BY PAUL MAHONEY
#5 YOUNG TOM MORRIS,
OLD TIME GOLF
RORY MCILROY HAS BECOME GOLF’S
latest superstar by winning the 111th
U.S. Open Championship at Congressional Country Club last month. The
22-year-old Northern Irishman also
reached across the centuries to become
the youngest European major champion
since Scotland’s Young Tom Morris won
his fourth and final major at the 12th
British Open Championship at Prestwick
in his homeland in 1872.
Young Tom was golf’s first superstar
and still its youngest major winner after
victory as a 17-year-old at the 1868 British Open. But Young Tom was also the
sport’s James Dean – a tragic hero. Aged
just 24, he died of a broken heart. After
the death of his wife in childbirth, he hit
the bottle with such vengeance that an
artery burst in his lung.
He was playing a money match with
his father, Old Tom, against brothers
Willie and Mungo Park at North Berwick
when he received a telegram requesting
his immediate return home. His wife,
Margaret, had gone into a difficult labor.
But when Young Tom got there, his wife
and newborn baby were dead. Young Tom
died four months later, on Christmas
While Old Tom was also the father of
the game, inexorably linked to St Andrews
and Prestwick, Young Tom took it to new
levels and captured the imagination of
thousands of fans and the media. London
newspapers and magazines even sent
correspondents to Scotland to cover his
challenge matches in the 1870s.
Young Tom was only 5-foot-8-inches
tall but had a sturdy build and legend has
it that he thrashed at the ball with such
power that his wooden clubs would often
snap under the strain. But he had finesse,
too, inventing wedge play with a rut iron, a
club designed to escape from cart tracks
and rabbit ditches. He taught himself to
use it like a sand wedge to pop the ball up
and over bunkers.
While Old Tom was
also the father of the
game, Young Tom took
it to new levels and
captured the fans.
He mastered the pitch-and-run shot
from distance, too, calling it a jigger,
which is now the name of the pub next to
the 17th green of the Old Course at St Andrews. He even carried two putters: one
with a soft wooden head for good greens
and a one with an iron head for the more
common rough and bumpy greens.
The Rev. W. Proudfoot, of St Andrews
wrote: “Tommy was the embodiment of
masterful energy. Every muscle of his
well-knit frame seemed summoned into
service. He stood well back from the ball,
and with dashing, pressing, forceful style
of driving, which seldom failed, sent it
whizzing on its far and sure flight.” You
can picture him on the links thrashing his
rivals in his best suit and flat cap.
This year’s champion at the 140th British Open will see that the first name on the
Claret Jug is that of Young Tom, with that
fourth straight victory at the 12th championship in 1872. There was no tournament
the previous year because Young Tom had
been awarded the British Open Moroccan leather belt after his third win in 1870
and not enough money had been raised to
provide a new prize in time for 1871. The
Claret Jug would cost £ 30 (about $50).
Young Tom’s victory in 1872 signaled
the end of Prestwick’s exclusive hosting of the championship as the Royal &
Ancient Golf Club, St Andrews and the
Honorable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Musselburgh joined Prestwick Golf
Club to form an early British Open rota.
This year’s venue, Royal St George’s at
Sandwich, Kent, was next to join in 1894.
Young Tom recorded scores of 57, 56 and
53 in 1872 to beat Davie Strath by three
shots. Old Tom finished tied fourth, 13
shots adrift. Young Tom came in third
the following year to Tom Kidd, and then
runner-up to Mungo Park in 1874. It is
thought Young and Old Tom didn’t enter
in 1875 due to the death of Young Tom’s
wife. By the end of the year, the greatest
golfer of his generation was dead.
Young Tom made his debut in the
British Open in 1865 as a 14-year-old
but he dropped out of the event in the
year that official scorecards were introduced. In 1866, Willie Park Sr. (who also
triumphed at the inaugural British Open
in 1860) won the third of his four titles.
Young Tom finished ninth, 18 shots A