History of Golf - Part Four The First Heroes

By George WhiteJuly 17, 2002, 4:00 pm
When you spoke the word professional in the early 1800s, you were referring to a professional caddie. The caddies were the only group that made a living from the game. They carried the clubs, certainly, but in 1800 they did so much more. In Robert Brownings book A History of Golf he describes the early caddie as his patrons guide, philosopher, and his friend, his instructor when he was off his game, and co-arbiter with the opposition caddie in all disputes.
 
Caddies were, in short, usually the best players. The best known in the early 1800s was David Robertson of St. Andrews. He was known as a senior caddie, whose duties were primarily to carry for the captain of St. Andrews on important occasions.
 
Robertson was the last of the senior caddies. His son, Allan Robertson, was also a caddie as a youth, but he emerged as the first great professional player.
 
The Robertsons were also ball-makers, carefully stuffing feathers into leather spheroids. But Allan was an exceptional golfer. In a series of famous matches watched by one of Scotlands largest sporting crowds of the 19th century, he teamed with his assistant, Tom (Old Tom) Morris, to play the Dunn brothers, Willie and Jamie of Musselburgh.
 
The four were to play a trio of matches in 1849, the first to be at the Dunns course at Musselburgh. The second was at St. Andrews, the home of Robertson and Morris. The third was at the neutral location of North Berwick. The matches were each to be 20 holes, and at stake was 400 pounds ' a huge sum in those days. Of course, side-bets were made from the spectators totaling many times more than that.
 
The Dunns won the first match easily on their home course, 13 and 12, principally because Robertson played poorly. Allan and Tom barely won the second match at St. Andrews. And at North Berwick in the decider, Robertson and Morris were down four with but eight holes to play.
 
Then, in one of the great comebacks in golf history, Robertson and Morris rallied to win six holes in a row, taking the match 2-up and winning the series, 2-1.
 
It was a great golfing tandem, the old master Robertson and his apprentice Morris. However, they would split friendships before too long over a dispute about golf balls. Robertson was a featherie man all the way. Morris had begun to use the gutta percha ball, which had come into widespread use in the middle of the 1800s.
 
The gutta percha was much superior to the featherie, hard as opposed to the soft ball which was subject to abuse by so many objects along the ground. Robertson, remember, was a ball-maker and did not want to see the age of the featherie come to an end. The dispute caused a split between the two which lasted the remainder of Robertsons life. However, the featherie was doomed with the gutta percha quickly taking over as the ball of choice ' Robertsons angry protests notwithstanding.
 
Robertson did, however, make one contribution to the game, the effects of which are still felt today. Previous to Robertson, the iron club was used strictly to extricate oneself from difficult lies. The rest of the clubs were used to score, and they all had wooden faces. Robertson introduced the iron as the way to approach the green. No longer would golfers use woods with their greater mass only for extrication from ruts and such.
The first inter-Scotland club matches were played in 1857, signaling the end of the great private match-play competitions. St. Andrews was the location and Royal Blackheath was the winner of the 11-club meeting, each club fielding two-man teams..

History - 1860 British Open
The inaugural British Open was played in 1860.
The world would wait until 1860 for the first British Open to be played. The first year only eight players competed and there was nothing open about this meeting ' all eight entries were professionals. Willie Park was the champion, his 174 two strokes better than Old Tom Morris.
 
The first Open was held at Prestwick with its 12 holes. Players went around the course three times in a single day for the 36-hole match. Park received no prize money, only a large red leather-and-silver belt. Interestingly, the word caddie and professional in this era were used interchangeably.
 
With no prize money, there had to be some reason for the golfers to come to Prestwick. And indeed, the Prestwick club tournament was held that week. It offered a great opportunity for the professionals to caddie and earn extra money ' which they did.
 
The second Open, though, in 1861, was open to everyone ' amateur and pro alike. Old Tom Morris won that one and he also won in 1863. By now he was the premier player, winning four of the next six tournaments.
 
His streak was finally broken by his son, Young Tom Morris. Young Tom was a golfing prodigy, much the same as Bobby Jones in the early 1900s. Young Morris first began playing matches when he was only 13, and by the time he was 16 he played in his first British Open.
 
Young Tom won in 1868 on his third try, then proceeded to win the next three in succession ' four in all. He won by remarkable scores ' 157 for 36 holes in his first win, which beat the field by 13 shots. He won by an average of nine strokes during his four-year reign as British Open champion ' exceptional for a 36-hole tournament. Morris score of 149 in 1870 was a record for the gutta percha ball. It remained unbroken until Jack Whites victory 34 years later.

History - Tom Morris
Tom 'Young Tom' Morris
Alas, though, death claimed Young Tom when he was just 24 years old, after his fourth British Open victory. His wife had just died in childbirth, and many believe Morris died of a broken heart. He succumbed on Christmas Day of 1874.
 
The first 12 Opens were played at Prestwick, a club that never intended to monopolize the proceedings forever. Therefore, St. Andrews stepped in 1873 and from thereafter a rota was arranged.
 
An interesting incident occurred in 1876 when an oversight occurred and the St. Andrews committee forgot to reserve tee times Saturday for the Open. Thus, the competitors were mixed in with couples and others out for 18 holes on a pleasant day. To make matters worse, the tee sheet was quite crowded, which caused a myriad of problems for the competitors, who still had to complete 36 holes.
 
The latter part of the 19th century saw an explosion of golf in England and Ireland. Through it all, however, the men who played in these tournaments remained first of all equipment manufacturers and caddies, giving lessons to others. Not until the Parks, Willie and Willie Jr., did a golfer attempt to live off what he had won at tournaments.
 
That was because the British Open for many years paid precious little. The first year, as noted, there was only the belt and no prize money. Not until 1892 did the prize money total 100 pounds ' about $150.
 
Nor was the belt of much value. Willie Park, Jr., returned it to the Royal & Ancient after he won it, saying that if the cheap medal was the best the society could do, the members had best keep it themselves.
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.