Macdonald Smith, perhaps the finest golfer never to have won a major championship, held on to take the fifth stop of The Great Depression Tour played at the Muirfield links, located hard by the Firth of Forth on Scotland’s rugged east coast.
Smith finished at 7-under par (68-73-64-72), two strokes the better of Vic Ghezzi, and much to the delight of the large gallery that had come out on this final day to root him home. The winner had been born in nearby Carnoustie, and although he and his two golfing brothers had emigrated to America to find their fame and fortune, Scots had not forgotten their native son. Perhaps they were still bearing some of the guilt for Smith’s collapse in the final round of the 1925 British Open held to the southwest of here at Prestwick,
On that dreadful day, Smith had taken a 5-stroke lead into the final round, only to succomb to the pressures of the event and the overzealousness of a large, boisterous, and pressing gallery that clearly unnerved him. A 78 would have given him the title that day- he came in at 82.
At Muirfield, Smith had vaulted into the lead with the round of the tournament, yesterday’s 64 – and looked the sure winner well into this final round. Another marvellous approach had preceeded a tap-in for birdie at the par-4 12th hole, and left him with a comfortable 4-stroke margin over both Ghezzi and Olin Dutra. Willie Goggin, paired in the final twosome with Smith, who had begun the day only one shot behind his playing partner, encountered massive problems off the tee, and had long since eliminated himself from contention. He skied to a 79.
Even when Smith bunkered his 4-iron tee shot at the par-3 13th, and took an extra stroke to get up and down, the gallery barely stirred. It was Smith’s first bogey in 34 holes; he was entitled to one mis-step – and the lead, after all, was still three strokes. At the difficult 14th, Smith followed a perfect drive off the tee with an uncharacteristically poor approach – a fat 6-iron that left him just short of the green but in a swale. He left his pitch-and-run 23′ short of the pin, and two putts later, had carded another bogey. The lead was still three because Ghezzi, a former PGA winner who had defeated Byron Nelson in the matchplay final, wasn’t helping himself, having also bogeyed fourteen by missing a straight-on seven footer. But the crowd’s murmurings became a wee bit more pronounced.
Again at fifteen Smith butchered his approach after a dead-centre tee shot. This time he had shanked a 5-iron and was plugged into a deep bunker. A third consecutive bogey ensued. The lead was now an uncomfortable two – and the uneasy gallery was buzzing in earnest: “Could this be Prestwick all over again?” His bread and butter had been his magnificent approaches – on his splendid 64 the previous day, only one of his 8 birdie putts had come from more than five feet away. “Was Mac losing his touch – and his nerve?”
Nay. Amid shouts of encouragement in both English and Gaelic, the native son redeemed his performance – and their’s- at that harrowing British Open of long ago. He parred the last three holes – saving at least one vital stroke at the par-5 17th. Even though Ghezzi had been unable to birdie Muirfield’s easiest hole, and the lead was holding at two, Smith found himself in deep trouble. A tee shot amidst the fescue and an errant recovery into a deep bunker made a six or a seven a distinct possibility. Although Smith’s 7-iron out of the sand had barely cleared the three bunkers in the middle of the fairway, he still remained 144 yards from the pin. A bogey seemed probable.
Only a magnificent wedge to 4′ from the flagstick and a nervy putt saved par. It was now all over but the shouting – and that went on long into the night at pubs all over Scotland’s east coast.
Another native Scot, Tommy Armour, who finished in the middle of the pack here, had best described Smith’s game: “If we all played golf like Mac . . . . never a divot mark would scar a beautiful fairway. He has the cleanest twenty-one jewel stroke in golf. He treats the grass of a golf course as though it were an altar cloth.”
Smith, as were all the Britishers in the 40-golfer contingent, had been a disappointment at the first four stops of The Great Depression Tour – each of which had been contested in the United Kingdom. Muirfield was the last stop before heading over to America for the final five tournaments. In addition to Smith’s triumph, long-hitting Scot Jimmy Adams had his first top-10 finish, as did the Englishman Percy Alliss.
The four previous winners, all Americans, were nowhere near the top at Muirfield. Bill Mehlhorn, who had won last week at Turnberry finished at 14-over par – 38th place, Ralph Guldahl opened with a 76-75, and the Royal Liverpool winner ended up 33rd. Horton Smith and Jug McSpaden were closer, but were done in by poor final rounds of 74 and 77 respectively.
Now halfway through the tour, the two biggest names are still looking for their first win: Bobby Jones, who has recorded the lowest scoring average of the 40 and now has five consecutive finishes in the top 10, has come close. Byron Nelson, although rated as the best of the ball strikers, is at the bottom when it comes to putts per round and one-putt percentage. His troubles on the green, and a penchant for one poor round per tournament, has kept him out of the winner’s circle.
With the Queen Mary once again providing the means of transportation, the 40 golfers and their entourages, will be helicoptered to Glasgow’s Port of Greenock where they will board the luxury liner for a rejuvenating three-day sail to Montauk Point, and the nearby Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island’s south shore. This will be the first of 5 stops at some of the most prestigious – and challenging – courses in the United States.
The five Great Depression tournament winners have already secured their places in the Grand Finale, a 50-golfer Tour that will include the top performers of all five tours, the others are the completed Pioneers/Bootleggers, and the yet to come Greatest Generation, Arnie’s Army, and Golden Bear tours.