By the time Henry Cotton arrived on the golf scene in the 1930s, the glory days of British golf seemed to have passed.
Once the sole province of Britain's Great Triumvirate (Vardon, Taylor, and Braid), the British Open had been claimed by players from the United States in every year from 1924-33. But Cotton became a British hero by claiming the title three times -- in 1934, 1937, and 1948.
Cotton, born in 1907, was one of the game's first great practicers, along with his near contemporary in the United States, Ben Hogan.
He came from a well-to-do family, but Cotton hit so many balls as a young man that his hands were often blistered, and he walked with a tilt due to spending so much time with his right shoulder lower than his left in the golf stance.
He became a very straight driver of the ball, much like Hogan and Byron Nelson, and had a sound all-around game, though his putting was sometimes suspect.
Cotton broke through at the 1934 British Open at Royal St. George's. He opened with rounds of 67 and 65, phenomenal scoring for that era, and opened a nine-stroke lead (the "Dunlop 65" golf ball was named for his second round).
A 72 in the third round stretched the lead to 10 strokes, and Cotton could afford to stumble in with a 79 and still win by five.
His second Open title came at Carnoustie in 1937 when he shot a final-round 71 in a driving rainstorm to beat a field that included the entire U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Cotton finished third in both 1936 and 1938, then fourth in the first post-World War II Open in 1946. Turning 40 didn't slow him down. At Muirfield in 1948, he won his third Open, again on the strength of a great round, a second-round 66. He won by five strokes.
Though he played very little in the United States, Cotton was one of the first British pros to frequently compete on the European continent. Later, he became a noted teacher and writer on the game, eventually settling in Portugal.
For more information about golf, see:
- The Best Golfers of All Time
- How Golf Clubs Work