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17 October 2014

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Young Tom Morris

Young Tom Morris

Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library

Prior to the 1868 event there had been eight previous Open Championships commencing with the inaugural competition in 1860.

In the early days, the championship, which had always been held at Prestwick Golf Club in Ayrshire, was played over three rounds, as opposed to the four that we have today, with each round consisting of twelve holes, rather than eighteen.

The first tournaments did not attract a big entry, with only the few Scottish professionals of the time competing in the initial event and although the following year the field was augmented by the inclusion of amateurs, participant numbers seldom rose above a dozen.

These early competitions were dominated by Willie Park senior, from Musselburgh and Old Tom Morris, originally from St Andrews but at the time the professional at Prestwick.

“Old” Tom had won his fourth and last title in 1867, but his son “Young” Tom had developed into a fine player and had been competing as a professional since the age of thirteen. To this day he is still the youngest player ever to compete in the Open aged only fourteen in 1865.

The year after his father's last success, when he himself had finished fourth, Young Tom won his first Open title, with a record low score.

His 36 hole total of 154 gave him a five shot winning margin over Robert Andrew around the par-48, 3,799 yard course. His score was nine shots lower than the previous championship best. The highlight was the first ever recorded hole in one in the tournament, when Young Tom holed his tee shot at the 145 yard 8th hole.

At the age of 17 years, 5 months and 8 days at the time of his triumph, he is still the youngest ever player to win the championship.

Young and Old Tom Morris

Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library

Young Tom went on to win the title in both 1869 (his father finishing second) and 1870. In doing so he claimed outright the Moroccan Leather belt that was awarded to the winner each year, in recognition of his third success in consecutive years. Replacing the belt was no easy task and it took the organisers two years to come up with a suitable prize - the famous Claret Jug - with the result that the championship was not held in 1871.

Morris won again in 1872, which was to be his last success, although he did finish as runner-up to Mungo Park when the tournament was held at Musselburgh in 1874.

Young Tom's life was to end tragically the following year. His wife, Margaret, had died during childbirth and the grief-stricken widower was never the same again. The exact cause of his death is disputed. Some say he died of a broken heart, which Old Tom denied saying “if that were the case then I wouldn't be here either.” More likely is that it was due to a pulmonary haemorrhage, and he passed away less than four months after his wife, on Christmas Day 1875.

Written by: Dave Low


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