Harold Hilton

16th November 2017

Harold Hilton was born on 12th January 1869 in West Kirby, near Liverpool in England’s North West.

Following in the footsteps of his father he joined the nearby Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake when he was 8 years old. The Club, which received its patronage in 1871, is the one he was associated with all of his life and where his collection of medals are still proudly displayed to this day.

Harold Hilton (Photo: Royal Liverpool Golf Club)

It was fellow Hoylake junior member Willie More that helped him most in his formative years, encouraging him to watch better players and practice as much as he possibly could. He was of course fortunate that Johnny Ball, 8 years older than him and arguably Britain’s greatest ever amateur, was a fellow member of Royal Liverpool and clearly someone to aspire to and learn from.

Harold Hilton was one of the very best players for the 25 years between 1890 and 1915. Freddie Tait was the only player of this era he rarely got the better of. Whilst Hilton did beat Tait in stroke play he never beat him in a match play game and this drew a lot of comment at the time. Tait to a lesser degree had the same problem with Ball in match play.

His outstanding golfing achievement was winning both the 1911 Amateur Championship and the U.S. Amateur Championship. He was the first player to complete this double and he did so at the age of 42. Until Matthew Fitzpatrick won in 2013 Hilton had been the last Englishman to win the U.S. Amateur.

The 1911 U.S. Amateur has gone down in history for two reasons; firstly the manner of the victory and secondly the impact it had on the growth of the game in the United States.

Harold Hilton at Apawamis CC (Photo: The Ron Watts Collection)

The 1911 U.S. Amateur took place at Apawamis Country Club in Rye, New York State. Hilton won the stroke play by two shots (76+74=150) leading 32 qualifiers into the match play stage. He then reached the 36 hole Final where he faced Brooklyn-born Fred Herreshoff (24). At lunch Hilton led 4Up and he quickly extended this to 6Up early in the afternoon round. Herreshoff fought back bravely and managed to draw level after 34-holes. The American had chances to win on both of the final two holes but putts just missed for him as Hilton struggled for halves.

Playing their 37th hole (the par 4 1st), with both players having driven into the fairway, Hilton sliced his 3-wood approach. What happened next remains uncertain. The ball either hit the rocky outcrop to the right of the green (in those days surrounded by trees and rough) or benefitted from a kind bounce on the slope before it. Either way from looking dead off the club face it ended up in the middle of the green 20 feet from the hole. In shock Herreshoff – no doubt thinking he had one hand on the trophy just moments earlier – topped his own approach short and then proceeded to take three more to get down. Despite his experience Hilton nervously two-putted for par, in the end having to hole a 3 footer to secure the Havemeyer Trophy.

Herbert Warren Wind described the ‘rock shot’ many years later in his The Story of American Golf (1948) as “the most discussed single shot ever played in an American tournament.” He went on to explain why it had motivated the next generation of U.S. golfers so much: “Americans were not at all pleased over the idea that a foreigner had carried one of our championship cups out of the country, and that men who had never cared about golf before now wanted to know the real inside story.”

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Hilton’s Rock on the 1st Hole of Apawamis CC in 2015
(Photos: Dave Donelson, Westchester Magazine)

In total Harold Hilton won four Amateur Championships:-
1900 – at Royal St. George’s GC v. James Robb SCO (8&7)
1901 – at St. Andrews v. John L. Low SCO (1 Up)
1911 – at Prestwick v. Edward Lassen ENG (4&3)
1913 – at St. Andrews v. Robert Harris SCO (6&5)

It was perhaps no coincidence that his success in the Amateur started in 1900, the first year that both Tait (who had been killed that February in the Second Boer War) and Ball (who was still serving in South Africa) were both absent.

Hilton also lost three Amateur Finals; in 1891 to John Laidlay (19th hole), 1892 to Johnny Ball (3&2) and 1896 to Freddie Tait (8&7).

He achieved an impressive Won 95, Lost 29 (76.6%) overall Amateur Championship record. Between 1887 and 1927, he appropriately started and finished at Royal Liverpool, he played more Championships (33) and matches (124) than anyone else has in history. World War I deprived him of 5 Amateurs between 1916-1919 too.

Harold Hilton also won the Open Championship in 1892 (Muirfield, 305 – 66 entrants) and 1897 (Royal Liverpool, 314 – 86 entrants). The 1892 Open was the first played over 72 holes.

Just Johnny Ball (the first to do so in 1890), Bobby Jones (1926, 1927 & 1930) and Hilton have achieved this feat as amateurs. All three were members of Royal Liverpool GC.

It is in some respects surprising that Hilton won both of his Opens before he had secured an Amateur Championship but he was a renowned stroke player. In total he played in 20 Open’s between 1891 and 1914.

It’s worth noting that Hilton also finished tied third in the 1911 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s with Sandy Herd, one shot behind Harry Vardon, who won the subsequent play-off, and Arnaud Massy. What a hat trick of wins that would have been !

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Harold Hilton’s Medals at Royal Liverpool GC (Photo: GolfBible)

It is easy to forget that many equipment changes took place around the the turn of the century. Hilton dealt reasonably well with the transition, coping better than many of his peers with new clubs such as the Driver and the rubber-cored Haskell ball which replaced the old gutta-percha one. Interestingly of the seven Majors Hilton won the first four saw him use the more exacting gutty whilst the final three were with the easier rubber-core ball.

He also won the St. George’s Challenge Cup in 1893 and 1894, a major amateur competition back in the day.

He won the Irish Open Amateur Championship three years in a row and in some style too. In 1900 he beat S.H. Fry 11&9 at Newcastle, in 1901 P. Dowie 6&5 at Dollymount and in 1902 W.H. Hamilton 5&4 at Portrush.

In October 1910 Hilton (41) played Miss Cecil Leitch (19), a future women’s champion golfer, in a two day 72 hole exhibition match at Walton Heath and Sunningdale. Hilton had publically said he or for that matter any other first class male golfer could give 9 shots to an equivalent women over 18 holes. The Ladies’ Field magazine wanting to see if he could deliver on his word arranged the match and the publicity drew large crowds to the famous courses. Helped by the 18 shots she received Leitch ended up winning 2&1 but Hilton had largely made his point particularly as had been 2 Up after the first day’s play at Walton Heath.

Hilton’s last major win came in 1914 when he won the Golf Illustrated Gold Vase at Sunningdale with a 151 total. As one of the organisers of this event he paired himself with Francis Ouimet, the reigning U.S. Open champion, and proceeded to comprehensively out play him over the 36 holes.

Hilton’s swing was ungainly and notable for the fact he started by moving onto his toes before then very noticeably re-gripping the club at the point of transition. He almost always played whilst smoking too although it is said he limited himself to 50 cigarettes a day. However, like all the greats he practiced hard and honed his style. As he said himself “(I) served a long apprenticeship in the art of learning how to control the club in the upward swing.”

As Robert Harris, the runner-up in the 1913 Amateur, said: “His cap used to fall off his head at the end of full swings, as if jerked off, but this did not indicate if the swing was pure if unduly forceful. He was a small man with a powerful physique; it was exhilarating to watch his perky walk between shots. His assiduity was his greatness.”

Harold Hilton’s Swing (Photo: ingolfwetrust.com)

Hilton also spent a lot of time thinking about the mental side of the game. He believed it was “possible to develop the habit of concentration” and believed “that the majority of good match players are inclined to be very silent men” and tend to be those that play the game “without allowing any outside influence to affect them in any way whatever.”

Hilton was also a member of West Lancashire Golf Club and was this club’s first paid Secretary in the early 1900’s. He was also Secretary of Ashford Manor Golf Club later in his life.

In 1912 he played a leading role in designing the highly regarded Old Course at Ferndown Golf Club in Dorset. The 16th hole is still named ‘Hilton’s’ in memory of his involvement with the Club.

He turned his hand to writing about the sport as he came to the end of his playing career. As well as a frequent contributor he was the first editor of Golf Monthly magazine (from 1911) before taking on the same role at Golf Illustrated, then a weekly paper (from 1913).

He wrote three books My Golfing Reminiscences (1907), The Royal and Ancient Game of Golf (with Garden C. Smith, 1912) and Modern Golf (1913). The fact that he wrote his autobiography in 1907 is probably down to opportunity but also reveals that at 38 he probably thought his best playing days were behind him. It was in 1903 that he also started to suffer with rheumatism and sciatica. His confidence in his own game was such that he chose not to even enter The Open in 1906, 1907 (at Hoylake), 1908 or 1910. History of course shows how wrong he was to nearly retire from competitive golf.

‘Hoylake’ – the chain smoking Harold Hilton depicted by ‘Spy’ (Sir Leslie Ward)

Hilton died aged 73 on 5th May 1942 at his home in Westcote, near Stow on the Wold in Gloucestershire. He had a heart attack but had been suffering with Parkinson’s Disease for some time prior to this.

Harold Hilton was admitted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1978 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the game.

In 1992 John L.B. Garcia wrote Harold Hilton His Golfing Life and Times. It was published in a limited edition of 750 copies by Grant Books.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club inaugurated the Harold Hilton Medal for amateur golfers over the age of 30 in 1997 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of their member’s famous home Open Championship victory. It is played in early June annually.

The Harold Hilton Medal (Photo: Royal Liverpool Golf Club)

Whilst small in stature, he was just 5 foot 6 inches tall, Harold Hilton is unquestionably one of the giants in the history of British golf.

It is amazing that Royal Liverpool produced first Johnny Ball and then just a short while afterwards Harold Hilton, two of the leading players of the time and looking back a 100 years later two of the biggest names in the history of amateur golf.

ME.

Copyright © 2014-2017, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

Ronnie White

26th March 2017

Great Britain & Ireland (GB&I) lost all four Walker Cup matches between 1947 and 1953 securing a disappointing total of 12 points in the process. It may therefore come as surprise to learn that one of our player’s achieved a record of P8 W6 L1 H1 during this same period.

That player was Ronnie White. His loss and a half both coming in foursomes matches played with Joe Carr. All four of his singles were won.

A name rarely mentioned by anyone nowadays White was arguably the best amateur golfer in the world in the initial post World War II period.

Ronnie White

Ronald James White was born on 9th April 1921 in Wallasey on The Wirral in England.

When Ronnie was 5 he started accompanying his Dad, a member of Southport & Ainsdale GC, to golf, quickly picking up the game and it’s etiquette. Inevitably it wasn’t long before he started playing himself.

Ronnie attended the Merchant Taylors’ school in Crosby and soon developed into one of the country’s leading Juniors. In 1936 he played in the Boys Amateur Championship held at Birkdale. the club he had joined aged 12 three years earlier. He lost 5&3 in the fourth round to William Innes of Lanark. Innes went on to lose the final 11&9 to the famous Irish player Jimmy Bruen.

White fared better in 1937 when he won the U18 Boys’ Carris Trophy, in those days played exclusively at Moor Park, with rounds of 72 and 75.

Fortunately for young Ronnie the Ryder Cup came to town in 1937 and he had the opportunity to see his hero Sam Snead up close. In an interview in 2001 he said “Snead was my role model. I was there for every moment of practice and competition, and was greatly impressed both by the way in which he and the other Americans played, and their style”.

His golf continued to improve and between 1936 and 1938 he was selected for the English Boys Team for their annual match against Scotland. He captained the team in 1938. He played six games winning four, halving one and losing the other.

Ronnie had just started a law degree when Great Britain entered World War II. He volunteered for the Royal Air Force and was first stationed, somewhat fortuitously, at RAF Leuchars for his initial 3 months of training. This enabled him to carry on practicing his golf at nearby St. Andrews. His intelligence and leadership skills saw him selected for flying instructor training. He qualified as a pilot at the British Flying Training School in Texas and appears to have seen out the War well away from the front line.

Understandably very little competitive golf was played whilst the country was at War so just as White was coming into his peak years all of the major championships and events were cancelled (1940-45). The world was a different place after the war too with families devastated, food and petrol rationing in place and responsibilities altered. As Britain tried to rebuild itself as quickly as it could golf was certainly well down the list of most people’s priorities.

White was demobilised in 1946 and moved back to the Birkdale area of Southport where he would stay for the rest of his life. Now aged 25 he re-commenced his law studies and qualified as a solicitor in London in 1949.

White’s commitment to his family and the law meant he was a true amateur playing only a limited schedule, often as close to home as possible. However, he practiced regularly at Birkdale and was ambitious for himself – “the ladder of fame was empty” after the War and I was determined “to reach the top in amateur golf.”

After the 1946 season came to a close White set about remodeling his swing. “Experience had made me appreciate that if I were to achieve success my ambition must be consistency. The star players were all consistent”. He therefore set about gaining more knowledge, used photography and mirrors and practiced hard to create a ‘grooved’ swing. Whilst he never reached his unattainable aim of being as consistent as a golf ball testing machine he was to reap the benefits of this effort in the years that followed.

Unusually at the time he also aimed to spend at least an hour a day on his physical and mental fitness, normally early in the morning. He would run along the shoreline at Birkdale as well as skip and weight lift at home. “Tired legs are the death knell of a competitive golfer, because when the legs get tired concentration lapses follow, and I was always determined to avoid this, particularly towards the end of a championship. I felt as good at the end of a 36-hole match or 72 holes over a weekend as I did at the beginning” he reflected in later life. He sought to manage his nerves by regularly practicing his breathing and by strengthening his stomach muscles.

According to Leonard Crawley his mechanical approach enabled White to become “the most accurate hitter of a ball between tee and green since Henry Cotton” although he went on to say he was a “comparatively poor putter”.

Surprisingly during his career White only played in two Amateur Championships, in 1946 and 1949. He lost in the fourth and fifth rounds respectively in close matches. He was perhaps a victim of his own success. In those days the Amateur was often scheduled around the Walker Cup (trials and match – in 1947, 1951 and 1955) or the Home Internationals (1948 and 1952). With a family to support he was simply unable to take extended leave from his studies and later work as a solicitor and thus sacrificed his own individual competition entries. Of course White was criticized by frustrated onlookers at the time for consistently missing our major amateur Championship.

White did play in many other national events although many of these, certainly his victories, appear to have been in close proximity to home and work. In addition to his starring role in the Walker Cup it was his performance in these that secured his standing in the game.

He won the Lancashire Amateur championship (1948 Birkdale), the English Amateur (1949 Formby), the Golf Illustrated Gold Vase (1949 Birkdale) and the Brabazon Trophy (the English Open Stroke Play title) in both 1950 (by 8 shots after rounds of 75, 72, 75 and 72 at Birkdale) and 1951 (by 4 shots after rounds of 77, 69, 73 and 74 at Formby).

His 1951 Brabazon victory summed up his approach to golf. It was widely reported that both before and after each round White was seen rushing off to his office or to Wigan Magistrates’ Court.

White also had some success in the Daily Telegraph Amateur-Professional Foursomes Tournament. He won it in both 1947 with Charlie Ward at Formby and in 1949 with Reg Horne at Moortown. “With a partner like Ronnie White, you just can’t lose” said Horne at the prize giving ceremony.

He represented England in the Home Internationals of 1947-48-49-53-54 and in matches against France in 1947-48.

After the 1953 Walker Cup White largely stopped playing competitively not that he was overly active beforehand. He was therefore surprised to be called up by England in 1954 for the international matches at Porthcawl.

He performed well enough in Wales to merit a final selection for the 1955 Walker Cup match at St. Andrews. This proved controversial as White had declined an invitation to attend the pre-match trials. It was also a shame because he lost both matches and these failures took the edge of his superb overall Walker cup record. Playing first in both the foursomes and singles he came up against E. Harvie Ward in both, who had won the Amateur in 1952 and went on to win the US Amateur in both 1955 and 1956. Ward a full time amateur with a superb game simply had too much for White by then.  White never played an international match again.

White couldn’t resist a final outing when the Open Championship came to Birkdale in1961. Rounds of 71, 79, 80 and 76 were good enough for him to secure the low amateur Silver Medal in tied 38th place. He had previously only played in one other Open, at St. Andrews in 1946, where he finished tied 30th and fourth best amateur.

In March 1953, somewhat unusually for an amateur but reflecting his standing in the game, White published an instructional book entitled ‘Golf As I Play It’. Given the rules on amateur status the book caused something of a furore at the time. Unsurprisingly, given his legal background, it transpired that White had obtained the prior written approval of the Secretary of The R&A before embarking on the project. In this regard a note was included at the beginning stating “the author wishes to make it clear that he is not a teacher of golf.”

‘Ronnie White’s Golf As I Play It’ Book

One question I haven’t been able to answer concerns Ronnie’s club attachment. He joined Birkdale as a Junior, lived virtually opposite the course for most of his life and subsequently became an Honorary Member of this Club. Yet despite this all of his competition entries from 1947 onwards listed him as representing Royal Liverpool. Even his book states ‘by Ronnie White, Royal Liverpool GC and the 117 photos were all clearly taken at Hoylake too. Matters are made more confusing when one looks through Royal Liverpool’s club histories and find’s not a single reference to Ronnie White.

Ronnie won the R&A British Seniors in 1978 and 1979.

When asked, as all great amateurs are, if he regretted not turning professionally White said: “It crossed my mind on a few occasions but the risks were too great. Winning a professional event in the 1950s meant a few hundred pounds in your pocket, not the hundreds of thousands today. I had a family to take care of, and professional golf was too uncertain.”

He died in 2006 aged 85 to little fanfare in the golfing world. This is a shame because for a brief spell he was one of the best golfers in the world, a highly respected (true) amateur on both sides of The Atlantic. Given his approach to the game it was remarkable that he maintained his competitiveness for so long.

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APPENDIX 1 – SELECTED QUOTES ON RONNIE WHITE

Tom Scott on the 1949 Amateur Season: “The first national title, the English Amateur Championship (Formby April 25-30), went to R.J White, as we all expected it would. White played superlative golf and won the title with comparative ease by the margin of five and four. White’s victory was most comforting to all of us, for quite clearly he was at peak form, which meant he was the equal of any amateur in the world, British or American. Here was our No. 1 against the Americans and one who could be relied on to hold his own”.

“There are many who unhesitatingly describe him as the outstanding British amateur of golfing history, and some Americans call him the best unpaid striker of the golf ball since the incomparable Bob Jones.” – New Zealand Golf Illustrated , 5th January 1952

“Ronnie White is a genuine week-end golfer who intends to stay that way and considers it a pleasant accident that nature endowed him with the golfing ability of a world champion.” – New Zealand Golf Illustrated , 5th January 1952

“Many of the highest authorities in American golf today are of opinion that he is the soundest British amateur of the last thirty years. That, of course, is just a matter of opinion, but since he is blessed with the three greatest attributes of a golfer – style, physique and temperament – he is unquestionably a tremendous player”- Leonard Crawley, A History of Golf In Britain (1952).

Leonard Crawley in the Foreword to ‘Golf As I Play It’ (1953) said:

“He has become a famous player and even in America they talk of him as the best amateur in the world today. I think ‘they’ are right, since if ever there was a real amateur he is one. As I know him he is a kindly but hardheaded Lancashire man with certain obvious tracks to his mind from which no one can shake or divert him. He has as his first object a life to live with his family, as his second a living to earn for his family, and as his third, and only when time permits, his golf to play as his hobby.”

“A very keen golfer from the South of England who had never seen him in action recently asked me what type of player he was ? I replied ‘He has a classical but fully modern style. He is as a strong as a horse, and he fears no one.’”

Reflecting on golf in 1953 Pat Ward-Thomas said “Had it been necessary at that time to examine an amateur golfer’s character to the limit he would have been sent to play Ronnie White over 36 holes on his own course at Birkdale with much at stake. I still think that White was one of the finest amateurs ever to emerge in Britain, certainly as a striker of the ball. His swing was so solid and true that there was a sense of the inevitable about his shots. The ball flew from the clubface with an unerring flight that few professionals, apart from Cotton, and no amateur could consistently match, and what is more, in any conditions.”

Peter Alliss described Ronnie White as ”the most professional-looking amateur I have seen” – ‘Golf Heroes’ (2002)

APPENDIX 2 – RONNIE WHITE’S DETAILED PLAYING RECORD

WALKER CUP MATCHES

1947 St. Andrews – 16th and 17th May – GB&I 4 USA 8
F4. RJ White and C Stowe v. RD Chapman and FR Stranahan WON 4&3
S6. RJ White v. AF Kammer WON 4&3

“Charlie was the ideal partner for me to have, never a dull moment, always able to see the humour of life and yet a dogged competitor” recalled White in 2001.

Fred Kammer was a semi-finalist in the US Amateur of 1946.

1949 Winged Foot GC – 19th and 20th August – USA 10 GB&I 2
F1. JB Carr and RJ White v. W Turnesa and R Billows WON 3&2
S1. RJ White v. W Turnesa WON 4&3

Willie Turnesa was the 1938 and 1948 reigning US Amateur champion and runner-up in the Amateur championship; arguably the best player on either side.

Henry Longhurst said “(The team) managed to get just two points – and without Ronnie White, whose form in the warm, windless conditions of American summer golf was so consistent that his team-mates christened him ‘One Height White’ (because every shot he hit, whatever the club, was the same height), we should assuredly have come home without a point at all”.

“Everything about his game has the same professionally polished air – the safe and sound driving, the long iron shots that look as good as Cotton’s the immaculate short game, the confident putting. With half a dozen White’s we would have won that Walker Cup with the greatest ease”.

1951 Birkdale – 11th and 12th May – GB&I 3 USA 6
F1. RJ White and JB Carr v. FR Stranahan and W Campbell HALVED
S3. RJ White v. CR Coe WON 2&1

Watching the Foursomes match with a crowd estimated at 10,000, GB&I 3Up and playing well, Bernard Darwin reported: “Poor Joe Carr had a bout of missing short putts and the holes melted away.” Nevertheless it took a 10-footer by Campbell at the last green to deny the GB&I pair a full point.

In his singles White trailed 3 down after six holes against Charles Coe, but he rallied to win, 2 and 1.

In his post match report Darwin said: “Ronnie White’s record of five wins and one halved match in three Walker Cup matches is certainly one of the finest achievements of British amateur golf for many years. No wonder the Union has taken so much trouble – and given other people so much trouble – in order to give him the sole representative of a plus two handicap.”

1953 Kittansett – 4th and 5th September – USA 9 GB&I 3
F2. JB Carr and RJ White v. S Urzetta and K Ventura LOST 6&4
S6. R Chapman v. RJ White WON 1 HOLE

White still playing a restricted schedule gained selection in 1953 after reaching the English Amateur final in 1953, a match he surprisingly lost at Birkdale to teammate Gerald Micklem.

“When Carr and White are a little older it will dawn on them that young successful partnerships are apt to wear out” wrote Leonard Crawley in 1954 having watched them struggle on Day 1. The opposition was tough though; Sam Urzetta was the 1950 US Amateur champion and Ken Venturi went on to win the 1964 US Open.

On Day 2 according to Crawley “White lunched two down having taken 77 to go round (the first 18). At the 30th hole…he was 3 down with 6 to play. He finished 3-3-4-4-3-4 (to) beat his adversary on the last green. It was a tremendous performance”. Bobby Jones, by now quite ill and using his buggy, came to the match and chose to follow the White game. He later praised White for putting on a “great performance.”

1955 St. Andrews – 20th and 21st May – GB&I 2 USA 10
F1. JB Carr and RJ White v. EH Ward and DR Cherry LOST 1 HOLE
S1. RJ White v. EH Ward LOST 6&5

In the foursomes Carr and White were 1Up with three holes to play. On the 34th hole they three putted whilst Cherry chipped in from off the green. More poor play around the Road Hole green cost the GB&I pair before the last was halved. Both players were gutted and criticised heavily in the press. It was no surprise then that they both lost their Single matches heavily the following day.

HOME INTERNATIONAL MATCHES

1947 Royal Liverpool – 24th, 25th and 26th September – England won
Ireland
F1. RJ White and J Rothwell v. J Burke and C Ewing WON 2&1
S3. RJ White v. C Ewing LOST 2&1

Wales
F1. RJ White and J Rothwell v. SB Roberts and JV Moody WON 3&2
S3. RJ White v. AA Duncan LOST 4&3

Scotland
F2. RJ White and J Rothwell v. H McInally and JG Campbell WON 4&3
S3. RJ White v. AT Kyle WON 2&1

E. Harvie Ward went on to play in two further matches and finished with a 100% win record from his 6 games played.

1948 Muirfield – 22nd, 23rd and 24th September – England won
Scotland
F2. PB Lucas and RJ White v. JC Wilson and H McInally HALVED
S3. RJ White v. JC Wilson WON 3&2

Ireland
F2. PB Lucas and RJ White v. JB Carr and BJ Scannell LOST 1 DOWN
S3. RJ White v. W O’Sullivan WON 4&3

Wales
F2. PB Lucas and RJ White v. RM de Lloyd and JV Moody WON 6&4
S2. RJ White v. SB Roberts LOST 2&1

1949 Portmarnock – 16th, 17th and 18th May – England won
Wales
F1. RJ White and C Stowe v. SB Roberts and JL Morgan WON 4&3
S1. RJ White v. AA Duncan WON 5&3

Scotland
F1. RJ White and C Stowe v. AT Kyle and JM Dykes WON 2UP
S1. RJ White v. JC Wilson HALVED

Ireland
F1. RJ White and C Stowe v. J Bruen and SM McCready HALVED
S1. RJ White v. C Ewing WON 3&2

1952 Troon – 24th, 25th and 26th September – Scotland Won
Results unknown.

“England were without R.J. White the best golfer of his generation and regarded even in America as one of the finest amateurs in the world. His absence was deplorable” – Leonard Crawley, 1953 EGU Golf Annual

1953 Killarney – 10th, 11th and 12th June – Scotland won
Ireland
F1. RJ White and D Rawlinson v. BJ Scannell and J Glover WON
S2. RJ White v. WM O’Sullivan LOST

Scotland
F1. RJ White and D Rawlinson v. DA Blair and JR Cater LOST
S2. RJ White v. JC Wilson LOST

Wales
F1. RJ White and D Rawlinson v. JL Morgan and SB Roberts LOST
S2. RJ White v. JL Morgan WON

“For most of the week, White’s golf was very poor, and until he faced John Morgan in the Welsh match, he was but a shadow of the great player we know him to be” wrote Crawley.

1954 Porthcawl – Dates Unknown – England
Results unknown.

ENGLAND v. FRANCE MATCH
1947 Wentworth 21st July – England 8 France 1
F1. C Stowe and RJ White v. M Carlihan and J Leglise LOST 3&1
S3. RJ White v. J Leglise WON 3&1

1948 St. Cloud 5th and 6th June – England 5 France 3 (Halved 1)
F1. GH Micklem and RJ White v. M Carlihan and J Leglise HALVED
S2. RJ White v. M Carlihan WON 7&6

BOYS INTERNATIONAL MATCHES

1936 Birkdale – Scotland 8.5 England 3.5
F4. TS Foggett and RJ White v. DG O’Brien and WH Gibson WON 2 HOLES
S7. RJ White v. DG O’Brien WON 5&3

1937 Bruntsfield Links – Scotland 9.5 England 2.5
F1. P Hunt and RJ White v. RG Inglis and DB Fraser HALVED
S2. RJ White v. C Gray LOST 2 HOLES

1938 Moor Park – Scotland 7.5 England 4.5
F1. RJ White and T Hiley v. C Gray and W Smeaton WON 3&1
S1. RJ White v. C Gray WON 5&4

AMATEUR CHAMPTIONSHIP

1946 Birkdale – 4th Rd lost to Frank Stranahan by 1hole.

“The round between RJ White and FR Stranahan took three hours and forty minutes which is farcical and monstrous. Golf is not a funeral, although both can be sad things” – Bernard Darwin.

Stranhan has the best Amateur Championship record of any player winning 43 of his 50 matches between 1946-54. He won the Amateur in 1948 and 1950 and was runner up in 1952.

1949 Portmarnock – 5th Rd lost to Ernest Millward by 1 hole.

In the 2nd Rd White beat Dr. W Twedell 3&2 and in the 3rd Rd PB ‘Laddie’ Lucas on the 20th hole. Millward won the English Amateur Championship in 1952.

OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP

1946 St. Andrews – 76 79 84 77 (T30)
1961 Birkdale – 71 79 80 76 (T38) – Silver Medal winner for leading amateur.

ME.

Copyright © 2017, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.

John Ball

24th December 2014

On the anniversary of his birthday I thought I would research the career of arguably Britain’s greatest ever amateur golfer.  Indeed many commentators place him only behind the legendary Bobby Jones on the World’s greatest list.

John (‘Johnny’) Ball was born in Hoylake on the Wirral, England on 24th December 1861.

John Ball 1

John Ball

John Ball’s father, John Senior, owned the Royal Hotel at Hoylake.  The hotel became the club house for the Liverpool GC (the Royal was conferred in 1871) when it was first established in 1869.  Living adjacent to the famous links (and old race course) John soon took up the game and quickly became proficient.

He grew to know Royal Liverpool like the back of his hand. He proved it in 1907 when he took a bet that he could go round the course in a dense fog in under 90 shots, without losing a ball and taking no longer than two and a quarter hours. Playing with a single painted black ball he scored 81 well within the allotted time.

He had a natural talent and the most envied swing of the time, despite what Bernard Darwin described as a “curious right-handed grip”.  Darwin, the famous Times Golf Correspondent, who saw all of the old greats play in person, thought very highly of Ball, saying “The beauty of any particular player’s style must, like his exact placing in the golfing firmament, be a matter of individual feeling, and I can only say that I have derived greater aesthetic and emotional pleasure from watching Mr. Ball than from any other spectacle in any game”.

In 1878, aged 16, he came to national prominence when he finished fifth in the Open Championship held at Prestwick GC.  The Open, largely aimed at professional golfers, had been inaugurated by Prestwick GC in 1860.

In 1885 his home club, Royal Liverpool, held an informal Open Amateur ‘Grand Tournament’, which was played during their Spring Meeting.  This match play competition attracted 44 leading players “from recognised clubs” of the time, including Ball (23) who had gained entry through some Committee shenanigans (having received a £1 payment for his Open place in 1878 and whose amateur stays was therefore questionable at the time).  In the middle of the competition the stroke play Club Gold Medal was contested.  Ball won this with a course record 77.  The following morning he played Horace Hutchinson in a titanic semi-final match in the resumed Grand Tournament, losing on the 18th 2 Down.  Later that day Allan Macfie beat a spent Horace Hutchinson 7&6 in the final.  The event proved to be the success the Club had hoped for and as planned a proposal was put to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club (R&A) for a formal Amateur Championship to be established thereafter.  The suggestion was accepted and the first Amateur Championship was staged at St. Andrews in 1886, albeit the 1885 Hoylake Tournament was subsequently recognised in 1922.

John Ball went on to win 8 Amateur Championships in total – 1888, ’90, ’92, ’94, ’99, 1907, ’10, and ’12.  His wins came at Prestwick (2), Hoylake (3), Sandwich (1), St. Andrews (1) and Westward Ho ! (1).  His final Amateur victory in 1912 came when he was 50 years old.  The gap of 24 years between his first and last victories is clearly a record that will never be broken.  He was also runner-up twice, in 1887 and 1895.  Playing his last Amateur in 1921 at Hoylake, aged 60, he reached the last 16 from a starting field of 223.  His Amateur win record of W99-L22 (81.8%) is unparalleled.

When one considers Ball was playing in The Open in 1878 (8 years before the first Amateur) and that he also missed the 1900, ’01 and ’02 Championships due to military commitments (see below) one can only hazard a guess at how many Amateurs he may have won if events had unfolded in a more favourable manner.

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John Ball’s Medals at Royal Liverpool GC (Photo: GolfBible) 

Ball also won the Open Championship in September 1890 at Prestwick GC – only the second time he had played since his 1878 debut.  He was the first Englishman and the first amateur to win the Championship.  He was also the first to hold both the Amateur and Open Championships – a feat matched by Bobby Jones in 1930 on his way to the Grand Slam.  Fellow Royal Liverpool member Harold Hilton is the third and only other amateur to win The Open.  He was runner-up in the 1892 Open at Muirfield, when he let a lead slip to his friend Hilton.

The importance afforded to the Amateur over The Open in these early years is clear when one considers that Ball played in every Amateur between 1885 and 1921, save for his three war years, but was sporadic in his Open entries.

Unsurprisingly given his match play record he was a stubborn and determined competitor who would fight to the very end.  Darwin once noted that Ball had “a strong vein of hostility and if he wanted a player’s blood, he would fight his way through a tournament with the sole object of getting him”.

After his 6th Amateur win in 1907 at St. Andrews he was made an honorary member of the R&A.

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John Ball’s ‘Vanity Fair’ picture

He served for the Cheshire Yeomanry in the Second Boer War (October 1899 – May 1902) in South Africa.  During this period he played next to no golf and missed three Amateur Championships.  Indeed one of his fiercest competitors, Scotland’s Freddie Tait, was killed in the same conflict.  His later competitive years would also have been impacted by World War I (1915-19) when he served in the Home Forces and most competitions were cancelled.

Ball was a quiet, retiring, introverted character who said very little to anyone.  It is next to impossible to find any written words or quotes from the great man.  He was very modest preferring to let his golf do the talking for him.  This approach created a certain mythology around him which remains to this day.  The quality of his game meant that he was the first player to consistently go for nearly every flag, whereas his peers simply played for the green.  This led to many memorable, heroic shots in his matches which spectators would talk about for days afterwards.  It also helped nullify his main weakness which was his putting.

He was a traditionalist who fought against the introduction of the lofted iron.  He described the niblick (a modern 8-iron), which he refused to carry, as “just another bloody spade” and felt it de-skilled the game he loved.  He believed players should simply adjust the lie of their existing mid-iron clubs with their grip when height was required on an approach shot.

He retired a ‘legend in his own lifetime’ to a farm in Holywell, Flintshire in nearby North Wales where he eventually died on 2nd December 1940, just shy of his 79th birthday.

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John Ball’s World Gall Hall of Fame Plaque

He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977.

John Ball is a true great of the game who undoubtedly helped spread the popularity of the sport in Great Britain and Ireland in the early 20th Century.  He is clearly someone whose legacy should not be allowed to fade away and who should be remembered by us all.

ME.

Copyright © 2014, Mark Eley. All rights reserved.