The 1929 US Ryder Cup Team had to go back to playing with their wooden shaft clubs!

The 1929 US Ryder Cup Team had to go back to playing with their wooden shaft clubs!

The Ryder Cup match was being contested at the Moortown GC near Leeds, England in 1929. The US team had won the first, of what would become be a long history, on home soil at Worcester CC in 1927.  Now they were headed to England where they were going to have to go back to competing with their wooded shaft golf clubs.

The United States Golf Association had ruled in early 1925 that the golfers could use steel shaft clubs in tournament play. It was now 1929, but the Royal & Ancient GC which made the rules of golf for the entire world, except the USA and Mexico, had not yet made steel shaft clubs legal. Another challenge for the US players was that they would be playing with the smaller British golf ball.

The US team members knew this well in advance of the match. During the 1929 winter tour all members of the US team, except Walter Hagen, Leo Diegel and Horton Smith, had gone back to playing with wooden shafts. At age of 36 and 27 respectively Hagen and Sarazen had plenty of experience with wooden shafts. It was Smith the team was most worried about.  At age 20 he had played most of his life with steel. Smith had been the sensation of the winter tour with seven victories, but at Bellaire, Florida he had tried wooden shafts and finished out of the money.   

It wasn’t only the Ryder Cup in late April where the US golfers would be playing with wooden shafts. Next it was the British Open. Then they were headed back to Moortown for a tournament, followed by a French PGA tournament and the German Open in late May, before heading home. Before the team embarked for England April 11 on the steamship Mauretania, team Captain Hagen had Smith out on a Long Island golf course practicing with wooden shafts.

For the voyage to England Hagen had Smith rooming with Ed Dudley a native of Brunswick, Georgia, who was the new professional at Concord CC, south of Philadelphia. In 1924 as a 15-year-old in Joplin, Missouri, Smith and Dudley had first met when Dudley had come there to be the professional at a club in town. Before the ship had even set sail, Dudley had Smith in the ship’s golf store looking to see if there might be a wooden shaft driver that appealed to him. 

1929 Ryder Cup TTT

The Ryder Cup match was played on April 26 and 27 with all matches scheduled for 36 holes. The weather was very cold with hail and even heavy snow at times. There were ten men on each team, and two had to sit out each day. For the first day’s four foursomes (alternate strokes), Hagen sat Smith as the US took a 2-1/2 to 1-1/2 points lead. Dudley and Sarazen lost 2&1.

 It was Hagen’s belief that if one was good enough to be on the team then he should play. For the eight singles the next day Hagen sat Dudley and Johnny Golden. Smith played and won his match, but only one other American won and one managed to half his match. By a count of 7 points to 5 Great Britain captured the Cup, while their captain was benching the same two players both days.

Hagen told his team “You can’t win them all.” Hagen had lost by 10 & 8, to their captain George Duncan. Hagen said that the British victory would be good for golf, with even more interest at the next Ryder Cup in 1931. There were 10,000 spectators the first day and 15,000 the second day.  

Two weeks later playing with his wooden shafted clubs, Hagen won the British Open by six strokes. Americans Johnny Farrell and Leo Diegel finished second and third. England’s Percy Alliss, who sat on the Ryder Cup bench both days and would sit on the bench both days again in 1931, tied for fourth.

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