golf joust

A Tale of Two Toms (Morris)

Leading up to the 141st Open Championship, Golf Joust will step back in time and take a closer look at a father & son tandem that to an extent, developed The Open Championship into what it has become today. The tale of the two, “Toms” is quite interesting, and without their contributions on and off the course, it is doubtful the game of golf would have reached the advanced stage it is at now. 

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The Tom Morris’

Old Tom:

  • Born June 1821 in St. Andrews, Fife. Died in May of 1908
  • Old Tom worked as a greens-keeper, club maker, ballmaker, golf instructor and course designer. He also played professionally.
  • Born, raised and lived in St. Andrews, considered “the home of golf” for most of his life
  • Worked at St. Andrews Links as groundskeeper and was said to be the second best golfer in town. Fired from St. Andrews around 1851 for playing the new gutta percha golfball because his fellow workman Allan Robertson had a profitable business making the featherie golf ball. He then became greens-keeper at Prestwick Golf Club, revitalized the course and was very influential in the first Open Championship being played there in 1860, and actually hit the first shot of the tournament. 
  • Returned to St. Andrews in 1865, after he was sought out by The Royal and Ancient who wanted him rehired. The Old Course was in terrible shape, Royal and Ancient wanted Morris to come in and fix it up. He built two new greens at 1 and 18 on the Old Course, and was also well known for managing the hazards on the course. 
  • Worked until 1903 as head greens-keeper at St. Andrews
  • Won The Open four times: 1861,1862,1864 and 1867. He still holds the record for oldest player to win The Open at 46.
  • He improved St Andrews by widening fairways to handle increased play, enlarging greens, and establishing separate tee boxes on each hole; all of these measures spread out play over larger areas, and led to better turf conditions
  • He redid course length as well by making St. Andrews 18 holes and created the concept of each set of 9 holes returning to the club house upon completion.
  • Introduced strategic course planning by placing hazards so that the golfer must route the ball around hazard to create more strategy and planning for the game
  • Until Tiger won by 15 at Pebble in the 2000 US Open, Old Tom’s 14 stroke margin of victory in the 1862 Open championship was the largest victory.
  • Died in 1908 by falling down a flight of stairs in the clubhouse at St. Andrews.

Young Tom:

  • Grew up golfing at Prestwick Golf Links, where Old Tom was the head Pro and greens-keeper.
  • Competed in his first Open Championship at age 14
  • Only four time consecutive Open Championship, all played at Prestwick: 1868,1869,1870 and 1872 (no tourney was played in 1871).
  • Third straight Open Championship victory gave him permanent possession of the champions’ belt, and there was no Open event held in 1871
  • He is the youngest Open Champion ever at 17
  • Made the first ever hole-in-one in tournament history, not just at The Open, but in competitive tournament history (8th at Prestwick-166 yards)
  • Known as one of the first players to intentionally shape shots as strategy
  • Credited for first using the “rut iron” of the time like the modern day sand wedge or lob wedge to hit short pitch shots into greens, over hazards and creating backspin, all new innovations of the game at that time. 
  • Died on Christmas Day in 1875 only a few months after his wife and child died during birth. Died of a heart-attack at age 24.

Father and Son:

  • Both Young and Old Tom won The Open four times.
  • Young Tom was said to be better than his father Old Tom. Old Tom himself even admitted this, and even went as far as calling him the best player he had ever known.
  • In the 1869 Open Championship the father & son duo finished 1 and 2 with Jr. ousting Sr.
  • Young and Old Tom would play matches together as a team against competitors and proved to be very successful up until Young Tom’s death in 1875.
  • At age 13 Young Tom beat Old Tom for the first time during a friendly match at St. Andrews. Old Tom was the reigning Open Champion at the time.
  • Began the practice of accepting money prior to playing in tournaments.
  • Both father and son contributed a tremendous amount to the game of golf and greatly raised the playing standard of their time.