By: Claudia Mazzucco: On this day, May 11, 1928, Walter Hagen won the 63rd Open Championship at Royal St George’s. His total of 292 beat Gene Sarazen by two strokes. This was Hagen’s third Open title and the seventh time in eight years that the Open had been won by an American. He joined Harry Vardon in winning a second Championship at Royal St George’s.
Did You Know? Walter Hagen was the first native-born American to win The Open in 1922. In all, Hagen won the title four times in eight years.
Hagen spent much of the early part of the year in Hollywood on a film project. Then he and Gene Sarazen crossed the Atlantic in the Aquitania. Soon after his arrival in England he played a 72-hole match against Britain’s Archie Compston at Moor Park for the not inconsiderable sum of £500. He was unprepared for his huge-hitting opponent and Compston ended their four-round encounter at the 55th hole when Hagen fell 18 holes behind with 17 holes to play. Much to his credit, he shunned the high life, left the socializing to others and put in some serious practice for the Open.
He produced a dramatic turn-around in his game. Without a single 6 on his card, Hagen began with 75. A 73 in the second round left him three behind Jose Jurado from Argentina. Over the last 36 holes, he produced two superb rounds of 72, thanks mainly to a wonderful display of short game accuracy.
Video footage of Walter Hagen winning the 1928 Open Championship
With Bob Jones not in the field, the gallery had chosen Sarazen as the player to follow. Gene began the day level with Hagen but had two 73s. He was left ruing not only a 7 at the 14th in the second round but a 6 at the first in the final round. Compston was unable to match the aggressive brilliance of his head-to-head with Hagen, and finished a further shot behind in third place.
At the 15th, Hagen hit a delightful bunker shot to seven feet and made the putt for a 4 to make sure he kept ahead. His total of 292 was eight strokes better than his score six years earlier. He was presented with the Claret Jug by the club captain, the Prince of Wales, future King Edward VIII, with whom he became great friends.
Claudia M. Mazzucco is a researcher at Golf Channel and teacher of History of Golf at the PGA of Argentina, in Buenos Aires. She is the author of Legendary Lessons (2016), El Golf de los Tiempos, A Novel (2002) and The Guide of Golf Courses in Argentina (2003). She received the PGA Award from the PGA of Argentina in 2005