The Open Championship: Remembering Tom Kidd, first winner of the Claret Jug

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Tom Kidd
Tom Kidd, with his waistcoats speckled with all the colours of the rainbow, was probably golf's first showman
The Open Championship
Venue: St Andrews, Fife, Scotland Dates: Thursday, 14 July - Sunday, 18 July
Coverage: Follow live across BBC Radio 5 Live and the BBC Sport website & app

They say he strutted through town like a peacock with his tall show-off's hat, his lavender trousers, his yellow kid gloves and his cane.

In the St Andrews of the 1860s and 1870s, there were two Young Toms. There was Morris, with his four consecutive Open Championships, and there was Kidd, about to win his first and last while denying his near neighbour the five-in-a-row he desperately craved.

They lived eight minutes apart by foot and were separated by only three years by birth - so close and yet so far away. The records suggest there was only one Young Tom and Old Tom story in St Andrews, but actually there were two.

In the Kidd house - a family of weavers turned golfers when the work dried up - Tom Snr instilled a love of golf in his boy.

"Kidd sprang from an ancestry connected with the game," reported The Field magazine. "He was brought up, so to speak, with a club in his hand."

You have to look hard to find solid information on Tom Kidd Jnr, but when you find it he's usually referred to as a dandy, a fashion conscious caddy turned professional player known for his "long swipes" that soared beyond even the great Tommy Morris' best efforts.

His sartorial elegance is part of his epitaph. With his waistcoats speckled with all the colours of the rainbow, he was probably golf's first showman.

Why do we want to tell Tom Kidd's story? Because on the occasion of the 150th Open - and the 30th held at St Andrews - it's nice to remember the guy who was the first man to win the championship at the Home of Golf.

Not just that, when Kidd won in 1873, holding off the challenge of Young Tom - who would be dead two years later at the age of 24 - and Jamie Anderson - winner of three in a row from 1877 and who would later die in a poorhouse in Fife - he was the very first player to hold the new trophy for the champion golfer, the Claret Jug.

Taylor and Braid, Jones and Snead, Thomson and Nicklaus, Seve and Tiger - they all lifted the Claret Jug at St Andrews, but Kidd did it first.

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He served his apprenticeship as a caddie but put food on his table through his play. Pros of the time appeared in money matches wherever they could. Everything was a hustle.

Kidd travelled with 'Andra' Kirkaldy, Willie Fernie and Bob Martin. They got around Fife in Fernie's donkey cart, arriving for cash games in what passed for a courtesy car in the late 1800s.

Kidd and Tommy Morris were different, the former flamboyant, big-hitting and inconsistent, the latter a born winning machine. Tommy won the Open in 1868, 1869, 1870 and 1872 (there was no event in 1871) and was expected to win again in 1873. It was he, Anderson and Davie Strath at the top of the fancied list.

Among a field of 26 players going around St Andrews twice on a Saturday morning in October, Kidd was scarcely mentioned in the preamble.

After a dozen years at Prestwick, the Open had moved to St Andrews for the first time. Old Tom had his wish. The championship was coming to his links at last.

"Tom raked and re-raked his putting greens," wrote Kevin Cook in Tommy's Honour. "He seeded and top-dressed them, exhorting his assistant greenkeeper, David Honeyman, to pile on the sand ('More sand, Honeyman!')

"Tom scythed heather; chopped the black arms off whin bushes; hired extra workmen to load beach sand into barrows and roll them to dozens of bunkers, each of which he filled and re-filled; supervised the men who ran his horse-drawn grass-cutter; and walked the course scores of times, bending his aching back to pull a weed or pick up a bit of shell off a green.

"By the first September frost he was as close to satisfied as a perfectionist can be."

Then the storm came. In the week of the Open, it came with a vengeance. It never stopped raining for two days. Tiles were blown from roofs, the spray from the sea attacked Old Tom's carefully prepared fairways and greens and undid his great work. The flat surfaces became sodden, the fairways were under water, the bunkers were like murky, muddy swimming pools.

Of course the players, all bar four of the 26 starters being local men, could lift their ball from casual water on the fairways, but it would cost them a shot. Records show that scoring was never higher than it was that year at St Andrews. There was a reason for that. They were splashing out of hazards all day.

Old Tom could not believe his rotten luck. The Gods had turned St Andrews into a swamp. His son was not happy either. The way he saw it, the condition of the course was now a leveller. Anyone could win.

Kidd spent the night before the tournament working on an advantage. He sat at home in his place at Rose Lane with a file and cut grooves in the face of his cleeks for added control. The move was legal but frowned upon by some.

Kidd minded not so much. He had his eye on that new trophy but more than that he had a hunger for the £11 in prize money - and he knew exactly how he planned on spending it.

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The sun came out on the day of the tournament. They were on the first tee from 10.30am, played 36 holes and finished in daylight. Given this was October, the pace of play must have been rapid.

Kidd, Anderson and poor Bob Kirk - three times a runner-up and perhaps the original holder of the title 'greatest golfer never to have won a major' - were level on 91 strokes after the first round. Tommy was three shots behind, with Strath - a victim of death by bunker - further back.

They ate on the hoof and went again. Tommy and Anderson went after Kidd, who looked unbeatable after an outward 39 before wobbling on his way back in when thoughts of victory entered his head.

The crowd rooted for Tommy. They reckoned that the new trophy belonged nowhere else but on his sideboard at 6 Pilmour Links Road. He had owned this tournament since his first win at the age of 17 and for a brief spell it looked like the five-in-a-row was going to happen.

But not quite. Tommy fell away and finished on 183. His reign was over. Anderson was in on a score of 180 featuring a nine at the Heathery Hole, the 12th. Kidd hung on and beat him by one, got his trophy, his £11 and a gold medal.

Kidd was the first winner of the Claret Jug but look at the trophy and you will see that the engraving was backdated to 1872. The first name should be Tom Kidd, but it's not. It's Tom Morris Jnr. It's as if they thought Kidd was not worthy enough to be remembered as the first holder.

There's nothing to suggest that Kidd was put out by that. That £11 prize was his focus. Before the day was out, he proposed to his girlfriend Eliza. Later, he would sell his gold medal to give them a kickstart in their new life.

Tragedy befell the 1873 protagonists far too soon. While playing a match with his father in North Berwick, Tommy's pregnant wife Margaret went into a complicated labour. By the time he made it home, mother and child were dead. Not four months later, on Christmas Day, Tommy suffered a pulmonary haemorrhage and died. He was 24.

Kidd married Eliza and had two children. Nine years after he won the Open, he suffered heart failure at home. He was 35. Eliza survived him by 51 years and never remarried.

This Open Championship is all about crowning a new winner for sure but given the history this year of all years, it should also be about remembering old champions. Now and forever, their presence is in the air at St Andrews.

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