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17 October 2014

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Old Tom Morris

Old Tom Morris

Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library

The name of Tom Morris will forever be remembered as one of the early pioneers of golf, particularly in regard to the Open Championship, which he dominated in its first years along with Musselburgh's Willie Park snr.

Born in St Andrews in 1821, Morris started his adult life as a ball and clubmaker in the town, before taking up a post as the professional and “Keeper of the Greens” at Prestwick Golf Club, the home of the Open in those early days.

He used his local knowledge to good effect, winning the Championship in 1861, 1862 and 1864.

That same year he returned to his native St Andrews to take up a similar post and on the strength of his £50 a year salary as professional, and a further £20 for maintaining the links, he set up a club making business as a sideline. The company is still in existence in St Andrews to this day.

In 1867 he won the Open title for a fourth time, beating nine of his rivals, again over the Prestwick links. In those days the tournament played over three 12 hole rounds and Morris claimed the Moroccan leather belt awarded to the winner with a score of 170.

Despite it being the highest ever winning total using the three rounds of twelve holes format at Prestwick, it was a good enough score to win the title by two shots from Morris's old rival, Willie Park snr. At the age of 46 years and 99 days he set a record which still stands as the oldest winner of the Championship.

Acknowledged as a steady player whose habit of winning was down to not making bad shots, rather than making good ones, Old Tom had a reputation for being a very poor putter, something he had to learn to live with throughout his life, despite trying a number of solutions to rid himself of the problem.

Although Old Tom did not win the Open Championship again he did finish as runner-up to his son, “Young Tom Morris”, two years later, in 1869, losing out after the pair tied on 157 as his son had the better last round. He continued to play competitively and entered the competition regularly until 1896, missing out only when he felt the distance to travel was too great.

Old Tom Morris

© Hulton Getty

Instead it was his son “Young Tom” who took over his mantle, winning the title on four consecutive occasions from 1868-1872 (it was not held in 1871), before his death at the age of 24 on Christmas Day 1875.

Old Tom became renowned as a course architect, and left his impression on 75 courses around the world, including some of the greatest links in golf; Carnoustie, Muirfield, Cruden Bay, County Down, Lahinch and Nairn being amongst those who benefited from his knowledge.

He finally retired in 1904, at the age of 83 and died four years later after falling down some cellar steps.

Written by: Dave Low


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