08 Jul 2020 | Men's Australian Open | Feature stories | Professional golf |

Great Australian Moments 21: Whitton's fifth Open

by Martin Blake

Ivo Whitton_image
Photo: Royal Melbourne Golf Club

More than once, Ivo Whitton was referred to as Australia’s version of Bobby Jones, the American who won the Grand Slam, co-designed Augusta National, and who twice drew tickertape parades through the streets of New York.

Like Jones, Whitton chose not to turn professional despite being one of the finest golfers of his generation.

Born in Moonee Ponds in Melbourne, Whitton won an Australian Open at just 18 years and eight months old, in 1912 at Royal Melbourne – and was the youngest-ever winner until Aaron Baddeley’s victory at Royal Sydney a few days younger in 1999.

Nineteen years after Whitton’s first Stonehaven Cup win, in 1931 at The Australian, he completed a set of five Opens by triumphing again with what may well be his finest performance.

No one will know how many he could have won had his best years been interrupted by the first World War, during which he served in the Royal Gallery Artillery.

Whitton’s five Open victories was a record that lasted all the way until 1970, when the great South African Gary Player won his sixth, enroute to the landmark of seven titles.

The 1931 triumph in Sydney was notable for the 37-year-old Whitton coming from eight shots behind through three rounds. In horrid, windy conditions, he played what he later described as the round of his life for a 73 that included a double bogey from the bunker at the 18th.

At that point, he thought he had thrown it away with a three-putt to finish. “I saw my wife in the gallery and gave a gesture of disgust, and immediately felt my bid for victory was over,” he said later.

But the chasers, among them a 16-year-old Jim Ferrier, who would go on to become one of Australia’s greatest players, could not reach Whitton’s score of 301. He won by a shot from Ferrier and another teenager, Harry Williams.

His quest for another title caused much excitement, with the Sydney Morning Herald observing: “Members armed themselves with mufflers and overcoats and hurried out to see Ivo making the game look so ridiculous easy. He kept racing ahead in that cheery, good-to-be-alive way of his.’’

Interestingly, Whitton was experimenting with the new weapon of the day – steel shafts – and he certainly liked them, going by his commentary afterward. “One thing is definite. I get more yardage with steel shafts and, I am almost sure, a sounder sense of direction.”

He was managing director of the Spalding company at the time, so presumably, he had no problem extracting a good set of clubs.

Whitton also won two Australian Amateur titles and numerous state titles and Opens in his career and reached the final of the British Amateur, as well as taking nine club championships at Royal Melbourne. He represented Australia on the R & A rules committee for some years as well.

His five Stonehaven Cups sits only behind Player and Jack Nicklaus (6) and among Australians, only Greg Norman has matched that figure.

It’s good company.

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