Profile of English Golfer John Beck

John Beck was an English golfer prominent in the first half of the 1900s. Although he wasn't a big tournament winner, Beck was an important figure in Walker Cup history, and well as administratively in British golf. He also once suffered a match defeat to Bobby Jones so bad that it remains a record today.

Full name: John Beaumont Beck

Date of birth: August 13, 1899

Place of birth: Luton, Bedfordshire, England

Date and place of death: June 20, 1980 in Kent, England

Also known as: John B. Beck

Beck in the Walker Cup

In 1936, the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team headed to New Jersey to face Team USA at Pine Valley. It did not go well for the visitors. The American side pitched a shutout, winning 9-0. That was the ninth Walker Cup played, and the ninth American victory — many of them blowouts.

That 9-0 loss, according to Herbert Warren Wind's book The Story of American Golf (affiliate link), "shocked the British into cleaning house from the cellar up." The Brits empaneled a new selection board and determined to pay far more attention to form than to societal classes.

One of the decisions they made was appointing John B. Beck as team captain. Beck instituted tryouts, gathering candidate golfers to face off in trial matches. Not only did it help him select a more diverse team of better golfers who were in form, but it also built team chemistry.

And Beck's methods paid off: In the 1938 Walker Cup, Team GB&I earned its first victory in the competition, winning 7.5 to 4.5 at St. Andrews. It was the only Walker Cup win for GB&I from 1922 through 1969.

When the matches resumed following World War II, with the 1947 Walker Cup, Beck again was the British captain. But the magic wasn't repeated: His team lost, 8-4.

Beck took part in three Walker Cups, but only played one match, a foursomes loss in the 1928 Walker Cup. He was player-captain in 1938, but chose not to play himself; and captain only in 1947.

More About John Beck

In his book A Game of Golf (affiliate link), Francis Ouimet called John B. Beck "one of the most delightful fellows imaginable, a splendid golfer and a humorist." He was well-liked by most everyone, it seems, including in his dotage when, according to Peter Alliss, Beck was famous for being "a character" who was often found around Royal St. George's.

Beck served in World War I as a Second Lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards, and in 1919 was awarded the Military Cross. After the war, he returned home and began earning his reputation as a golfer.

Beck was never a big tournament winner, but he did take the trophy in the 1925 Golf Illustrated Gold Vase, a tournament in which he was runner-up in 1931. Another of his top wins was in the Berkshire Trophy in 1946.

He never turned pro, but also never figured in a British Amateur Championship. He did make a mark in the U.S. Amateur, however, just not the type of mark Beck wanted. In 1928, Beck reached the third round of the U.S. Amateur, where he met Bobby Jones. Jones won the 36-hole match by a 14-and-13 score, tying the tournament record for largest margin of victory/defeat. It remains the record today.

In 1938 Beck was chosen to write the foreward to the book Around Golf, a collection of articles about the game from the likes of Bernard Darwin, Henry Longhurst and Joyce Wethered.

In 1953, Beck partnered fellow British amateur Edward Davenport against the tandem of professional American women Babe Zaharias and Patty Berg. The match was all square going to the 18th hole, then Zaharias hit what Berg later described as the longest drive she'd ever seen by a woman. Zaharias/Berg eagled the hole and won the match, 1-up.

Beck served as captain of the R&A in 1957-58. When the USGA reported Beck's nomination to the post, it described him as "one of Britain's leading players and administrators for the past thirty-five years."

In 1934, Beck married Irish golfer Dorothy Pim. In 1938, Dorothy Beck won the Irish Ladies Championship at the same time John Beck was leading Team GB&I to its first-ever Walker Cup win.

Dorothy (often referred to in print and even some golf record books only as "Mrs. John B. Beck") captained Team GB&I in the 1954 Curtis Cup, making the Becks the only husband-and-wife to captain in both the Walker and Curtis cups. They remain so today.

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