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Blog - Golf History with Peter Alliss

Cecil Leitch was a four-time Ladies Amateur Champion

Cecil Leitch shares a record with Joyce Wethered for winning four British Ladies Amateur titles. A self-taught golfer, she was one of the dominant players of the 1910s and 20s. Unlike her contemporaries, she preferred to play in the wind. She changed the way women golf by hitting hard, rather than daintily, as most women did at the time.

Leitch was just 17 when she defeated match-play champion Tom Ball in 1909 on his own course at Blundellsands near Liverpool. Women’s suffrage got a boost in 1910 when she soundly defeated leading amateur Harold Hilton in a 72-hole contest at Walton Heath and Sunningdale. The weather was rainy and windy, much like the conditions she endured on the primitive course in Silloth where she learned the game, allowing her to come from behind and win 2&1. In 1914, Leitch defeated Gladys Ravenscroft at Hunstanton and became the British Ladies Amateur Champion, a title held previously by Muriel Dodd. She repeated this feat three times after WWI.

Leitch is considered the foremost figure in women’s golf of her day and one of the game’s greatest personalities. In all, her career included 12 national titles, one Canadian Women’s Amateur and five French Ladies Amateur Championships. In the early 1920s, she wrote two books on golf, “Golf” and “Golf Simplified.”

First PGA Champion – Jim Barnes

Jim Barnes, c. 1921. Photo by George Pietzcker

On October 10, 1916, the newly-formed Professional Golfers Association of America hosted the inaugural PGA Championship at Siwanoy Country Club in Bronxville, NY. Striving for a purse of $3,000 among a group of 32 contenders, naturalized U.S. citizens Jim Barnes and Jock Hutchison drove, chipped and birdied their way to the finals.

With a massive crowd assembled for the afternoon match despite driving wind and rain, Barnes quickly pulled even three holes in. Standing 6’4,” the English-born golfer was nicknamed “Long Jim.” At the seventh hole, Barnes forged ahead and dropped in a putt from 18 feet. Two holes later he hit a clutch birdie with a putt from 35 feet. Hutchison kept pace, however, with his own birdie from 15 feet on the next hole, leaving him one down. With the 16th hole halved in fours, Hutchison failed to convert his putt, making Barnes the first PGA Champion, a title he would hold until play resumed after WWI and he won the Championship again.

When the PGA tournament in 1919 resumed after World War I, Barnes won the PGA Championship a second time, beating Fred McLeod in the final round. Two years later, he won the U.S. Open at Colombia Country Club, defeating Walter Hagen and McLeod by 9 strokes, a record that stood until Tiger Woods won the title by 15 strokes in 2000.

In 1925, Jim Barnes returned to Great Britain to win the Open Championship the last year the tournament was held at Prestwick. One of the most successful players on the early PGA tour, Barnes was one of 12 golfers inducted into the inaugural PGA Hall of Fame in 1940.

Photo by George Pietzcker

Three-time Open Champion Henry Cotton served in the Royal Air Force during World War II

Unlike many professionals of his day who came from humble origins, three-time Open Champion Henry Cotton was born into an upper middle-class English family. He found his way to golf at the age of 13 after abandoning cricket.

At 17, Cotton turned professional. After tying for 7th at St Andrews in 1933 and several other Top 10 finishes, the stylish English golfer won his first Open Championship title in 1934 at Royal St George’s, setting a scoring record not broken until 1990 by Nick Faldo and Greg Norman. Cotton won the Open again at Carnoustie in 1937, defeating Reg Whitcombe by two strokes. Cotton’s third Open victory came in 1948 after he served in the Royal Air Force during World War II. He trounced Fred Daly at Muirfield by five-strokes, posting a new course record of 66. Cotton played on three Ryder Cup teams and was a frequent winner on the European tour. He was also a successful author, golf course architect, and founder of a Golf Foundation for girls and boys getting started in the game. Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1980, Henry Cotton was posthumously knighted for his achievements eight years later.