Cotton started his career as a professional golfer at the age of 17, and was known for working extremely hard at his game, often practising until his hands bled. Cotton placed great emphasis upon accuracy and differed from modern golf teachers in the great emphasis he placed upon the role of the hands in the golf swing.
He achieved fame during the 1930s and 1940s, with three victories in The Open Championship (1934, 1937 and 1948). His record round of 65, achieved during the 1934 Open Championship, led to the Dunlop golf company issuing the famous ‘Dunlop 65’ ball. Cotton placed 17 times in the top-10 at the Open. Cotton also succeeded in winning many titles on the European circuit during the 1930s.
Cotton was knighted in the New Year’s Day Honours of 1988, named Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG). This was reported in some media as a ‘posthumous knighthood’ because he had died by the time it was publicly announced. However, he had accepted the knighthood before his death, and it was made effective from the date of his death.