank short birdie putts on ten and eleven, to close within a single stroke. The 499-yard par 4 12th hole – made even more challenging with a strong headwind was next – but it appeared that Guldahl, on a good run, was up to the challenge.
Guldahl first hooked his drive into the left rough, and despite a dicey lie, chanced a two-iron to the green – and paid the price as his ball moved only twenty feet and was still well off the fairway. Now desperate to reach the green in three, he played an attacking six-iron – but a gust faded his ball under the lip of a nasty bunker. Guldahl’s 4th stroke was the chip out. His fifth was a bladed lob that left him 32′ from the hole. What else could go wrong? A three-putt, that’s what. An “8” was marked on the scorecard, and Guldahl crashed out of contention.
In racing parlance, Nelson was passing tired horses. Lord Byron had begun the final round in eighth position, five shots off the lead. Despite some putting woes that included missing several birdie attempts inside of ten feet, he finished the day at even par – good enough for second place.
The other contenders, such as Horton Smith, the recent winner at The K Club, all fell away. In Smith’s case it was an horrendous final round 82 – that included (as Guldahl) an “8”. Jimmy Adams, the one Scot in contention, came in at 76 and finished in a tie for seventh. Longshot Gene Kunes, club pro and driving range proprietor from Pennsyvania, skied to a 79 on the last day to end his hopes of a top-10 finish.
McSpaden stumbled only once down the stretch when his tee shot found the ditch on the 17th – the “Island Hole”. By this time, however, Nelson was already in the clubhouse, and Jug’s bogey only narrowed his winning margin by one stroke.
For Bobby Jones, who had finished 9th at Hoylake and 3rd at The K Club, it was a 6th-place finish – his hopes of a tournament win sabotaged by a 78 on the Third Round. He remains a threat to win at each of the remaining seven stops.
Carnoustie did yield the first hole-in-one on the Great Depression Tour. Englishman Alf Padgham, the 1936 British Open winner held at Hoylake, scored the ace in the final round with a six-iron on the 162-yard 13th hole; his ball barely clearing the two bunkers that guard the green, then taking two bounces, the second straight into the cup. Not that it helped much. Padgham shot 75-72-79-78 and finished ahead of only Cruikshank and Al Espinosa.
Next, The Tour travels across Scotland to the links at Turnberry, hard by the Firth of Clyde and its rugged coast, comparable in its natural beauty with the Monterrey Peninsula and Pebble Beach. Turnberry first hosted the British Open in 1977 , and the magnificent Nicklaus-Watson “Duel in the Sun.”
To quote PeterAlliss, who helped re-design Turnbery in 1976: “If the golf becomes dull, there is always the view.”