Roger Wethered, the Golfer Who Almost Skipped a British Open Playoff

Cigarette card depicting golfer Roger Wethered
Roger Wethered was a top amateur golfer in Great Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, one who won the British Amateur and made the championship match two other times. But he's probably best-known today as the golfer who almost chose playing in a cricket match to playing in a playoff for the British Open.

Full name: Roger Henry Wethered

Date of birth: January 3, 1899

Place of birth: New Maiden, England

Date and place of death: March 12, 1983 in Wimbledon, England

Wethered's Biggest Wins

  • 1923 British Amateur
  • 1926 President's Putter (tie with Eustace Storey)
  • 1927 President's Putter
  • 1927 Golf Illustrated Gold Vase
  • 1928 President's Putter
  • 1935 President's Putter
  • 1936 President's Putter

The Time He Almost Didn't Show Up for a British Open Playoff

Roger Wethered was an underclassman at Oxford University when he entered the 1921 British Open, his first time playing the tournament. He moved into contention with a 72 in the third round that was, at the time, the Old Course record for an amateur in the Open.

In the fourth round, Wethered broke his own record with a 71. That moved him up from tied sixth at the beginning of the round and three strokes off the lead, to a tie for the lead with Jock Hutchison.

That meant a 36-hole playoff the following day. Only problem: Wethered didn't want to play the playoff. He was planning all through the final round to leave the course quickly and get back home, because Wethered's cricket team had a big match the following day. When he wound up in a playoff, he still wanted to play the cricket match! Wethered was finally, however, talked into returning to the Old Course the next day for the playoff against Hutchison.

Perhaps that initial reluctance had something to do with Wethered eventually losing that playoff by nine strokes, 159 to Hutchison's 150.

Wethered had let slip a chance to win the title on the 72nd hole: Needing a four on the hole to win, he instead made a five. And he committee a costly blunder in the third round when he accidentally stepped on his own golf ball, resulting in a one-stroke penalty.

Instead of winning outright, Wethered became not just the playoff loser, but is now always remembered as the golfer who had to be talked into showing up for a British Open playoff.

More About Roger Wethered

Roger Wethered was a top British amateur golfer in the 1920s and 1930s who won one British Amateur Championship and nearly two others, and who frequently represented the Great Britain & Ireland team in the Walker Cup.

He wasn't as well-known as his sister, however. Joyce Wethered was the greatest female golfer of her era and a major star. Together, Roger and Joyce co-authored the book Golf From Two Sides (affiliate link), first published in 1922.

Peter Alliss' description of Wethered's game is that he "was frequently an erratic driver and this was the main reason why he did not achieve other comparable successes, for his iron play was very highly rated and he was also a good putter."

The Encyclopedia of Golf (Donald Steel editor, published 1975) said of Wethered that "on the golf course his manner was reserved, as became his upbringing which included grounding in the game on the remote, elite links of Dornoch." And also this:

"He was above all a magnificent iron player with exceptional powers of recovery and of stopping the ball. He was a long driver but, except at his best, not a reliable one."
A year after nearly winning the Open Championship, Wethered reached the quarterfinals of the 1922 British Amateur. The near year came his signature win in the 1923 British Amateur. in the fifth round, Wethered dispatched the American Walker Cupper O.F. Willing, then in the semifinals he beat Francis Ouimet, 2-up. That set up a championship match against Scotsman Robert Harris (who won this title himself two years later), which Wethered won by a score of 7 and 6.

Wethered played the Open only three more times after his near-miss in 1921, making the cut in just one of those years. (He did win a long-drive competition prior to one of those Opens, however, with a drive of 278 yards.)

He reached two other British Amateur finals. In 1928, Wethered fell in the championship match to Philip Perkins, 6 and 4; and in 1930, Bobby Jones beat Wethered in the final, 7 and 6.

Wethered also faced Jones in the Walker Cup. Wethered was on the GB&I team five times, including as the playing captain in the 1930 Walker Cup. He also played in the event in 1922, 1923, 1926 and 1934, earning 5.5 of a possible eight points in his matches. He lost singles matches to Jones in the 1922 Walker Cup and in 1930. In two other singles matches, Wethered halved Francis Ouimet in 1923 and beat Ouimet in 1926.

In other tournaments, Wethered was a five-time winner of the President's Putter, a tournament played by current and former Oxford and Cambridge golfers. And he won the Golf Illustrated Gold Vase, a prestigious amateur event in England, by one stroke over his former Oxford teammate Cyril Tolley in 1927.

Wethered was supposed to serve as captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1939, but due to World War II didn't take his term until 1946. After Bobby Jones' death in 1972, Wethered gave a memorial address at a service in St. Andrews.

Wethered was a stockbroker in his business life, and a successful investor. He was 84 years old when he died in 1983.

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