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!

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!

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 tournaments 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.  Braid 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. 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!