Reg Whitcombe, British Open Winner From Famous Golfing Family

Book cover of golfer Reg Whitcombe
Reg Whitcombe (also known as R.A. Whitcombe) was part of a trio of English brothers who were big stars in the U.K. from the 1920s into the 1940s. But of the three, Reg was the only one who won the British Open.

Full name: Reginald Arthur Whitcombe

Date of birth: April 10, 1898

Place of birth: Burnham, England

Date and place of death: January 11, 1957 in Hambledon, Surrey, England

Nickname: Reg, Reggie

Significant Wins By Reg Whitcombe

Tournament wins for Whitcombe on the British/European pro circuit of the era include:
  • 1934 Penfold Tournament
  • 1934 Roehampton Invitation
  • 1936 Irish Open
  • 1936 Dunlop-West of England Tournament
  • 1937 Dunlop-West of England Tournament
  • 1938 British Open
  • 1938 News Chronicle Tournament
  • 1945 Daily Sketch Fourball Tournament (partnered by William Anderson)
  • 1946 Lotus Tournament
  • 1947 Penfold Tournament (tie with Dai Rees and Norman Von Nida)
In addition, Whitcombe won the West of England Professional Championship seven times, in 1922, 1931, 1933, 1934, 1938, 1948 and 1950.

Whitcombe's British Open Victory

Reg Whitcombe never played any of the other three majors of professional golf, but competed in the Open Championship every year the tournament was held from 1925 through 1951.

And he won it in 1938. Whitcombe opened with consecutive rounds of 71, placing him two off the lead after 36 holes. The final 36 holes were played in one day and in terrible weather, including gale-force winds that blew apart exhibition tents and blew away just about anything that wasn't tied down. In those conditions, only nine golfers broke 80 in Round 3 and only seven golfers managed to post sub-80 final-round scores.

In the third round, Whitcombe's 75 game him a one-stroke lead. In the final round, his 78 (despite four-putting the first green) was good enough to extend that lead to a final winning margin of two strokes over runner-up Jimmy Adams.

More About Reg Whitcombe

Reg Whitcombe, often called Reggie during his day and sometimes, in print, referred to as "R.A. Whitcombe," was the youngest of three distinguished pro golfing brothers.

Ernest, Charles and Reg Whitcombe were all born near Burnham & Berrow Golf Club in Somerset, England. The professional at Burnham & Berrow was J.H. Taylor of "Great Triumvirate" fame, and Taylor was one of the earliest influences on the brothers' golfing careers.

In 1910, Ernest was appointed professional at Came Down Golf Club in Dorchester. Shortly thereafter, the brothers' mother Bessie was appointed stewardess at the club, and Charles and Reg moved with her.

"The family stayed for 17 years and did much to put the club on the map," the club's website states. "During the 1920s the brothers got to know Samuel Ryder (namesake of the Ryder Cup), a country member who played at Came Down when on holiday in Weymouth."

All three brothers enlisted and served in World War I, Reg doing so even though he was only 16 years old at the war's outbreak in 1914. (He lied about his age, claiming he was 19.) Reg Whitcombe served in the 4th Battalion of the Dorset Regiment in the British Army, but never went overseas to see battle. Diagnosed with a heart condition, Reg, with a rank of lance corporal, was released from the Army as an "invalid" (meaning his physical condition was considered inappropriate for combat).

Back home, Reg returned to golf. By the early 1920s, he was winning regional tournaments including, in 1922, the first of his seven West of England Professional Championships.

In 1928, Reg became professional at Parkstone Club. It wasn't until the 1930s — until he was in his mid- and late 30s — that Reg really took off as a tournament player.

To that point, Charles had always been considered the best of the Whitcombe brothers. Both Ernest and Charles had been selected for the Great Britain & Ireland Ryder Cup squad. In 1924, Ernest was runner-up to Walter Hagen in the Open Championship, and in 1935 Charles finished third in the Open. Reg was finally named to a Ryder Cup squad (along with both his brothers) in 1935.

In the 1937 British Open, Reg finished runner-up to Henry Cotton. His victory followed the next year, then in 1939 Reg was joint third. In all, Reg had five Top 10 finishes in the Open, 14 Top 20 finishes. He first played the British Open in 1925 and last played it in 1951.

What about his heart condition? Reg used a very simple by apparently effect fitness method. Authors Tom Scott and Geoffrey Cousins, in their 1961 book Golf Begins At 45: Golf for the Not So Young (Amazon affiliate link), wrote:

"We remember him telling us that he owed his success to the advice of a Bournemouth doctor friend who had put him a course of deep-breathing exercises. Very simple, but wonderfully effective, according to Whitcombe, who declared that in six months he had added one and a half inches to his chest and taken two inches off his waistline.

"The exercise? Just taking a deep breath and holding it for one minute. Repeated ten or twelve times a day."

It's certainly possible that Whitcombe, given how well he was playing in the late 1930s, would have won another British Open or other big titles had World War II not interrupted everything. He did win a couple more titles afterward.

Reg continued serving as the Parkstone pro until his death in 1957 (he was succeeded at Parkstone by Peter Alliss). The medal he received for winning the British Open today resides in the Parkstone clubhouse.

Although he was the youngest of the Whitcombe brothers, he was the first to die, at only 58 years old. Ernest, born in 1890, lived until 1971. Charles, born in 1895, lived until 1978.

Reg Whitcombe authored one golf instructional book published in 1938 and titled Golf's No Mystery!

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