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!

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