Saturday, October 4, 2008

Golf Legends - Old Tom Morris

Image Courtesy: Wikimedia

Simply put, he was the W.G. Grace of Golf. There is no better way to describe the grand old man of golf who rose to fame through the second half of the 1800’s. Born in the ‘home of golf’, he went on to win the Open Championship four times. Old Tom Morris started his career as an apprentice to Allan Robertson who was considered by many as the first professional golfer. Robertson, in fact taught Old Tom Morris the art of making Featherie balls which was the norm during those days. It was one of the changes in the game that led to Old Tom Morris parting ways with Allan Robertson. The reason was the Gutta Percha ball which was a new invention and the standard ball adopted in golf after the Featherie.

He was born in St Andrews but he moved to the West coast of Scotland to take over as the custodian of the links of Prestwick. He was back at St Andrews after being offered a royal annual salary of 50 Pounds which was a lot of money during that time. Tom Morris spent nearly 40 years as the greens keeper at St Andrews and in his honour the green on the 18th hole at St Andrews is named after him. He was a master of many trades. Not only was he one of the best golfers of his times, he was also a club maker, course designer and a greens keeper.

Although he failed to win the Challenge belt on his first attempt it was not to elude him for long as he went on to win it four times, in 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867. Contrary to popular belief, the Claret Jug was not the original prize for the winner of The Open. It was the Challenge Belt made of rich Moroccan Leather embellished with a silver buckle. Incidentally when the Claret Jug was first introduced in 1872, it was Young Tom Morris, son of Old Tom Morris who was the first owner of the Claret Jug.

A record that Old Tom Morris held for a really long time was that of the greatest margin of victory in a major. He won the 1862 Open by a margin of 13 strokes. It was a record that stood tall for a very long time till a certain player called Tiger Woods went on to win the U.S. Open in 2000 by a margin of 15 strokes. The record that Old Tom Morris still holds is that of the oldest winner of the Open Championship while his son, still holds the record for the youngest winner of the Open Championship. They became the only father-son pair to finish Winner and Runners Up when Young Tom Morris won the Open in 1869 and Old Tom Morris finished second. Together the two of them shared 8 Open Championships. Unfortunately Young Tom Morris passed away at the tender age of 24.

2008 happens to be the 100th anniversary of his death. After a fall down the new club at St Andrews, it is believed he never regained consciousness and died a few months later due to the injuries sustained by him.

One of the greatest quotes attributed to Old Tom Morris is one where he described the people of St Andrews by saying “We were all born with a webbed feet and a golf club in our hand here

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