Golfer Alf Padgham: Profile of Open Champion

Portrait of golfer Alf Padgham
Alf Padgham was an English golfer who won multiple tournaments on the British and European circuits in multiple years of the 1930s. He was particularly successful from 1934 through 1936, culminating in victory at the Open Championship.

Full name: Alfred Harry Padgham

Date of birth: July 2, 1906

Place of birth: Caterham, Surrey, England

Date and place of death: March 4, 1966, in West Wickham, Kent, England

Also known as: A.H. Padgham

Padgham's Biggest Pro Victories

  • 1931 News of the World Match Play
  • 1932 Irish Open
  • 1933 Sussex Professional Championship
  • 1934 German Open
  • 1934 Dunlop-Southport Tournament
  • 1934 Yorkshire Evening News Tournament
  • 1934 Kent President's Cup
  • 1935 News of the World Match Play
  • 1936 The Open Championship
  • 1936 Daily Mail Tournament
  • 1936 Silver King Tournament
  • 1936 Dunlop-Southport Tournament
  • 1936 Western Province Open
  • 1938 Dutch Open
  • 1938 Kent Professional Championship
  • 1939 Silver King Tournament
  • 1939 News Chronicle Tournament
  • 1946 Daily Mail Tournament
  • 1947 Silver King Tournament
  • 1948 Kent President's Cup
  • 1954 Kent Professional Championship

Winning the Open Championship and Other Major Finishes

Alf Padgham is the only golfer who had to commit a breaking-and-entering offense to win the Open Championship. With an early tee time on the final day of the 1936 British Open, Padgham arrived at Royal Liverpool early. He went to the pro shop, where he'd left his clubs the night before, to retrieve them.

But the pro shop was locked, and the attendant with the key was nowhere to be found (he'd overslept). So Padgham pitched a brick through a window in order to let himself inside. He retrieved his clubs, then went out and won the tournament.

Padgham was one off the lead after 36 holes, with another 36 holes played on that final day. He scored 71 in the third round and remained one behind the co-leaders, Jimmy Adams and Henry Cotton.

In the final round that afternoon, Cotton scored 74 and tied for third, Adams had a 73 and slipped to second, and Padgham shot 71 to win by a stroke at 287. He finished off the win with a 12-foot birdie putt on the last green.

That completed a three-year stretch in which Padgham finished third in the 1934 Open, second in the 1935 Open, and won the 1936 Open.

The British Open was the only one of the four professional majors that Padgham played. His first appearance was in 1930 and last in 1954. He had eight Top 10 finishes, all of them seventh-place and better. He tied for fourth in 1932 and seventh in 1933.

In his title defense in 1937, Padgham tied seventh, then tied fourth in 1938. That completed seven consecutive years in the Top 7, including the victory. Alas, with World War II under way, Padgham didn't play in 1939 and The Open then went on hiatus for six years. After the war, Padgham added his final Top 10 finish in 1948, tying for seventh. He was only two off the lead after three rounds that year, but carded a 77 in the final round.

Padgham's experience in the 1938 Open Championship, played in raging winds, is often used to demonstrate just how strong the wind was that year. With the wind at his back, Padgham was able to drive a 380-yard par-4. But playing directly into the wind on a 508-yard par-5, Padgham hit his driver on four strokes in a row and was still short of the green.

More About Alf Padgham

Harry Vardon and Dai Rees were among the British golf luminaries who were huge fans of Alf Padgham's swing. Vardon, according to Peter Alliss' The Who's Who of Golf (affiliate link), "declared it perfect," while Rees said that the swings of Padgham and Sam Snead were the best he'd seen.

"What had impressed them was the ease of the operation," Alliss wrote. "Padgham gave a lazy waggle, drew the club back three-quarter distance and then let the club flow into the ball."

The authors of the 1975 U.K. The Encyclopedia of Golf (affiliate link) called Padgham's swing "short and effortless ," but, they explained, Padgham "drove a long ball and his iron play was usually most accurate."

Early in his career, Padgham was a poor putter, although an excellent chipper. Finally, Alliss wrote, he decided to apply his successful chipping method (stance, arms and ball far away from body) to his putting. "It worked," Alliss wrote, "and for a while Padgham was a world-beater."

That "while" was 1934-36, when Padgham won 10 tournaments. Those wins included his 1936 Open Championship plus the 1934 German Open and 1935 News of the World Match Play. At the Match Play, second to The Open in prestige among U.K. tournaments at the time, Padgham defeated Percy Alliss, 3 and 2, in the championship match.

After his win in The Open in 1936, Padgham-branded golf clubs were sold in the U.K. and U.S.

Padgham came to national prominence as a golfer beginning in 1931, when he won his first News of the World Match Play championship. He was a regular winner throughout the decade of the 1930s, including additional national championships in 1932 (Irish Open) and 1938 (Dutch Open). Padgham won four times in 1934, five times in 1936, and twice each in 1938 and 1939.

He had multiple wins in the Silver King Tournament and the Dunlop-Southport Tournament, in addition to the News of the World Match Play. (Padgham reached the championship match of that event again in 1940, but lost to Henry Cotton on the 37th hole.) Overall, Padgham won 17 big tournaments during the 1930s.

Then World War II brought golf (among things) to a standstill in the U.K. and Europe. Padgham served in the Special Police during the war. He also played exhibitions to raise money for the Red Cross during the war.

On the other side of the conflagration, Padgham returned to tournament golf and won the Daily Mail Tournament in 1946 and Silver King Tournament in 1947. In his 40s by then, his competitive career wound down with a couple more wins in regional events.

During his heyday, Padgham was a three-time member of Team Great Britain in the Ryder Cup, but, alas, he has one of the worst Ryder Cup records of all-time: Padgham lost every match in which he appeared. He was 0-3 in singles matches and 0-3 in foursomes, zero wins, zero draws, six losses overall. Padgham's singles losses were to Gene Sarazen in the 1933 Ryder Cup; to Olin Dutra in the 1935 Ryder Cup; and to Ralph Guldahl in the 1937 Ryder Cup.

When he was just starting out as a professional, Padgham apprenticed at Royal Ashdown Forest in Sussex, England. In 1934, he became the pro at Sundridge Park, near Sevenoaks in Kent, England. And he was at Sundridge for the remainder of his career.

Padgham fell into ill health in his 50s. It forced him into retirement from Sundridge Park in 1964. He was only 59 years old when he died two years later.

Image credit: George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. "A.H. Padgham." The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

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