Alf Perry: Pro Golfer, Open Championship Winner

Golfer Alf Perry
Alf Perry was an English golf professional who won tournaments in the 1920s and 1930s. He had a quiet manner and a quirky swing, but Perry also had something else: The Claret Jug as a British Open winner.

Full name: Alfred Perry

Date of birth: October 8, 1904

Place of birth: Coulsdon, Surrey, England

Date and place of death: December 4, 1974 in New Milton, Hampshire, England

Significant Wins By Alf Perry

These are victories in tournaments that were part of the British professional circuit decades before the creation of the modern European Tour:
  • 1924 Findlater Shield
  • 1925 Findlater Shield
  • 1935 British Open
  • 1936 West of England Professional Championship
  • 1938 Daily Mail Tournament
  • 1938 Yorkshire Evening News Tournament
  • 1938 Dunlop-Metropolitan Tournament

Perry In the Majors

The big one for Perry, the reason Perry's name is remembered today, is his victory in the 1935 Open Championship at Muirfield. More on that below.

Perry came close to winning the Open one other time: He finished third in 1939. Surprisingly, Perry finished inside the Top 20 in a British Open only three other times.

He never played any of the other three professional majors.

Perry's British Open Win

At the time Alf Perry won the 1935 British Open, he wasn't even the best-known sporting Perry in Britain. Tennis star Fred Perry was world-famous, and won Wimbledon (for the second of three successive victories) one week after Alf's Open win.

Alf Perry was more a club professional than a touring pro, not unusual for the era. He had to ask for a few days off from his job as head pro at Leatherhead Golf Club in England to travel to Scotland for the Open.

Perry's opening 69 was one off the lead. He fell back a little in Round 2 with a 75, but his third-round 67 — which tied Walter Hagen for the course record at Muirfield — moved him into first place by one.

He started the final round with a six on the first hole, but Perry recovered for a round of 72 to close out the win. He finished four clear of runner-up Alf Padgham. (Yes, it's the only time two golfers named Alf finished 1-2 in the Open. They also later partnered one another in one Ryder Cup match.)

Perry's winning total of 283 matched the lowest in any Open to that point and was not beaten at Muirfield until Jack Nicklaus won there in 1966.

More About Alf Perry

Perry was known as a quiet, somewhat shy, unassuming man, someone not entirely comfortable with the celebrity that came from winning the Open Championship.

He had a very strong grip and unusual stance — Peter Alliss, in his The Who's Who of Golf, wrote that Perry's "grip was unorthodox, with the right hand well under the shaft, and he stood far from the ball." The R&A calls Perry "a powerful hitter, with a strong right-hand grip and a wide, flat swing." Perry often swung with a cigarette dangling from his lips.

But, Hall of Fame golf writer Bernard Darwin once wrote of Perry, "He wallops the ball with a gorgeous and whole-hearted confidence."

Not everyone was impressed with Perry's game, however. Henry Cotton, a 3-time Open champ who defeated Perry in the championship match of the 1932 PGA Matchplay, said of Perry in 1935:

"He dresses like a gardener and usually plays like one."

Cotton was the defending champ when Perry replaced him as Open champion in 1935, and Perry matched Cotton's then-tournament scoring record of 283. (Gene Sarazen also shared that record.)

Perry played for Team Great Britain & Ireland in three Ryder Cups, 1933, 1935 and 1937. He lost three of the four matches he played, halving Sam Parks in singles in the other one.

His best year as a tournament golfer was 1938, when he won three times. He did not win any significant tournaments again. One reason is that in 1939, still working at Leatherhead Golf Club at that point, Perry went into the British Armed Forces and served during World War II, until 1945.

When he got out, Leatherhead had replaced him as head pro. So Perry took the same position at another English club, Reddish Vale Golf Club, and served there for three years. In 1949, Perry returned to Leatherhead and was head professional there until retiring in 1972. Mementos from Perry's golf career are collected today in the clubhouse at Leatherhead Golf Club.

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