Cotton was born Jan. 26, 1907, at Holmes Chapel in Cheshire, England. He left private school at age 16 in a dispute with his cricket coach and set out to learn the trade of golf on his own terms. This meant dressing smartly but shunning the traditional jacket and tie, and behaving properly, but never subserviently. Encouraged by Harry Vardon, James Braid and J.H. Taylor, Cotton took his first head professional job three years later, but soon moved to the Waterloo Club in Brussels, where he was treated as an equal.
Cotton’s devotion to practice was almost maniacal for he believed the only secrets to becoming a champion golfer were hard work and strong hands. For hours upon hours, Cotton was known to hit balls from thick rough until his hands blistered and bled. It was an obsession that paid off in the 1934 Open at Royal St. George’s. With opening rounds of 67-65–132, Cotton set two scoring records and opened a lead that was insurmountable. Even with a 79 in the final round, Cotton was able to win by five strokes and end a run of overseas victors that had lasted since Arthur Havers’ triumph in 1923.
Cotton’s second Open Championship triumph came three years later at Carnoustie, where his final round of 71, shot in a downpour, was considered every bit as good as his record 65. That gave Cotton a two-stroke victory against a field that included every member of a United States Ryder Cup team captained by Walter Hagen which included Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Ralph Guldahl, Denny Shute and Henry Picard.