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The Ryder Cup of 1929

The after-effects of the first Ryder Cup in America at the Worcester Country Club in 1927 left a bitter taste in the mouth of the great powers of the British Isles. Now, in 1929, they were determined to put the Americans back in the place they belonged, second.

The team would now have more youth with Henry Cotton, Stewart Burns, and Ernest Whitcombe joining the squad.

(back row, l-r) Henry Cotton, Fred Robson, Archie Compston, Ernest Whitcombe, Stewart Burns; (front row, l-r) Aubrey Boomer, Abe Mitchell, Captain George Duncan, Charles Whitcombe. The playing Captain George Duncan had already earned a reputation as a furious matchplay competitor.

Not only had he destroyed the American top man Walter Hagen, but he was the only British member to win his singles match in the 1927 thrashing. Known for playing his shots at a rapid pace with little patience for practice swings and careful thinkers, Duncan was always a difficult matchplay opponent to find your rhythm against.

The American team playing under captain Walter Hagen was understandably full of confidence. They could not see much reason to fear a technically inferior team. Consequently, the participant players remained unchanged from the triumphant winners of 1927, apart from Ed Dudley replacing Bill Mellhorn. As confident as they were the team knew one of their biggest problems would be playing with wooden shafts. Although superior steel shafts had been in play since 1925 in America, the R&A had still not given them the green light. Hagen and the team could also not allow the British team the advantage of using the smaller 1,62"size ball that was generally played outside of the States. The canny American knew that, on the windswept flat terrain and hard bumpy fairways the 1.68" American ball would be a serious disadvantage at Southport. The team would have to adjust.

On top of the Savoy Hotel in London.

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Back row: Joe Turnesa, Al Waltrous, Horton Smith, Ed Dudley, Johnny Farrell, and manager Bob Harlow.

Front row: J. Golden, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen(Captain), Al Espinoza, and Leo Diegel.

The young star of the team was the 20-year-old Horton Smith. His lack of experience caused him to struggle more than any of the others in adapting to the peculiarities of wooden shafts.

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For this reason, Horton had tried playing hickories in Tournament play on the American circuit. He finished last, in contrast to winning the three previous tournaments using steel shafts.

For captain Walter Hagen and other experienced members of the team, the hickory shafts were not a problem. The most important adaption was a rhythm change. Generally, a little more hand-action through contact was also required, to help square the head up at ball contact. The torque twist was excessive and the clubface would be open unless consciously manipulated.

The film shows Hagen hitting the small ball with a hickory shaft. The low diving ball flight was a typical effect of the shaft and ball combination.

The British, for their part, struggled with members of the team being out of form. It eventually led to Captain Duncan not using two of his best players. Percy Alliss and Stewart Burns.

Fortunately, others were in splendid form, none more so than Aubrey Boomer.

1 November 1897 – 2 October 1989: Born on the island of Jersey. His father George was a school teacher in Grouville and had, in 1902, designed the La Moye Golf Club.

Boomer won the French Open five times. In the 1921 French Open, he won in a playoff against Arnaud Massy, his former golf teacher. Massy picked up his ball on the 34th hole after being 8 shots behind after 33 holes. For more on Arnaud Massy click the link:

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Discussing a few details before the match gets underway. Hagen, Ryder, and Duncan.

The matches got underway with Charles Whitcombe beginning the proceedings and teeing off. Although much improved on the storms in the practice rounds it was still very cold, with hail clattering down, and at one point during the matches, there would be heavy snow on the greens. Despite the atrocious weather the crowds still came in hope of seeing a home win. 10,000 British fans were rewarded with a good match, good golf, and a triumphant side!

The crowds, sometimes loud and undisciplined, were 10,000 strong.

One of the great stories in Ryder Cup history is the success of the Whitcombe brothers. Two, Ernest and Charles (left and middle), were included in the '29 team. It would be 1935 when all three would take part in one event.

The greatest sensation in the 1929 British Ryder Cup team was undoubtedly the hugely talented Henry Cotton. He had only recently been in the United States to study the games of the Americans and why they were superior to the British. He suspected they had a secret recipe that gave them a permanent advantage. Henry certainly did discover something there as reports say he had added 30 yards more length to his drive on his return.

The Cotton swing Henry Cotton was known for the quality of his long iron shots. "He can hit the ball from 200 yards with a 2 iron where most of us need a wood. Incredible is how well the ball is struck and how close it finishes to the flag. " Charles Whitcombe.

The young British sensation Cotton was teamed up with the other newbie Ernest Whitcombe.

It was a tough game with the young guns struggling to get a foothold. The star of the match would be Johnny Golden(Photo).

Hagen, the most experienced of the group was struggling to find consistency, while his younger partner held the fort and frustrated the two challengers. Eventually, towards the end, Hagen started to find his game, draining the enthusiasm from Cotton and Whitcombe who succumbed to their fate.

Johnny Golden is one of those great players who came so close to eternal fame but ended up with little to his record. Such a player would be called underrated, which is a description I do not understand. Nevertheless, Golden would leave a positive record in the Ryder Cup by winning all of his games and proving his greatness at matchplay.

The biggest shock for the British team members to endure was the seven and five trouncing Boomer and Duncan received at the hands of Diegel and Espinosa.

Diegel played on the first four Ryder Cup teams, and Espinosa the first three. The two Americans had complimented each other perfectly to go around the course in only 68 shots.

Apart from the one match everything else went down to the wire, with the Americans keeping their noses in front. The one-point deficit at the finish didn't dampen the spirit of the British team but left them in no doubt that the next day would be a hard affair. They were prepared.

Day 2

On the second day, the weather abated, and instead of the hard wind with intermittent rain of the days before, the players were able to enjoy relatively mild temperatures with a calm gentle breeze. Just as calm were the British team, who carried an air of certainty that unnerved their American opponents.

First on the tee was Charles Whitcombe, the British star of the previous match in 1927, playing against Johnny (the gentleman) Farrell.

A photo from 1927 shows Whitcombe posing for the camera in his typical finish position. Apart from the plus-fours, flat cap, and fabulous cars in the background who would know when this was taken?

Whitcombe would become one of the elite contributors to the Cup by taking on the British captaincy for four events.

Whitcombe's opponent Johnny Farrell was the 1928 U.S. Open winner after beating Bobby Jones in a 36 hol36-holee playoff. Throughout his career, he won 22 PGA Tour events was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2023, and will be inducted in 2024.

As well as being known for his smooth swing Farrell was equally well-known for his attention to dressing well, charm, and friendliness. This is where 'The Gentleman' nickname originated from.

The aforementioned confidence and determination were very evident on the first tee in the opening singles game. As Charles Whitcombe's tee shot sailed down the fairway to the loud cheers of an over-zealous partisan crowd, Farrell was left in no doubt what sort of challenge lay ahead of him.

Duncan had impressed on the team that they must win the early games to send a negative vibe through the American team. Farrell struggled to find any

forward momentum, and even his famous putting ability was nowhere to be seen. Whitcombe showed him no mercy and put him away 8 and 6. Next up were the Captains themselves, George Duncan and Walter Hagen.

Duncan was now able to do his part in destroying the American team's confidence. Although he was a very poor foursome partner with his difficult and impatient character, he was equally a nightmare as a singles opponent.

The problem was he was playing one of the most experienced and intimidating matchplay supremos in the world... Walter Hagen(photo). In addition to the Captain's rivalry was a wonderful boast famously declared on the evening before. The story goes that, Duncan had thrown the gauntlet down and directly requested that he and Hagen play the following day. Hagen accepted the challenge. On returning to his team Hagen relayed the discussion and then bragged how it was a certain point for the USA. Unknown to Hagen was that Duncan had overheard the laughter and ridicule from the room next door. It resulted in the biggest drubbing in the history of the Ryder Cup as Duncan destroyed the American 10 and 8!

The Duncan plan was now working as the American team, although technically better players, were not able to find their form. The wooden shafts, small British ball, uncomfortable weather, and not least of all large unruly crowds, began to tell on their spirit. A small taste of hope was to be seen in the Abe Mitchell/Leo Diegel match as the American sent the beloved Abe Mitchell packing.

Leo Diegel would say later that he played the best golf of his life in this match. He was pinpoint accurate with his irons and able to split every fairway with his tee shots. Even his inconsistent putting on the soaking Moortown greens was also at its best. Sketch: Diegel Beyond Diegel and Horton Smith (proving a point after not being trusted by his captain; remember his problems with hickory shafts?), there was little joy. The British won the Cup again and felt they had put the Americans back in their place.

It was now one game a piece and the match was proving itself to be one of the most beloved events on the sporting calendar.


Coming Soon- 1933- A Captain's Battle

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