From my beginnings in the professional game through to my peak in the 1950s, there were only three players with swings that really impressed me. The first was Bert Hodson, who was professional at Chigwell. He was in the 1931 Ryder Cup team. He was a good looking man and had a wonderful swing, smooth, rhythmical and very pretty to watch.
Then there was Hassan Hassanein from Egypt. He learnt on sand in bare feet and so needed wonderful balance to stop his feet sliding when he swung. His feet hardly moved and his heels remained very close to the ground.
He won the French and Italian Opens but came to Britain only once and I played with him. His swing was a treat to watch. I read in the paper soon afterwards that he had blown himself up cooking a meal in his house in the desert. He could have won many more tournaments.
But the best of them all was Dick Burton, 1939 Open Champion. His swing was so high that the head of the club travelled about 21 feet from start to finish. Watching golfers early in the millennium I would say that in the case of most leading players the clubhead only travelled 16 to 17 feet, although the American John Daly was an exception. Daly’s swing went right round his neck and it was awful to watch, although he was a long hitter.
Dick took the club back so far that his hands were two feet above his right shoulder at the top of the backswing. He had a good shoulder turn and would sweep the head right through so that his hands finished two feet above his head on the follow through. It was the prettiest swing I’ve ever seen.
I watched him win the 1939 Open at St. Andrews, just before the war started. It was fantastic to watch. I remember him teeing up on the 18th and driving the ball dead straight; it finished only 30 yards short of the ‘valley of sin.’
I was standing at the back of the green and watched him take a niblick. It nearly hit the flag, pitched 10-12 feet beyond it and stopped sharply with the backspin he had given it, leaving him a 14-foot putt with a borrow from the left of at least a foot.
He was a wonderful touch putter and had a very long, hickory-shafted putter with quite a bit of loft on it. He hit the putt so beautifully that as soon as it started to turn he had the nerve to walk off to the clubhouse, not looking at the ball and pulling his gloves off. It went straight into the middle of the hole and everyone roared. Only then did he look back.
If the war hadn’t started he’d have won the Open two or three times in succession, poor chap. I played with him at Hollingbury Park just after the war in the Spalding tournament and what a shock it was. His backswing was just up to his shoulder and barely horizontal.
He won only one tournament after the war. Those six years finished him.