A Short History of the British Open

Photo Courtesy of Dan Perry

Photo Courtesy of Dan Perry

Scotland held the distinction of the golf capital of the world in the nineteenth century.  In the 1850s, St. Andrews clubmaker Allan Robertson held the honor as the country’s (and the world’s, for that matter) best golfer, according to www.theopen.com.  After his death in 1859, a debate ensued as to Robertson’s successor.  Two influential members of the Prestwick Golf Club, the Earl of Eglinton and Colonel James Fairlie, decided that a tournament should be held at Prestwick to determine the greatest golfer in the world.  Clubs and golfing societies in Blackheath, Perth, Edinburgh, Musselburgh, and St. Andrews received letters asking them to send their best golfers to play a three-round, one day tournament on the 12-hole Prestwick course on October 17, 1860.  The winner would receive the Challenge Belt, a red Moroccan leather belt that featured silver panels of golfing scenes.  However, the winner would not receive any money.  Eight golfers participated in the first Open Championship.  Willie Park, Sr. from Musselburgh beat Tom Morris, Sr. from Prestwick by two strokes.  The Open Championship was off and running.

The tournament remained at Prestwick from 1860-1870, with the winners receiving the Challenge Belt to hold until the tournament the following year.  Prize money became part of the Open beginning in 1863.  Open officials retired the Belt as the winner’s prize after Tom Morris’ son, Tom Morris, Jr., won it three years in a row, whereby a rule stipulated that Tom Jr. could keep the Belt as his own.  Without a trophy of some type, the tournament skipped 1871.  That same year Prestwick officials agreed to join the Royal and Ancient of St. Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in Musselburgh in a three-site rotation to host the Open.  Prestwick held the Open in 1872 and the winner, Tom Morris, Jr., received a gold medal.   The first Claret Jug was presented to the winner of the 1873 Open, Tom Kidd.  However, Tom Morris, Jr. had his name engraved on the trophy (along with Kidd’s) as its first winner in 1872.  The Claret Jug has been awarded to the Open winner ever since.

During the 1890s, the Open became a four day, 72-hole event; the Royal St. George’s Golf Club in England hosted the tournament for the first time outside of Scotland; and because of the large number of participants, a cut after two rounds became a standard.  In 1920, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club assumed the responsibility for the staging and management of the Open.  The Open became an official PGA Tour event in 1995, meaning that any prize money won by a participant would be included in the official PGA money list (important for maintaining PGA Tour status and gaining exemptions into PGA-sponsored tournaments).

The Open rotates among ten links courses (generally treeless courses built along a coast that incorporate the natural uneven terrain of their locations).  These are the Old Course at St. Andrews; Carnoustie Golf  Links in Carnoustie, Scotland; Muirfield in Gullane, Scotland; the Ailsa Course at the Westin Turnberry Resort near Girvan, Scotland; Royal Troon Golf Club in Troon, Scotland; Royal St. George’s Golf Club in Sandwich, England; Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport, England; Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s Golf Club in Lytham St. Annes, England; Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England and Royal Portrush Golf Club in Portrush, Northern Ireland.   Besides the unique terrain, these courses are all affected by the weather, which can change dramatically in a matter of hours.  More so than the other majors, the weather can destroy a player’s round.

Professionals have dominated the Opens, as only six amateurs have ever won one.  The last amateur to win the Open was Bobby Jones in 1930, the year he won the Grand Slam (U.S. and British Amateurs and the U.S. and British Opens). England’s Harry Vardon holds the record with six Open titles (1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911 and 1914).   Those who won five include, England’s J. H. Taylor (1894, 1895, 1900, 1909 and 1913), James Braid from England (1901, 1905, 1906, 1908 and 1910), Australian  Peter W. Thomson (1954, 1955, 1956, 1958 and 1965), and American Tom Watson (1975, 1977, 1980, 1982, and 1983).  Scotland’s Tom Morris, Sr. won four (1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867) as did his son, Tom Morris, Jr. (1868, 1869, 1870 and 1872). Other notable winners are Jack Nicklaus (1966, 1970 and 1978) and Tiger Woods (2000, 2005 and 2006).  South Africa’s Gary Player holds the Open record with 46 appearances, including titles in 1968 and 1974.

The current Open field allows for 156 golfers chosen from various sources, including the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking; the top 30 in last season’s European Tour Race to Dubai and PGA Tour FedEx Cup; all previous Open Champions 60 years old or younger; winners of the other three majors within the last five years; the top 10 from the previous year’s Open; and the winners of the British Amateur and United States Amateur, as long as the winners are still amateurs. The Open winner receives about $1.8 million, and the tournament, since 1979, has been played during the week that contains the third Friday of July.

Inside Great Britain, the tournament is referred to as the Open or The Open Championship.  Everywhere else, it is referred to as the British Open.  Whatever the name, old Allan Robertson (hopefully, somewhere above us) must be proud of the tournament that was initiated to find the successor to his title as the greatest golfer in the world.

 

James Braid

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Born in Earlsferry, Fife, Scotland in 1870, James Braid became known as part of the Great Triumvirate, which included Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor. These golfers are generally considered Great Britain’s best of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Braid won the British Open five times and became a well-known golf course designer upon his retirement from professional golf.

Braid began to play golf at an early age and entered his first tournament at eight. As he grew older he developed an interest in club making and at 23 took a job in London as a club maker.

In 1896, Braid played in his first tournament as a professional, but while he drove the ball a long distance, his putting failures kept him from winning. So Braid switched to an aluminum-headed putter in 1900—most golfers were using wooden-headed putters at that time. His accuracy improved as did his scoring. Braid won the first of his British Opens in 1901—his others were in 1905, 1906, 1908, and 1910. He finished second in 1897 and 1909. His 1906 victory marked the last successful European defense of the title until Padraig Harrington accomplished the feat in 2008.

Besides his Open championships, Braid won the British PGA Match Play Championship in 1903, 1905, 1907, and 1911, and the 1910 French Open.  He won 17 professional tournaments in his career.

By 1912, Braid began to tire of professional tournaments and took a job as the club professional at Walton Heath Golf Club in Surrey, England, where he remained until his death. He also began a new passion—designing golf courses. Braid’s claim to fame was his use of the dogleg in many of his designs. Although such holes existed in some form centuries before Braid, he made them famous by including them in the layout of his courses. Braid designed over 200 courses in Great Britain, but his fear of flying and propensity for sea sickness kept him from overseas designs. Some of his more famous courses include “King’s Course” and “Queen’s Course” at Gleneagles Golf Club in Scotland, Stranraer Golf Club in Scotland, and Wrexham Golf Club in Wales. He also re-designed Carnoustie Golf Links and Royal Troon Golf Club, two of the current British Open venues, and Prestwick Golf Club, a former British Open site.

Braid, a founding member of the British Professional Golfers’ Association in 1901, became a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1976. He died in 1950. Cheers to one of the Great Triumvirates!

J. H. Taylor

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A member of the Great Triumvirate (along with Harry Vardon and James Braid), John Henry (J. H.) Taylor graced the earth in Devon, England in 1871. He won close to 20 professional tournaments, served as a Ryder Cup captain, and designed numerous golf courses in England.

Taylor became an orphan as a boy and started work as a caddie and laborer at Royal North Devon Golf Club in 1882.  He worked his way into a greenskeeper position and learned about course layout and maintenance.

At the age of 19, Taylor became a professional golfer and a year later won his first professional tournament, the Challenge Match Play in England. Taylor won the first of his five British Open Championships in 1894 and followed that with Open victories in 1895, 1900, 1909, and 1913. His early Open triumphs enticed the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club to name Taylor its golf professional, a job he held until his retirement in 1946.

Taylor finished second in the British Open six times and in the 1900 United States Open, an event he participated in twice. Among his professional victories, Taylor won two British PGA Match Play Championships, a French Open, and a German Open.

In 1901, Taylor co-founded and became the first chairman of the British Professional Golfers’ Association. This was the first professional golf association in the world. The United States Professional Golfers’ Association did not form until 1916.

Another of Taylor’s claims to fame happened in 1933 as he captained the British team to a victory over the United States in the Ryder Cup. He remains the only captain from either side never to have played in the Ryder Cup.

Throughout his golf career and retirement in the twentieth century, Taylor designed golf courses in England. Some of them include Frilford Heath’s Red Course, Hainault Golf Club’s Upper Course and Lower Course, Axe Cliff Golf Club in Devon, Batchwood Hall Golf Club in St. Alban’s, and Royal Birkdale Golf Club in Southport. Taylor became president of Royal Birkdale in 1957, a course still in the British Open Championship rotation for the men and the women.

Noting Taylor’s keen accuracy and ability to play in adverse weather conditions, the World Golf Hall of Fame inducted him into its facility in 1975. Taylor passed away in Devon in 1963. Cheers to another of the Great Triumvirate!

 

 

Willie Anderson

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Born in North Berwick, Scotland in 1879, Willie Anderson moved to the United States at the age of 16.  He was the first golfer to win four United States Opens—1901, 1903, 1904, and 1905.  He remains the only man to win three consecutive U. S. Open titles, and only Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus can equal his four U. S. Open championships.

Anderson began to develop his golf knowledge and skills at an early age, serving as a licensed caddie at 11 while in Scotland.  While in his teens, he also served as an apprentice club maker. Once in America, Anderson obtained a job as the golf professional at Misquamicut Golf Club in Rhode Island.   He worked at 10 different clubs in 14 years.

At 20 years of age, Anderson won his first professional tournament, the Southern California Open, but the U. S. Open became Anderson’s playground.  He played in the U. S. Open fourteen times from 1897-1910.  Besides winning four times, he finished in the Top 5 in 11 of the tournaments. He used the gutta percha ball to win the title in 1901 but won the other three with the newly invented Haskell rubber-cored ball. He still owns the honor of the only man to win U. S. Opens with the two different balls, one that he certainly will own in perpetuity.

Anderson also dominated the second-largest professional golf tournament in the United States at the time, the Western Open—winning in 1902, 1904, 1908, and 1909.  In the 1902 contest, Anderson became the first professional golfer in United States history to break a score of 300 in a 72-hole tournament.

His peers marveled at Anderson’s club accuracy and concentration under pressure.  These skills and his professional victories, particularly those in the United States Open, served as the basis for his election into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975.

Anderson died from epilepsy at the age of 31. Cheers to one of golf’s early greats!

The U. S. Open: America’s National Golf Championship

Dustin Johnson Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison

Theodore Havemeyer returned to his summer home in Newport, Rhode Island in 1889, after playing golf in southern France, determined to play the game again somewhere closer to home.  Havemeyer, and others like him, had a limited number of options for a round of golf in the Newport area or in the United States at that time.  While the game of golf had sprung deep roots in Scotland and England, it had inspired limited interest in the United States.  Those who played generally came from wealthy backgrounds and belonged to the smattering of private golf clubs around the country.  The undeterred Havemeyer persuaded some of the area’s upper crust–John Jacob Astor IV, Perry Belmont, and Cornelius Vanderbilt II–to buy a 140-acre farm property in 1893 with the intent to establish a golf club.  That club would become the Newport Country Club.  Not satisfied with a venue for his golfing buddies, Havemeyer wanted to host national championships at his new course.  In 1894, he held a tournament for some of the best amateurs in the United States at the new club.  That tournament would be one of two National Amateur Championships that year, the other held at the Chicago Golf Club.

Hoping for a single amateur championship every year, Havemeyer prompted a meeting in December at New York City’s Calumet Club with representatives of four other golf clubs:  St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, New York; Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on Long Island; The Country Club of Brookline, Massachusetts; and the Chicago Golf Club.  The representatives agreed that the Newport Country Club would host the first U. S. Amateur Championship, confined strictly to amateurs, and the first U. S. Open Championship, for professionals and amateurs, in 1895.  In addition, the representatives formed the Amateur Golf Association to administer the national amateur championship and the Rules of Golf for the United States.   Soon afterwards the name changed to the United States Golf Association (USGA) to order to include both amateurs and professionals, and Havemeyer became the USGA’s first president.  The U. S. Amateur trophy is named in his honor.

The U. S. Open started as almost an afterthought.  It took place the day after the U. S. Amateur at the Newport Golf Club in 1895.  Both tournaments were originally scheduled for September but were pushed back to October so as not to interfere with the America’s Cup yacht races, a more established Newport competition.  The first U. S. Open unfolded over a nine-hole course at the Club in a single day. Ten professionals and one amateur competed in the 36-hole competition for an overall purse of $335 and a $50 gold medal.  Englishman Horace Rawlins won the first tournament and the grand sum of $150, plus the gold medal.  By contrast, 2016 winner Dustin Johnson took home $1.8 million.

Because Rawlins was an assistant golf pro at the Newport Golf Club, the Club received the USGA-sponsored Open Championship Cup trophy.   Winners of the U. S. Open today take possession of the trophy until the next Open when it must be returned to USGA officials.

For a decade and a half British professionals won the U. S. Open Championship, but in 1911 John J. McDermott became the first American winner.  McDermott accomplished the feat again the next year before American amateur Francis Ouimet pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history.  At the Country Club of Brookline in 1913, Ouimet defeated in a playoff arguably the world’s best professional golfers of the day–Britain’s Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.  Considered one of the great upsets in sports history, Ouimet’s victory spurred an interest in golf in the United States that eventually would lead to the obsession that it is today.  After Ouimet’s triumph, the sport moved from that of the ultra-rich to a game shared by people from many different socio-economic levels.  According to USGA historian Michael Trostel, Ouimet’s conquest prompted the addition of about two million Americans to the list of golf participants over the next decade.  Also, more golf courses, both public and private, emerged in the United States to meet the demand.

The prestige of the U. S. Open grew rapidly and players from around the world competed for one of its coveted spots.   The USGA began sectional qualifying in 1924 to meet the demand.    The tournament ‘s and the sport’s popularity skyrocketed again in the 1920s as amateur Bobby Jones won three U. S. Open titles and then a fourth in 1930 on his way to winning the Grand Slam–U. S. Open, British Open, U. S. Amateur and British Amateur.  Only five amateurs have ever won the U. S. Open:  Jones, Ouimet, Jerome D. Travers (1915), Charles Evans, Jr. ( 1916), and John Goodman (1933).

The design of the U. S. Open courses over time has allowed only the best to win the tournament, and amateurs now have very little chance.  The courses today generally are very long with  narrow fairways and high primary rough around those fairways.  They also generally include undulating greens.  An example of such greens can be found at Pinehurst No. 2, of which NBC analyst Johnny Miller compares trying to land a shot on the greens to “trying to hit a ball on top of a VW Beetle.”  The vast majority of U. S. Open courses play at par 70.  All of these elements normally lead to a winning score somewhere close to par.  Because of this the U. S. Open has the reputation as the most difficult of the four majors–U. S. Open, British Open, the Masters, and PGA Championship–to play.

The U. S. Open format has changed several times since the inaugural tournament in 1895.  In 1896, the championship became a 72-hole contest with 36 holes played each day for two successive days.  The format changed again in 1926 with participants playing 18 holes for two successive days, then 36 holes the next day.  The current format took hold in 1965 as the contestants began to play 18 holes over four successive days.

Ties after 72 holes are decided by the players involved playing an additional 18 holes the next day.  If after 18 holes a champion has not been crowned then sudden death ensues. The first player to win a hole outright is declared the winner.  The U. S. Open is the only major that uses this playoff format.

While the U. S. Open’s four-day format provided more exposure for the tournament, television helped launch it to new levels of popularity beginning with ABC’s live coverage of the final two rounds in 1977, then ESPN’s live coverage of the first two rounds in 1982.  NBC became the first network to provide live television coverage of all four rounds.  Currently, Fox Sports televises the four-day spectacle.

Four men who have won the U. S. Open four times:  Willie Anderson (1901, 1903, 1904, and 1905), Bobby Jones (1923, 1926, 1929, and 1930), Ben Hogan (1948, 1950, 1951, and 1953), and Jack Nicklaus (1962, 1967, 1972, and 1980).  The United States has produced 82 U. S. Open champions with the rest of the 34 winners divided among England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and Argentina.

Fifty-one private and public courses have hosted the 116 U. S. Opens—Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pennsylvania has hosted 9; Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey boasts 7; Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Michigan can claim 6; while Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York; Merion Golf Club in Haverford Township, Pennsylvania; The Olympic Club in San Francisco, California; and Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, California have all hosted 5 U. S. Opens.  The 117th edition will be played at Erin Hills, in Erin, Wisconsin, a public course.

Today, more than 9,000 golfers participate in sectional qualifiers across the world hoping to claim one of the available spots in the 156 player field.  Qualifiers are open to men and women, both professional and amateurs.  However, an amateur must have a USGA Handicap Index no higher than 1.4 to participate in one of the sectionals.

After its meager beginnings in Newport in 1895 as a secondary sporting event, the U. S. Open now plays on some of the most majestic courses in America and holds the attention of the sporting world for four days in June every year.  Theodore Havemeyer would certainly be amazed at how the acorn he planted over 100 years ago has grown into the mighty oak that it is today.

 

America’s First Great Golfer: Francis Ouimet

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With all due respect to Bobby Jones, the title of “father of amateur golf” in the United States belongs to Francis Ouimet (pronounced wee-MAY).  Ouimet’s stunning victory in the 1913 United States Open spurred the growth of golf in America and a love affair with the sport that continues today.

Ouimet was born in May, 1893 in Brookline, Massachusetts during a time when golf in America had few players, no public golf courses, and only the wealthy could afford to play. He grew up in a working class family. The family moved across from the 17th hole at The Country Club of Brookline when Ouimet was four years old, and he showed interest in the game at an early age.  By 11, Ouimet had secured a job as a caddie at The Country Club.  Using old clubs and balls, Ouitmet taught himself how to play the game.  His natural ability earned him the reputation as one of the best high school golfers in the state.  Ouimet’s father believed golf and school offered very little future for his son and told Francis to find a job.  Francis landed a position in a dry goods store before landing a job with a sporting goods store owned by baseball hall of famer George Wright, one of the original players on the franchise now known as the Atlanta Braves.  Wright encouraged Ouimet to continue playing golf.

In 1913, Ouimet won his first tournament of any significance, the Massachusetts Amateur Open.  That win propelled him to the United States Amateur Open where he lost in the quarterfinals at the Garden City Golf Club in New York City in September.  Soon afterwards, Robert Watson, president of the United States Golf Association, asked Ouimet to play in the United States Open later that month at The Country Club of Brookline, a course Ouimet knew very well.  The U.S. Open that year changed its playing date from June to accommodate the schedules of the first and second ranked golfers in the world at the time—British greats Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

Ouimet had never played in a U.S. Open but found himself tied with the two British stars after 72 holes.  In one of the greatest upsets in sports history, Ouimet beat Vardon and Ray the next day in the rain during an 18-hole playoff.  A 20-year old amateur beat the two best golfers in the world—Ray by six strokes and Vardon by five. Ouimet’s stunning victory became the catalyst for the growth and popularity of the game in the United States.

Players from England and Scotland had dominated the sport in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century.  In America, mostly members of private clubs played the game during this time and very few public courses existed. According to the World Golf Hall of Fame, about 350,000 Americans played golf in 1913. Ten years later, over two million Americans played golf and private and public courses sprang up across the country to keep up with the demand.

Ouimet won 27 tournaments as an amateur, including the 1914 and 1931 U.S. Amateur Opens.  He came close to winning several other U.S. Amateur Opens during the 1920s, but many of those championships belonged to another great amateur, Bobby Jones.  Ouimet was the first person to win both the U.S. Amateur Open and the U.S. Open.  Also, Ouimet played on the first eight Walker Cup teams and was Captain of the next four. His teams compiled a record of 11-1.

Because of his ambition to move up into the middle class, Ouimet remained an amateur his entire life and focused his attention on the business world.  Golfers in Ouimet’s era found it difficult to become wealthy playing golf.  How times have changed!

Only ten years after winning the U.S. Open, Ouimet had become a banker and stock broker.  In later years, he became a successful financial adviser.

In 1949, a group of Ouimet’s friends started the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund.  The Fund gives college scholarships to young caddies in Massachusetts.  To date, more than 5,100 young men and women have received over $26 million in scholarship money.

Ouimet, in 1955, received the Bob Jones Award–the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship in golf. The World Golf Hall of Fame inducted Ouimet along with Jones, Vardon and six others into its first class for men in 1974.

The “father of amateur golf” passed away in Newton, Massachusetts in 1967 at the age of 74. Cheers to the great Francis Ouimet, America’s first golf hero!

 

Harry Vardon: One of Golf’s Greatest

 

 

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James Braid, J.H. Taylor, and Harry Vardon formed the Great Triumvirate that ruled the golf world in the mid-1890s through the mid-1910s. Arguably, Vardon was the best of the three. He is the only person to ever win six British Opens. Also among his 62 professional victories was the 1900 United States Open. The World Golf Hall of Fame (inducted Vardon in the original class of 1974) calls Vardon “golf’s first superstar.”

Born in Grouville, Jersey in 1870, Vardon learned the game as a caddie during his teen years and later took a job as a greenkeeper at Studley Royal Golf Club in Ripon, Yorks in 1890.   A year later, Vardon took the job as club professional at Bury Golf Club, a position he held for five years before taking the same position at Ganton Golf Club in Yorkshire.

Vardon became the first professional to wear knickerbockers, famously worn by Payne Stewart in more recent times. Sporting his unusual attire, Vardon won the first of his six British Opens in 1896. He would win the Open again in 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911, and 1914. He finished second four times. Vardon played in three United States Opens, winning in 1900 and finishing second in 1913 and 1920. At the 1913 US Open, 20-year old American amateur Francis Ouimet stunned the golf world by defeating Vardon in an 18-hole playoff. Ouimet’s upset is generally credited as the reason behind the game’s increased popularity in the United States.

Besides his sartorial splendor, Vardon is known for his club grip. The Vardon grip is the one most used by professional golfers today. With this grip, the golfer places the little finger of the upper hand between the index and middle finger of the lower hand while gripping the club. This grip, upright stance, and relaxed swing helped Vardon hit his shots higher and longer than his contemporaries. According to the World Golf Hall of Fame, Vardon had “a swing that repeated monotonously.” Both the PGA Tour of America and the European Tour award trophies named for Vardon—the PGA of America awards the Vardon Trophy to the player with the lowest adjusted scoring average for the year and the Harry Vardon Trophy now goes to the winner of the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, similar to the FedEx Cup in the United States.

In 1903, Vardon was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was in and out of medical facilities battling the disease until 1910. Afterwards, his hands shook while putting. Even though he won two British Opens after contracting the disease, golf historians wonder how many more tournaments Vardon could have won if not for tuberculosis.

In his later years, Vardon designed golf courses, coached golf and wrote instructional books. He passed away in 1937 after a bout with either pleurisy or lung cancer, and in 2000, Golf Digest ranked Vardon the 13th best golfer of all time. Cheers to one of the greats, Harry Vardon!

Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris

 

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Old Tom Morris on the left and Young Tom on the right

Two of the early pioneers of golf made their mark in Great Britain in the nineteenth century.  They just happened to be father and son—Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris.

Old Tom was born in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1821 and later became an apprentice to Allan Robertson in the city. Robertson is considered by golf historians to be the first professional golfer. He made balls stuffed with feathers and taught the skill to Morris. Legend has it that when the two played together against other golfers, they never lost. However, when the gutta percha ball came into being, this caused a permanent rift between the two men. Robertson steadfastly adhered to the feathery ball and wanted Morris to do the same, but Morris realized that the new ball would change the game for the better and moved to Prestwick Golf Links in 1849.

At Prestwick, Morris became the “greenskeeper.” Prestwick hosted the first British Open in 1860 and Morris finished second. However, Morris won four Opens in the decade—1861, 1862, 1864, and 1867.

Morris returned to St. Andrews in 1865 as the club’s greenskeeper, a position he held until 1904.  He also established a shop for making clubs near the 18th green. Today, the 18th green at St. Andrews is named in his honor.

Besides being known as a skillful keeper of the grounds, Morris designed or remodeled about 75 golf courses, including Pestwick, Royal Dornoch, Muirfield, Carnoustie, Royal County Down, Nairn, and Cruden Bay. In 1899, Morris had an apprentice groundskeeper by the name of Donald Ross, widely known as one of the best golf course designers in the history of golf.

Morris still holds two British Open records—oldest champion (age 46 in 1867) and largest victory margin (13 in 1862). He also participated in every Open through 1895. Old Tom Morris passed away in 1908, but he outlived his son by about 30 years.

Young Tom Morris was also born in St. Andrews, in 1851.  Many golf historians consider Young Morris the best golfer of his time. He trained under his father at Prestwick and beat his dad for the first time at the age of 13.  At 14 Young Morris played in the British Open for the first time and at 16 he won a professional tournament at Carnoustie.

Young Morris won his first British Open in 1868 at the age of 17.  He still holds the record for the youngest to win one of the four major championships –British Open, United States Open, the Masters, and the PGA Championship. Old Morris finished second, which marked the only time that a father and son finished first and second in any major event.

Young Morris captured the Open title again in 1869 and 1870. The winner of the Open during this period received a belt entitled the Challenge Belt. However, the rules stipulated that if anyone won the belt in three successive years then that person would permanently own the belt. Morris took the belt after his 1870 title, which left the Open with no prize to give out the next year. In fact, the Open did not take place in 1871 largely because officials could not decide on what to give the winner. For the 1872 Open, the officials came up with the Claret Jug, which is awarded to the Open champion to this day. Fittingly, Young Morris won the first Claret Jug in 1872.

Morris died on Christmas day in 1875 of an unknown ailment. Several months earlier his wife and baby died while she was giving birth. Many people at the time surmised that he died of a broken heart.

Both Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris are members of the World Golf Hall of Fame. They both played an integral role in the development of the game during the last half of the 19th century and laid the foundation for the game as it moved into the 20th century. So raise a pint in honor of two golf pioneers!

Lord Byron Nelson: The Gentleman from Waxahachie

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Byron Nelson impacted the game of golf for decades.  He played as a child into his 90s, established a record win streak that may never be broken, became the first professional golfer to have a PGA TOUR tournament named after him, served as a golf commentator for ABC, mentored young golfers such as Tom Watson, developed the modern golf swing, and performed as an honorary starter at The Masters for years after he retired from playing.  However, his gentlemanly demeanor that set the standard for sportsman-like conduct may be his greatest contribution to the game.

Born in Waxahachie, Texas in 1912, John Byron Nelson, Jr. learned at an early age the tenets of Christianity from his parents.  His faith dictated the way Nelson carried himself and treated others throughout his life.  His fellow golfers considered him to be the perfect gentleman, which inspired The Atlanta Journal’s O. B. Keeler (Bobby Jones’ friend, mentor and biographer) to give Nelson the nickname of “Lord Byron.”

Nelson began learning the game as an eleven-year old caddie at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.  Three years later Nelson defeated fellow caddie and future golf great Ben Hogan in a tournament at the club.

By 1932, Nelson had elevated his game to that of a professional and earned a job as the golf professional at the Texarkana Golf Club two years later.  During the early 1930s, Nelson, like many golfers, switched from hickory-shaft woods to steel ones. He quickly realized a difference between swinging wood-shaft clubs and steel-shaft clubs.  With the way hickory shafts curved in the backswing, a golfer had to keep his lower body mostly still and generate power with his hands. Nelson recognized quickly that to be successful with steel-shaft clubs his swing would have to be redeveloped.  Nelson began to stand more upright and use his legs and feet to generate power.  He found that taking the club back straight, keeping his left arm rigid and with very little torque, he could keep the club head square through the hitting plane. Nelson then ascertained that he must keep his head still while his body shifted past it during the downswing.  Once he mastered his redesigned swing, Nelson found that he could repeat it easily and precisely.  He also found that his swing hit the ball with a more direct impact, which caused it to travel farther.  Consequently, Nelson is credited with developing the modern golf swing.  He also receives credit for designing the modern golf shoe and inventing the golf umbrella.

He joined the PGA TOUR in 1935 and won the New Jersey State Open that year for his first TOUR victory. That victory began an eleven year run that would witness 52 tournament championships, including the 1937 and 1942 Masters Tournaments, the 1939 United States Open, and the 1940 and 1945 PGA Championship titles.

The 1945 season for Nelson established him as one of the all-time great golfers.  He won eleven tournaments in a row and seven others, and he averaged 68.33 strokes per round, a record that stood until 2000 when Tiger Woods averaged 67.8.

Nelson retired from the TOUR to become a rancher in 1946, but never strayed far from the game.  He played on the 1947 United States Ryder Cup team and captained it in 1965.  Nelson came out of retirement briefly in 1951 to play the Bing Crosby Pro-Am and won the tournament for his last PGA TOUR victory.  He would play The Masters numerous times after retiring from the TOUR, finishing 15th in 1965.  While managing the ranch, Nelson also had time to mentor young golfers such as Ken Venturi and Tom Watson and serve as a golf commentator for ABC television in the 1960s into the 1980s.

His most enduring accolade may be the golf tournament renamed for him.  The Dallas Open became the Byron Nelson Classic in 1968 (it is now called the AT&T Byron Nelson).  The Salesmanship Club of Dallas organizes the tournament.  Much of the tournament proceeds go to help at-risk youth at the Salesman Club Youth and Family Centers in the Dallas area.  Nelson’s tournament has raised more than $100 million for the charity and became a special interest to him for years. Nelson in 2000 stated, “It (the tournament) has meant more to me, golf-wise, than anything.”

The gentleman from Waxahachie became one of the original eleven male inductees into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 and passed away in 2006 at the age of 94.  Lord Byron arguably contributed more to the game of golf than any one individual and did so with a charm and grace unparalleled in the sport.  Some golf historians claim Nelson was the greatest golfer that ever lived.  While that may be debatable, everyone who ever encountered him would agree that Nelson had a gift for making people feel special, and that may be the greatest compliment one person can give to another.  Cheers to Lord Byron Nelson!

The Players Championship and TPC Sawgrass

 

 

Courtesy of Craig ONeal

Courtesy of Craig O’Neal

Professional golf split into two organizations in 1968: the PGA of America and the PGA TOUR.  Founded in 1916, the PGA of America consists of local club and teaching professionals at golf courses throughout the country.  This group focuses on growing the game of golf and working closely with amateurs.  Also, this organization oversees the PGA Championship each year.  The PGA TOUR operates as the organization for professionals who play in tournaments. It hosts almost 50 events each year and consists of the PGA Tour, the Champions Tour, and the Web.com Tour.  The PGA TOUR does not host one of the professional Majors:  the Masters, the British Open, the United States Open or the PGA Championship. The fact that the PGA TOUR hosted no signature event led to then-PGA TOUR commissioner Deane Beman’s brainchild:  the Tournament Players Championship.

Beman sought to have a championship for the PGA TOUR, much like the PGA Championship for the PGA.  Only recently split from the PGA of America, the PGA TOUR, according to Beman, needed to establish important events that would lure the television networks and the money they could provide.  The Tournament Players Championship became the first of such events.  Later, the World Series of Golf (currently, the WGC-Mexico in Mexico City, the Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, TX, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, OH, and the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China), Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament and Arnold Palmer’s Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge became PGA Tour mainstays.  All of these tournaments helped establish credibility for the PGA TOUR and attract much needed television revenue.

The Tournament Players Championship (TPC) teed off in 1974 at the Atlanta Country Club.  Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural tournament in early September and would win three out of the first five TPCs.  The event moved to the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas for 1975, then in 1976 to Inverrary Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  The event moved to Sawgrass Country Club’s Oceanside Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida for a mid-March date in 1977 and remained there until 1982 when the Stadium Course at TPC at Sawgrass opened.

Before the construction of the Stadium Course, Beman envisioned a special and unique site for the Players Championship.  He believed the players of the PGA TOUR should own the event and the host site.  Beman sold his idea to landowners Jerome and Paul Fletcher, who liked it so much that they offered to sell 415 acres of wooded wetlands and swamp to the PGA TOUR for $1.  This land served as the basis for the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course.

Beman told Dye that he wanted a course that would favor no specific player or style of play.  The course had to be balanced; must contain a selection of short, medium and long holes within the categories of par-3s, par-4s and par-5s; and had to have right and left doglegs.  Also, the course must not have two consecutive holes played in the same direction so that wind direction would have a more balanced influence on the players.

Because the site was to be built on wetlands and amidst heavy woods, Dye created lakes for strategic play of a hole and for fill necessary to create contours of play and “stadium” mounding, according to TPC.com.  Spectator viewing became an integral part of Dye’s design. Strategic viewing areas lined the 1st and 10th tees and the 9th, 16th, 17th and 18th greens.  These mounds allowed thousands of spectators to have unobstructed views of play.

The famous 17th island hole came about by accident.  Dye originally designed the green near a small pond. However, constructors continually dug out valuable sand around the pond until the green was surrounded by water, and arguably the most famous par-3 hole in golf emerged.

The event changed its name to the Players Championship in 1988.  The event and TPC Sawgrass are indeed owned by the players and the tournament has the richest purse of any tournament on the PGA TOUR, $10 million in 2015.  The field consists of 144 players chosen by various criteria, including rankings, PGA TOUR victories and Majors titles.  Players can also receive invitations from the Players Championship Committee.  Winners of the Players Championship receive exemptions of five years on the PGA TOUR, three-year exemptions for the Masters and British Open, and an exemption for the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship later that year.

Beginning in 2007, the Players Championship moved from its March date to its current May date in a restructuring that accommodated the new FedEx Cup, which concludes with the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta in September.  Players now have a significant event for six consecutive months beginning in April (The Masters in April, The Players Championship in May, the U.S. Open in June, the British Open in July, the PGA Championship in August, and the Tour Championship in September).

The Players Championship has become known as golf’s fifth major because of its lucrative purse, exemptions and FedEx Cup points awarded (the same as the four Majors). TPC Sawgrass offers a challenging, yet fair, golfing experience for players of all levels, professional and amateur, while the course contains one of the most famous par -3s in golf, the 17th island hole.  It may have taken a few decades, but Beman and the PGA TOUR found their signature event.