3rd January 2016
English amateur golfer Roger H. Wethered was born in Surrey on 3 January 1899. He was probably Britain’s best golfer in the 1920’s and was a leading figure in an important period in the development of the sport across the world.
He was the only son of Herbert Newton Wethered and Marion Emmeline Lund. H. Newton Wethered, a low handicap golfer, wrote a number of famous golf books including ‘The Architectural Side of Golf’ (1929, with Tom Simpson) and ‘The Perfect Golfer’ (1933).
Roger was also the elder brother of Joyce Wethered (Lady Heathcoat-Amory following her marriage), who was born on 17th November 1901. Joyce was the finest female golfer of the 1920s and 1930s and one of the greatest of all time.
Joyce Wethered, Roger Wethered and Cyril Tolley at the 1933 Worplesdon Foursomes (© Worplesdon GC)
The family benefited from inherited wealth up until the Wall Street Crash in 1929 and clearly enjoyed a very comfortable lifestyle. Both Roger and Joyce were home tutored and enjoyed what can only be described as a flexible education.
Roger quickly got the golf bug from his father. He joined West Surrey Golf Club as a boy and the family played golf on holiday at Bude in Cornwall and Royal Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands. He recorded all of his rounds and strove for improvement from an early age. It is said that after a game Roger would often resort to the library to try and answer and understand a technical problem he had encountered. In later years, typically for an old school amateur, it was said that he often preferred to theorise rather than practice his golf.
In early 1917 Roger followed his father to Oxford University where he enrolled at Christ Church College to read English. World War I intervened in his studies and he served as a Second Lieutenant in France and Belgium. He finally completed his studies in 1921, albeit only formally received his BA when he finally attended a degree ceremony in 1963.
In an era when the amateur game was at the forefront of golf and the sport was the preserve of the wealthy Roger unsurprisingly found himself mixing amongst the best young players at Oxford. Wethered found himself spurred on by such competition, which included Cyril Tolley, and both of them soon became two of Britain’s leading players. Wethered was a tall, powerful man whose strength was his mid-iron play and short game.
Roger Wethered, representing West Surrey Golf Club, entered his first Amateur Championship at Muirfield in 1920. It was the first one since 1914 due to The Great War. Save for 1935 he played in The Amateur every year up until 1936 (which he presumably couldn’t resist as it was played at St. Andrews) when he stopped competing. Between 1921 and 1929 inclusive all of his entries were attributed to Worplesdon Golf Club, the club he and his sister were both associated for most of their golfing lives. After 1930 he represented the Royal & Ancient Golf Club when playing in The Amateur.
In 1921 Roger Wethered, perhaps having recently become a member at 22 repesenting The Royal & Ancient Golf Club (R&A), played in his first Open Championship at St. Andrews. Despite incurring a penalty shot for standing on his ball in the third round Wethered and Jock Hutchinson, a Scottish-born American, ended up tied on 296 after 72-holes. Roger had committed to play in a cricket match the following day in London and therefore found himself compromised with regard to the 36-hole play-off. It is said that R&A officials had to work hard to persuade him to compete in the play-off. In the end Hutchinson won the play-off easily by 9-shots, his rounds of 74 and 76 (150) beating Wethered’s 77 and 82 (159). Had Wethered won The Open in 1921 he would have been the last British amateur to do so. As it is Harold Hilton, who won the Championship in 1897, remains the last man to do so.
Perhaps highlighting the standing of The Open in the 1920’s Wethered only played in three more Championships during his career, finishing tied 32nd in 1922 (Royal St. George’s) and missing the cut in both 1924 (Hoylake) and 1928 (Royal St. George’s).
Roger Wethered’s greatest moment came in 1923 when he won the Amateur Championship at Deal, Kent. Wethered beat Francis Ouimet, who had taken care of Cyril Tolley in the quarters, in the Semi-Final before beating Robert Harris in the Final 7&6. Harris had no complaints: “I couldn’t have beaten him. He was too powerful from the tee and too good on the putting green.” With his driver behaving better than normal this was most likely the best he ever played.
Roger Wethered at the Amateur Championship at Hoylake in May 1927 (© Getty Images)
He also reached the final of the Amateur in 1928 at Prestwick and in 1930 at St. Andrews. In 1928 he lost 6&4 to T. Philip Perkins of Castle Bromwich GC. In 1930 – with both having just captained their respective Walker Cup teams – he lost 7&6 to Bobby Jones who thus completed the first leg of his famous ‘Impregnable Quadrilateral’ (Grand Slam). Roger also reached the semi-finals in 1924 at St. Andrews (where he lost to Edward Storey of Cambridge University by 2 holes) and 1927 at Hoylake (where he lost to the champion Dr. William Tweddell of Stourbridge GC by 4&3) and the quarter-finals in 1922.
British Pathé Highlights Of The 1930 Amateur Championship – Bobby Jones v. Roger Wethered
His overall Amateur record is amongst the best in the Championship’s history. Ranked 9th Roger competed in 16 Amateurs playing 71 matches – he won 56 and lost 15, giving him a win percentage of 79%. Looking only at golfers who have played at least this number of matches his record is only really surpassed by John Ball, Joe Carr and Sir Michael Bonallack, all amateur greats.
The Walker Cup was first played in 1922 and Wethered was a key figure in it’s formative years. He played in 1922, 1923, 1926, 1930 and 1934. At a time when the trip had to be self-financed and Roger would also have had work commitments (see below) I assume he excused himself from the 1924, 1928 and 1932 away matches. He would have surely played if he had made himself available. At a time when the USA dominated the match Wethered enjoyed an impressive record, playing 9 36-hole matches, winning 5, losing 3 and halving 1. Two of his losses came against Bobby Jones in singles. Looking at each match in turn: –
August 1922 – National Golf Links of America – USA 8 beat GB&I 4
Wethered played with Colin Aylmer in the Day 1 foursomes and they beat Charles Evans Jr and Robert A. Gardner by 5&4. In the Day 2 singles Wethered was paired with Bobby Jones and lost 3&2.
May 1923 – St. Andrews – GB&I 5 lost to USA 6
Wethered and Cyril Tolley lost to Francis Ouimet and Jesse Sweetser 6&5 in the Day 1 foursomes before he halved with Ouimet in the Day 2 singles.
June 1926 – St. Andrews – USA 9 beat GB&I 3
Wethered paired with Ernest Holderness to beat Ouimet and Jesse Guilford 5&4 in the Day 1 foursomes and then beat Ouimet again in the singles 5&4.
May 1930 – Royal St. George’s – GB&I 2 lost to USA 10
When Wethered, GB&I’s captain, was asked prior to the match why compatriot John Beck was not playing he supposedly replied “We thought of John but no one seemed to have his address.” suggesting a more relaxed selection environment than currently exists. Wethered paired himself with Tolley again this time winning their foursome match against George Von Elm and George Voight by 2 holes. In the singles Wethered was drawn against Bobby Jones, the USA captain. Jones won the match by 9&8.
Roger Wethered and Bobby Jones – Walker Cup Captains in 1930 (© Getty Images)
May 1934 – St. Andrews – GB&I 2 lost to USA 9
Wethered’s selection for his final Walker Cup match was controversial. Bernard Darwin writing on the matter in 1944 said “It seemed to me – and I was a selector – that so fine a golfer with so fine a record must be played since he loved St. Andrews, would have plenty of room and had a gift of rising to the occasion. Others, not selectors, thought otherwise and I suppose they were right…” Wethered only played in the Day 1 foursomes before standing himself down for the singles. Paired with Tolley again Wethered drove awfully and they easily lost 8&6 to John Goodman and W. Lawson Little.
Following the 1930 Walker Cup match and before the Amateur Championship started at St. Andrews a four ball that has gone down in golfing lore took place at the Old Course. Roger Wethered paired with another leading amateur T.A. Bourn took on Bobby Jones and his sister Joyce Wethered. Playing off the same tees the greatest male and female golfers of the day famously won. With the game won Joyce three putted the last two greens to finish one shot higher than her playing partner.
In his playing career Roger won many other important amateur events and represented his country throughout the 1920s. Wins included the Royal St. George’s Cup (1924), the Golf Illustrated Gold Vase (1927) and the (Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society’s) President’s Putter five times (1926T, 1927, 1928, 1935 and 1936). He played for GB&I in the 1921 match against the United States at Hoylake, the precursor to the Walker Cup. He was also capped by England in nine successive years in their annual match against Scotland (1922-30). Roger also won the Worplesdon Mixed Foursomes in 1922 (with Joyce Wethered) and 1926 (with French champion Simone Thion de la Chaume).
Roger Wethered and Simone Thion de la Chaume (© Lacoste Archives)
In 1923 Roger briefly moved into politics taking up an unsalaried position as secretary to the Hon. F.S. Jackson who was the financial secretary to the War Office. Jackson was a former England cricket captain and a scratch golfer.
Roger married Elizabeth Cavendish-Bentinck at St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster on 29th April 1925. Elizabeth’s mother’s family owned the City stockbroking firm of Grenfell and Co. Roger joined the business, after unsuccessful spells with two other city firms, and worked at Grenfell for 25 years until his retirement in 1951. Roger and Elizabeth later divorced and Roger re-married; to a Marjorie Stratford (nee Mitford Stubbs).
In 1925 Roger joined up with his sister Joyce to write ‘Golf From Two Sides’. Both were in their mid-20’s and still living at home with their parents at the time so this demonstrates their confidence and standing. The book was dedicated to their mother: “In recollection of numerous games and much affectionate encouragement.”
Roger continued to be involved in golf in his later years, playing well into his 70s and administering the game. It was reported in the papers that he shot a 74 when 74 at Royal Wimbledon Golf Club. He held many honorary club memberships. He was elected captain of The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews in 1939 but due to the commencement of World War II only took up office in 1946. He was also President of Woking Golf Club from 1961 until his death in 1983.
He died on 12th March 1983 at his home Garnet House, Wimbledon.
Roger is often remembered in the shadow of his more famous sister. However, upon further inspection of his life he was clearly an important figure in the history of the game and someone who clearly deserves to be remembered in his own right.
Copyright © 2016, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.