Hermon Densmore “Denny” Shute is a familiar name only in golf’s most erudite circles. Certainly not a self-promoter, Shute was quiet, reserved and unassuming in life. He was so guarded against catching the gaze of the spotlight he would, at times, have his wife, Hettie, accept the trophies and checks on his behalf.
“[Shute] was about as loquacious as Calvin Coolidge,” wrote Herbert Warren Wind, comparing the golfer to the former President who, being a man of few words, earned the nickname “Silent Cal.”
While Shute wasn’t a vocal person, his golf game spoke volumes.Shute, whose father gave him his first set of clubs at just 30 months old, was a quick study. The son of an English pro, young Shute learned the game in Huntington, West Virginia. He won his first West Virginia State Amateur as a teenager in 1923, then won it again in 1925, and in 1927 added the Ohio Amateur to his burgeoning resume.
"I am particularly pleased to win as I feel it somewhat atones for missing that final putt at Southport."
“When Denny Shute was born his dad handed him a niblick in place of a nipple,” read an article in The Los Angeles Times.
“The advantages of this early beginning are simple,” wrote Franklin Porter in The Bystander. “Golf becomes as natural as walking, talking, eating with a knife and fork. In Denny’s case he began to play golf before he had mastered such two-syllable words as “divot,” “threeputt,” and “dammit,” unmistakable in their importance to the golfer.”
In a 10-year span, beginning in 1929, Shute won three major championships – the 1933 Open Championship and back-to-back PGA Championships in 1936-37 – claimed 12 additional PGA titles and competed on three Ryder Cup teams.
Impressive achievements, especially considering the fact that Shute declined to play the tournament circuit with the same frequency as other pros of the day. His limited schedule kept him from appearing near the top on the PGA of America’s 1936 money list.
“This is not, to be sure, a ranking of the professionals,” Wind wrote of the listing. “If it were, several changes in the lineup would have to be made. Room near the top would have to be found for Denny Shute.”
Denny Shute was the last man to win consecutive PGA Championships before Tiger Woods did so in 1999 and 2000.
Added Sam Snead, the all-time victory leader: “If he ever had the fever to play tournament golf, he’d of been the equal of me.”
Shute, nicknamed “The Human Icicle” because of his reticent and even-tempered manner, was among the shorter drivers of his era, but was deadly accurate with his iron play.
“I figured that when I stuck my second on the green he would be sorry he always made me play the odd and had to look at that white ball so close to the cup,” Shute said of Jimmy Thomson, after downing him 3 and 2 in the 1936 PGA.
Perhaps Shute’s even-keeled personality can best be summed up by his performance in 1933. During singles play at the Ryder Cup, Shute 3-putted from 30 feet on the final green and subsequently lost the Ryder Cup.
Days later, Shute went to The Open Championship at St. Andrews, shot four steady rounds of 73 and forced a playoff with Craig Wood, which Shute won.
“I am particularly pleased to win as I feel it somewhat atones for missing that final putt at Southport,” Shute said of his Open Championship victory.
Shute’s excitement went only so far, however. After raising the Claret Jug, Shute celebrated by quietly wiring home to his 1-year-old daughter.
“Denny was a very quiet, reserved, shy man,” Byron Nelson once said. “But I saw him play a lot of golf. He was a lot better than people realize.”