IT’S hard to believe this year marks the 50th anniversary since the passing of one of Australia’s greatest golfers – an amateur at that.
Ivo Whitton, who was born in 1893 and died in 1967 aged 73, was a legend in Australian golfing circles.
In the modern game, it’s hard to imagine his golfing feats being eclipsed.
For a start he is, along with Greg Norman, the only Australian to have won the Australian Open five times.
Of course, we all remember how good the Shark was but let’s not forget Whitton played golf in a coat and tie, wore plus fours and a floppy hat.
What is even more remarkable about this extraordinary amateur golfer is he played with only six clubs in his bag – a two-wood, a one-iron, a five-iron, seven-iron, a wedge and a putter.
Oh, and he played off a +8 handicap.
So, let’s trawl through history as a reminder of Ivo’s magnificent golfing achievements.
His golfing CV tells us he also won two Australian amateur championships and nine state amateur titles including five Victorian, one New South Wales and three Queensland amateur titles.
A modest and unassuming man, the king of amateur golf in Australia also captured 17 club championships – nine at Royal Melbourne, four at Barwon Heads, three at Metropolitan and one at Flinders.
Born at Moonee Ponds in Melbourne, Whitton took up golf aged 12 after the school dropped him from the cricket team.
His father Percy was a keen golfer and young Ivo got started in golf by practising with his dad’s old two-wood.
He joined other boys who had designed a five-hole layout in a paddock near his home at Caulfield because in those days young boys were often hounded off the golf course.
Apparently, golf club officials were terrified the sight of young boys on the golf course might offend licensing authorities and cost them their liquor license.
But cricket remained Whitton’s passion and in 1906 he captained Melbourne Grammar’s Preparatory School team.
Overlooked when he entered high school, Ivo decided to concentrate on golf as his public servant father was honorary secretary at Caulfield Golf Club, which later became Metropolitan Golf Club.
At 14, Whitton joined the golf club on a handicap of eight and won his first trophy two months later.
It didn’t take him long to make the club’s pennant team and by the time he was 16 he was their number one player.
In one match, he played against the Hon. Michael Scott, who was Australia’s leading golfer with two Australian Open titles and four Australian amateur titles under his belt.
Starting nervously, young Ivo was five-down after 12 holes but rallied to be all square on the 18th tee.
Scott won the match one-up, but the result had golfing aficionados predicting a huge future for Whitton.
In 1911, Whitton started work at a wool broking company, which allowed him time off to play golf.
A year later, just as the critics had predicted, Whitton won the first of his five Australian Open titles.
He led from go to whoa to finish five strokes ahead of Dan Soutar and Fred Popplewell.
But a few days after the event the Australian Golf Union (AGU) decided to investigate claims that Whitton had breached the rules during the third round.
According to spectators, Whitton had hit his tee shot at the 14th hole into an unplayable lie in thick bush.
A rules official told Whitton he could take a two-shot penalty and drop the ball in line with where it had landed, which he did.
Whitton played on and walked off the par-3 14th with a six.
The spectators argued he should have gone back to where he hit the tee shot.
After the two-hour hearing, the AGU decided in Whitton’s favour but the case was referred to the R&A in Scotland and they ruled that Whitton should have been disqualified.
The AGU ignored the advice and Whitton remained the champion.
A year later (1913) he continued on his winning way with a record-breaking score of 302 to finish three strokes clear of amateur A.R. Lempriete, who was his boss at the wool firm.
Dan Soutar was the nearest professional on 317 – 15 shots behind Whitton.
During World War I (1914-18), Whitton went to England and served with the Royal Garrison Artillery when rejected by the Australian Imperial Force.
In 1920, he won the Helms Award as the most outstanding Australasian athlete and returned to the wool industry as a wool appraiser for the Australian government.
Later he became general manager for the Spalding sporting good company.
Critics said his passion for business had destroyed his interest in winning tournaments, but he won the Australian amateur in 1923 and 1924 and captured his third Australian Open at Royal Adelaide in 1926.
In 1929, he won his fourth Open – again at Royal Adelaide.
Two years later, at age 38, he outclassed Jim Ferrier and Harry Williams to win his fifth Open title.
Going into the final round at The Australian Golf Club, Whitton was in eighth place.
Playing in a gale, he went out in an amazing 33 strokes to lead Ferrier by one stroke and finished with a 72 to stay in front.
Unfortunately, Whitton lost his beloved felt hat at the tournament and predicted he would probably never win again without it.
Throughout his career, Whitton was deadly accurate with his woods and played his irons as well as anyone in the professional ranks but he excelled around the green.
His deadly accurate short game mostly left him with a simple tap-in.
Whitton’s record five Australian Open titles remained intact until South African Gary Player reached his sixth and seventh in 1970.
Whitton was club captain at Royal Melbourne from 1947-50 and was Australia’s representative on the R&A’s Rules of Golf committee from 1948-53.
In 1960, the Victorian Golf Association established the Ivo Whitton Trophy for the lowest average stroke score in designated tournaments held each year and Royal Melbourne Golf Club instituted the Ivo Whitton Cup in his memory.
Well played, Ivo Harrington Whitton.
Ivo Whitton – Tournament wins
1912 Australian Open, Riversdale Trophy
1913 Australian Open. Riversdale Trophy
1919 Victorian Amateur
1920 Victorian Amateur
1922 Australian Amateur, Victorian Amateur
1923 Australian Amateur, Victorian Amateur, Queensland Amateur
1924 Victorian Amateur
1925 Riversdale Trophy
1926 Australian Open, Riversdale Trophy
1928 Queensland Open
1929 Australian Open, New South Wales Amateur
1931 Australian Open