Denny Shute: Golfer Was 3-Time Major Champion

Golfer Denny Shute
Denny Shute was a PGA Tour golfer whose professional victories ranged from the late 1920s through the late 1930s. Those pro wins included three majors championships: one British Open and two PGA Championships. Shute was a golfer who was reserved on the course. A short-hitter, he relied on a stellar short game. He also played on three American teams in the Ryder Cup.

Full name: Herman Densmore Shute

Date of birth: October 25, 1904

Place of birth: Cleveland, Ohio

Date and place of death: May 13, 1974, in Akron, Ohio

Nickname: Denny, of course. Was sometimes called "the Human Icicle," but not because he was an unfriendly guy. He wasn't. He was just shy and quiet on the golf course, a player who did not want or seek attention. Shute sometimes asked his wife to accept the winner's check and trophy on his behalf in order to avoid the spotlight on himself.

Also known as: Is often referred to as Densmore Shute. In some older golf books, "H.D. Shute" was sometimes used.

Shute's Biggest Pro Wins

Denny Shute is credited with 15 official PGA Tour victories:
  • 1929 Ohio Open
  • 1930 Los Angeles Open
  • 1930 Texas Open
  • 1930 Ohio Open
  • 1931 Ohio Open
  • 1932 Glens Falls Open
  • 1932 Miami Biltmore Open
  • 1933 Gasparilla Open
  • 1933 British Open
  • 1934 Gasparilla Open-Tampa
  • 1934 Riverdale Open
  • 1936 Tropical Open
  • 1936 PGA Championship
  • 1937 PGA Championship
  • 1939 Glens Falls Open
Shute's wins off the tour included these titles:

His 3 Major Championship Victories

Shute won three majors (and as we'll see a little later, came close multiple other times): one Open Championship and two PGA Championships.
  • 1933 British Open: Just a couple weeks after blowing a big match at the Ryder Cup (more on that below), Shute recovered to earn his first major championship victory. Shute was three strokes off the lead after the third round. Shute scored 73 (the lowest round among the contenders) in the final round to tie Craig Wood at 292. The playoff was 36 holes, and Shute beat Wood by five, 149 (75-74) to 154 (78-76).

  • 1936 PGA Championship: In the PGA Championship's match-play era, Shute beat Billy Burke, 2 and 1, in the third round; Horton Smith, 3 and 2, in the quarterfinals; and Bill Mehlhorn, 1-up, in the semifinals. In the championship match, the short-hitting Shute faced long drive wizard Jimmy Thomson, who regularly outdrove Shute during the match by as much as 60 yards. But Shute's short game (as it always was for him) was the key, and he sank several long putts down the stretch of his 3-and-2 championship victory. Shute closed it out by hitting 3-wood from the 34th fairway to four feet from the cup and making the putt for eagle.

  • 1937 PGA Championship: Shute made it two in a row in the PGA Championship by beating "name" players in all six rounds. He defeated Joe Turnesa in Round 1, then Olin Dutra, Ed Dudley, Jimmy Hines in the quarterfinals and Tony Manero, 1-up, in the semifinals. The produced a championship match against Jug McSpaden. Shute and McSpaden traded the lead throughout the match, and McSpaden was 2-up with four holes to play. But Shute squared it by winning the 34th and 35th holes. After they halved the 36th, McSpaden missed a 10-foot par putt on the 37th, then Shute sank a 4-footer for the win.

Shute was the last golfer to win back-to-back PGA Championships for more than 60 years. Not until Tiger Woods' consecutive victories in 1999 and 2000 was there another back-to-back winner of that major.

At the time Shute won his third major title, he was one of only about 15 golfers who'd achieved that feat. Through 2023, there were still fewer than 50 golfers all-time who had won at least three men's major championships.

More About Denny Shute

When Densmore Shute won his first major at that 1933 Open Championship, it was also the first time he had played that major. And it remained one of just a handful of times he played it. Shute entered that Open only because he was already in the U.K. as part of Team USA for the 1933 Ryder Cup. Unfortunately for Shute, he went down in history as the goat of that Ryder Cup for his side.

The 1933 Ryder Cup came down to the last hole of the last match of the competition, Shute vs. Syd Easterbrook. They were all square, and the Cup was tied at 5.5 points per side.

If Shute won that last hole, he would win the match and the U.S. would win the Ryder Cup. If Shute halved the last hole, he would halve the match and tie the Ryder Cup, but Team USA, as the defending champion, would retain the cup. And if Shute lost the last hole he would lose the match and Team USA would lose the Ryder Cup.

You can guess what happened: Shute lost, and he lost became his short game, the strength of his game, failed him at the worst time. Shute three-putted that last green, running the ball four feet past on his first putt, then missing that comebacker. When Easterbrook sank his second putt, Team Great Britain & Ireland had the victory.

Shute had already come close in several majors by that point, without claiming one. So his victory in the Open two weeks after his Ryder Cup failure might have prevented a dreaded narrative — can't win the big one — from forming around Shute. As we've already seen, he definitely could win the big one.

At the 1929 U.S. Open, Shute would have made a playoff if he had parred out the final four holes. But he made two bogeys in that stretch and tied for third place behind eventual champ Bobby Jones.

In the 1931 PGA Championship, Shute reached the title match (beating Tommy Armour and Billy Burke in the quarters and semis, respectively), but fell to Tom Creavy, 2 and 1.

Shute first played in a major championship at the 1926 U.S. Open, and his final appearance wasn't until the 1972 PGA Championship. He had 20 overall Top 10 finishes, including reaching the semifinals of the 1934 PGA Championship, finishing fifth in the 1935 Masters and tied fourth in the 1935 U.S. Open.

He also came close to winning in two more U.S. Opens. In the 1939 U.S. Open, Shute was in a three-way playoff with Byron Nelson and Craig Wood. It was scheduled for 18 holes, but Nelson and Wood tied at 68 while Shute had a 76. Shute dropped out, a finish that was recorded as third-place. Nelson beat Wood for the title after a second 18-hole playoff between just those two.

Then, in the 1941 U.S. Open, Shute was the first-round leader before finishing in solo second place, three strokes behind Wood.

Shute's father, Hermon Shute, was a golf pro who emigrated from England in the early 1900s to become pro at Euclid Club in Cleveland, Ohio. That's where Denny was born in 1904. Three years later, after the family moved to Huntington, West Virginia, Denny was already swinging golf clubs. He developed a game that was short on power off the tee but long on precision around the greens.

Denny's brother, Larry Shute, later explained: "(Denny) played golf like he was taught by our dad — knock it down the middle, knock it on the green, and something good will happen."

Good things started to happen for Denny when he won the West Virginia State Amateur in 1923 and 1925. He added the Ohio State Amateur title in 1927, then turned pro in 1928.

He won the Ohio Open three years running, 1929-31, and many years later, at age 45 in 1950, added another Ohio Open title. The year 1930 was Shute's best, outside of his major championship seasons. He won three times, including his two biggest non-major titles — the Los Angeles Open and Texas Open.

His first appearance on Team USA was in the 1931 Ryder Cup. Shute partnered Walter Hagen to a big foursomes win; and in singles, he routed Bert Hodson, 8 and 6. Shute made a third appearance in the competition at the 1937 Ryder Cup, halving both his matches, including vs. Sam King in singles.

Shortly after that 1937 Ryder Cup, Henry Cotton won the 1937 Open Championship. A 72-hole match between Cotton and Shute, the reigning 2-time U.S. PGA champ, was arranged at Walton Heath and was dubbed a "world title" match. Cotton won, 6 and 5.

That same year, Shute was one of the "four masters" whose instruction was included in an instructional book published by Wilson Golf, From Tee to Cup by the Four Masters (affiliate link). Shute also worked for Montgomery Ward department stores, where the Denny Shute line of golf clubs were sold. He traveled the country from 1939-42, making promotional appearances and staging exhibitions on the company's behalf.

"Denny was a very quiet, reserved, shy man. But I saw him play a lot of golf. He was a lot better than people realize." — Byron Nelson
Shute never played a heavy tour schedule. PGA Tour records credit him with 283 career starts in official tour events, with 125 Top 10 finishes and 70 Top 5 finishes. In addition to his 15 victories, Shute was runner-up in 17 PGA Tour tournaments, and third place in eight.

Those second-place finishes include a playoff loss to Horton Smith at the 1929 Fort Myers Open. (He beat Smith in two other playoffs, at the 1934 Gasparilla Open-Tampa and 1939 Glens Falls Open.) Shute also lost a playoff to Ralph Guldahl at the 1939 Dapper Dan Open. After three second-place finishes in 1945, Shute rarely played the tour anymore outside of occasional appearances.

There was no senior tour in Shute's time, but after turning 50 he did play in the Senior PGA Championship and finished second in 1955.

Throughout his time on tour and after, Shute was a club pro and a sought-after instructor. He served as pro at Portage Country Club in Akron, Ohio, from 1948 until his retirement in 1971. Before that, Shute had worked at Lake Forest Country Club in Cleveland, York Temple and Brookside counry clubs in Columbus, Ohio, as well as at clubs in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

He was also an avid stamp collector with a large, valuable collection. Following his death at age 69 in 1974, Shute's stamp collection fetched $200,000 at auction.

Shute was elected to the PGA of America Hall of Fame in 1957, and to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2008. He is also a member of the Ohio Golf Association Hall of Fame, West Virginia Golf Hall of Fame, and Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.

Photo credit: "Denny Shute at the 1934 LA Open" by Los Angeles Times is licensed under CC BY 4.0 .

Popular posts from this blog