In 1924, at the height of his powers, the diminutive English pro Cyril Walker beat all comers to win the 1924 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. But it’s not just that he beat all comers; he beat Bobby Jones, the most famous golfer in the world, in a final-round duel.

It was a model of consistent play at a tough Michigan course, and Walker—who came to the U.S. after a successful amateur career in England, and worked as a pro in New Jersey—secured himself both fame and a fortune…or at least enough of a fortune on which to build a solid career.


June 4, 1926: Competitors in the International Golf Tournament between Great Britain and America at Wentworth Park, Virginia Water, (left to right) F Robson (Britain), Fred McLeod (USA), Edward Ray (Britain) and Cyril Walker (USA).


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After that win, Walker began to play more events on the PGA circuit, and while he was reasonably popular with his fellow pros at the time of his U.S. Open win, he became increasingly ostracized for his maddeningly slow play. It got bad enough that tournaments began to put him at the tail end of fields, and often enough he’d be playing alone or with a marker, so much did the other players detest being paired with him. In one particularly antagonistic event, in Los Angeles, he was thrown out of the tournament for refusing to let the group behind him play through.

But slow play would become the least of Walker’s worries. He lost money in bad real estate investments and the 1929 stock market crash, he was arrested for assaulting a caddie at his club and later for driving while intoxicated, and by 1940 he had lost his job, left his wife and child, and was working as a caddie in Florida and spending his nights at the Salvation Army. Not long after that, at age 55, he checked himself into jail in Hackensack, NJ, with no other place to stay, and died that night of pneumonia.

What happened to Cyril Walker? How did this once-great champion fall so far, and so quickly? On this week’s Local Knowledge, we examine the strange life of the champion who has largely been forgotten to history, but whose life was singular in its tragedy.

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