Johnny Revolta, the top-rated American professional of 1935, and possessor of one of the finest short games of that – or any other- era, won the sixth stop of The Great Depression Tour held on the fashionable south shore of Long Island, at the ultra-posh, ultra-private Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
Revolta, who had finished no higher that 16th at any of the previous five events, all held in Great Britain, began this first U.S. stop ominously. He bogeyed three of the first five holes, going out in and 39, the worst start of any of the 40. But from that point on, however, 19 birdies and only 4 bogeys saw him through to the top, victorious by a comfortable three-stroke margin over the Englishman, Percy Alliss.
Revolta shot 71-64-67-67, 11-under par for the par-70 links course. His 64 matching the rounds of Tommy Armour and Wiffy Cox as the best of the tournament. Armour’s had come on the final day of an otherwise disappointing tournament. Cox, however, who was the pro at the other end of New York’s social spectrum – the plebian public course at Dyker Beach Park in Brooklyn – had shot his 64 in the third round, and was solidly in contention.
In fact, starting the final round, there were no less than nine golfers who had a good shot at claiming the top prize: Revolta and Henry Picard were tied atop the leaderboard at 8-under par. Two prior winners on the tour, Horton and Macdonald Smith, along with Willie Goggin, were each at minus-7. Cox was one stroke further back, while Alliss and Jimmy Thompson were at minus-5. Bobby Jones, the perennial threat, who had begun well, had stumbled in the third round, ending with 72. But two late birdies left him just 4 shots off the lead – and gave his followers some hope.
Shinnecock’s links, with reachable par-5’s, short par-3’s and many flat, not especially fast greens, doesn’t favour the long hitters, rather they reward the short game and the putter. Horton Smith, another short game master, who had won previously at the K Club, was the betting favourite on the final day – a steady, proven winner. Smith had opened with a pair of 66’s, and enjoyed a two-stroke advantage after the second round. Few believed that the games of Revolta, Picard, or Alliss would hold up in the final round.
Picard did crack. He found the only trees on the course on the par-4 number six, and then three putted the par-3 seventh. The two bogeys left him five shots behind his playing partner Revolta. Alliss, a master of the long irons but a dodgy putter, sank an improbable 48-footer on the second hole that set him off for two more birdies by the turn. He was certainly in the hunt – as was Horton Smith, who had also birdied three holes on the front nine.
But Revolta was not to be denied. He sank an 18′ birdie on the par-3 second, and followed with another birdie on Shinnecock’s easiest hole the par-5 fifth, which came as no surprise. (The fifth hole witnessed no less than 7 eagles for the tournament and twice as many birdies as pars). But he then also birdied number 8 following up a splendid 6-iron approach with a dead-center 8′ putt. The gallery sensed that the man who had defeated both Walter Hagan and Armour to win the PGA title in 1935 was going to take some beating today as well.
The other Smith in the field, Macdonald, winner at Muirfield the previous week, had eagled that number 5 which put him only one shot off Revolta’s lead. But the par-4 9th, playing as the most difficult on the course, was the undoing of both himself and his playing partner Goggin. Smith hooked his drive into the fescue and was forced to take a penalty. His 4-iron approach was short, and he needed to sink a tricky 4-footer just to salvage a double bogey. Goggin’s 2-iron to the green was fat and it took him two whacks and a penalty stroke to get him onto the green in 5. The resulting triple bogey dashed his hopes. And since neither Jones, Cox nor Alliss could sink a putt down the stretch, the only question left was if Horton Smith, playing two pairs behind Revolta, could catch the leader.
He never came close. Smith’s vaunted short game failed him as Revolta’s did not. Revolta bounced back from his only three putt of the tournament at the nasty number nine, with a birdie at number ten, and did the same with a birdie at the par-5 16th following a misadventure with a deep bunker on fifteen. But Smith couldn’t put two good holes together, and while his own birdie at the 16th left him 3 shots back – and at least in range in case of a Revolta collapse – he followed that up with a sliced 8-iron off the tee into a deep bunker. An extra stroke was required to extricate him from the sand, and after two putts he had carded a 5 that left him at minus-6, tied with Picard for third.
Unlike the Pioneers/Bottleggers Tour which was dominated by a handful of legendary champions (Harry Vardon, Ted Ray, the Morris’ and the Parks’), The Great Depression Tour has seen six different winners to date; the big names are coming close, but not yet making it into the winners’ circle.
Jones has had six consecutive top-10 finishes; third on two occasions. Nelson, whose putting has never been good – and has been getting steadily worse – has recorded a second and a fourth-place finish. At the other end of name regognition, one previous dark horse winner, Bill Mehlhorn, has followed his win at Turnberry with a 38th place at Muirfield and a 32nd here. Another, Ralph Guldahl, who won the tour’s first stop at Hoylake, and has two other high finishes, has also finished in the bottom-ten on three occasions.
The top-rated pro from 1932-1934, Paul Runyan, was expected to finally make his mark at a course that favored his own exceptional short game – but he finished in the middle of the pack for the sixth-time running. Tommy Armour got his second 9th-place finish at Shinnecock Hills, but his followers on both sides of the Atlantic are expecting more. So far, Armour’s putting has been as problematical as had been predicted, but the rest of his game has not compensated for it.
The longest hitters on the tour, Jimmy Hines (who finished 36th here), Craig Wood (27th) and Lawson Little (18th), should find the next stop on The Great Depression Tour more to their liking. It’s another course on the south shore, and another par-70. But the similarities end there, because at over 7,400 yards,that course plays nearly 500 yards longer than Shinnecock. Bethpage Black will be the seventh stop.