Archie Compston: Bio of English Golfer, Teacher of Royalty

Golfer Archie Compston pictured in 1926
Archie Compston once beat Walter Hagen in a challenge match by the almost-impossible-sounding score of 18-and-17. He was an instructor to royalty; won tournaments on the PGA Tour and more in Britain in Europe; and played in the earliest Ryder Cups.

Full name: Archibald Edward Wones Compston

Date of birth: January 14, 1893

Place of birth: Wolverhampton, England

Date and place of death: August 8, 1962, in London, England

Compston's Biggest Wins

Compston is credited with two PGA Tour wins:
  • 1926 Lakeland Open
  • 1928 Eastern Open Championship
He played mostly in Europe, and his wins on the British PGA circuit include:
  • 1925 Leeds Cup
  • 1925 Glasgow Herald Tournament
  • 1925 British PGA Matchplay Championship
  • 1926 Leeds Cup
  • 1927 Ifield Tournament
  • 1927 British PGA Matchplay Championship
  • 1929 Roehampton Invitation
  • 1930 Daily Dispatch Southport Tournament
  • 1935 Roehampton Invitation
  • 1945 Yorkshire Evening News Tournament

In the Majors

Compston played in the U.S. Open just twice, but finished in the Top 25 both times. He tied for seventh in the 1927 U.S. Open, and tied for 22nd in 1928.

He played in the British Open 20 times, first in 1914 and last in 1947. Compston's best finish was tied for second place with Ted Ray in the 1925 Open, one stroke behind winner Jim Barnes. Compston began the final round five strokes behind leader Macdonald Smith, then shot 75 while Barnes scored 74.

He finished third in the 1928 Open, three behind Walter Hagen. In the 1930 British Open, Compston shot 68 in the third round to take a one-stroke lead over Bobby Jones. But in the final round, Compston ballooned to an 82. Jones shot 75 and captured the second-leg of his grand slam year. Compston tied for sixth place.

Compston had five Open Championship Top 10 finishes, also placing tied ninth in 1920 and tied 10th in 1932. He was also 12th in 1929 and tied 12th in 1933.

More About Archie Compston

Archie Compston's two biggest wins in Europe were his two victories in the British PGA Matchplay Championship. In 1925 he beat George Gadd in the final, 3 and 1; and in 1927 he defeated Great Triumvirate legend James Braid, 8 and 7, in the championship match. At the time, Compston was considered one of the strongest — perhaps the strongest — match player in Britain.

Walter Hagen, meanwhile, was the match-play king of American pros, winning his fifth PGA Championship in 1927. In November 1927, Compston issued a public challenge to Hagen to play "for the world's championship." Once Hagen decided he would definitely play the 1928 British Open, he cabled his acceptance of the challenge in March 1928.

With great fanfare and media coverage, the 72-hole match was played April 27-28, 1928 (36 holes per day) at Moor Park in Herefordshire, England.

The outcome was a surprise to everyone. Not necessarily that Compston won (although Hagen was considered the heavy favorite), but that he won by so much. On Day 1, Compston's stroke scores were 67 and 66, and he had a 14-up lead over the vaunted Hagen.

When the match ended the next day, Compston had beaten Hagen by the overwhelming score of 18-and-17. Scheduled for four rounds, they only had to play one hole of the fourth round before the match ended. "American star meets greatest setback of career," read one of the New York Times' many headlines about the match.

Hagen called it "the worst trimming of my career." It was a bonanza for Compston, and not just the $3,750 he won (both players put up their own stakes, and news reports of the era called it a record purse for a challenge match). His huge margin of victory made him a celebrity, and he raked in advertising and endorsement income.

Although it was a great win for Compston, just two weeks later Hagen won when it mattered most, taking the 1928 British Open title, three strokes ahead of third-place Compston.

How good was Archie Compston? He was very good in the period from 1925-30, certainly good enough during those years to have succeeded on the PGA Tour had he decided to play full-time in America. And Compston did play 11 PGA Tour tournaments total, all over the course of 1926-28. He won two of them, was runner-up in two others, finished in the Top 10 in eight out of the 11, and finished in the Top 25 in all 11. Compston won the PGA Tour Lakeland Open in 1926. In 1928, Compston was solo second at the Mid-America Open, tied for second in the Canadian Open, and won the Eastern Open Championship.

"He was an austere athlete, 6-foot-3 inches tall and severe looking," was the way the New York Times once described him. The Encyclopedia of Golf, published in the U.K. in 1975, called Compston "one of the greatest personalities in British golf between the wars," and described him as "big, with a confident stride ... he had a will to win, a fierce attacking style, and an uncompromising attitude to the outside world."

As a youth golfer was prone to displays of temper, including club throwing. "He mellowed over the years," according to The Encyclopedia of Golf, "but remained a character to the end."

His father was a mining owner, and an older brother was a greenskeeper. Archie had already begun his club professional career when he went into service during World War I, during part of which he was a stretcher-bearer. In 1917 he suffered frostbite on the battlefied, which led to an infection in his heel, which eventually led to his disablement and discharge. But after a period of convalescence, Compston was able to resume his golf career in 1920.

Among other notable match-play achievements on Compston's record: He reached championship match of the 1924 Yorkshire Evening News Tournament, losing to Fred Robson on the 37th hole (he won the tournament in 1945 after it switched to stroke play). He won the 1925 Glasgow Herald Tournament, beating Abe Mitchell in championship match, 1-up.

The Roehampton Invitation was a match play tournament; Compston lost in the final to Aubrey Boomer in 1925. But he later won in 1929 (beating Charles Whitcombe, 1-up, in the championship match) and 1935 (def. Alf Padgham, 3 and 1, in the final).

One of his earliest tastes of success was finishing runner-up in the Leeds Cup in 1923 (he later won it twice). The year 1925 was arguably his best: Compston won three tournaments, including the British Match Play Championship; lost in a playoff to Arnaud Massy at the French Open; and finished runner-up in the British Open.

He also lost a playoff in the 1929 French Open (to Boomer); finished second in the Irish Opens of 1928 and 1929; was runner-up in the 1931 Dunlop-Southport Tournament (one year after winning); and fell in a 36-hole playoff to Henry Cotton in the 1939 Daily Mail Tournament.

Compston won only two big titles after his collapse during the final round of the 1930 British Open. Some claim the stain of that failure caused the quality of his golf to decline, but he was 37 years old at the time and in Compston's era, natural, age-related declines in one's golf game were not uncommon beginning in one's late 30s. No matter the cause, Compston went five years after 1930 before winning again, then another 10 years for his last win, at age 52, in the 1945 Yorkshire Evening News Tournament.

Compston was also one of Great Britain's main players in the first three Ryder Cups. Some claim he played four Ryder Cups, but the 1926 match was a precursor and is not considered official.

In the 1927 Ryder Cup, the real first one, Compston lost both his matches, including a 1-down loss in singles to Wild Bill Mehlhorn. In the 1929 Ryder Cup, a Team Great Britain victory, Compston's foursomes match was halved. In singles, he beat Gene Sarazen, 6 and 4. In the 1931 Ryder Cup, Compston was again 0-2. In singles, Billy Burke beat him, 7 and 6.

During his playing career, Compston became the golf coach of Edward, Prince of Wales, who in 1936 became King Edward VIII. Once, during Edward's coronation year, Compston arrived to the royal yacht (it was berthed in Yugoslavia at the time) with 3,000 golf balls. The King proceeded to work on his game by hitting them all into the sea while cruising the Mediterranean. Compston also coached King George VI (Edward's brother), and spent some time working with American general and President Dwight Eisenhower. He also was the instructor of British amateur great Pam Barton.

Once Compston played with both Edward and George at the club then called Royal Berkshire. After, they entered the clubhouse for lunch. But the club steward informed them that the club did not allow pros in the clubhouse and Compston would have to leave. Instead, all three left, and a week later the club's "Royal" designation was revoked. It has never been restored.

Compston was a club pro most of his life, from age 16 when he took his first assistant position. He was a pro at the Coventry, North Manchester and Coombe Hill clubs and, from 1945-48, at Wentworth Club. In 1949, Compston became professional at Mid-Ocean Golf Club in Hamilton, Bermuda, and held that position the rest of his life.

Compston was 69 years old when he died in 1962.

Photo credit: Archie Compston, 1926, public domain, via the University of Miami Library, Special Collections, Floyd and Marion Rinhart Photograph Collection

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