10 Things You May Not Know About Old Tom Morris
On this day in 1821, Old Tom Morris, one of golf’s greatest ambassadors – and arguably the pioneer of modern professional golf itself – was born in St. Andrews, Scotland.
One hundred and ninety-three years later, Old Tom remains as revered and relevant as ever before, due to his on-course and off-course achievements, from his four Open Championship victories to his 40 years of dedicated service to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.
To honor his influence and celebrate his life, The Daily Tee has comprised the following list of random facts about a golfing legend whose legacy has stood the test of time.
1) 14 Clubs? Who Needs Them? – During his prime, particularly when he won his four Open Championships during the 1860s, Old Tom only carried five clubs in his bag – four irons and one wood, less than half the amount most golfing professionals use today.
2) Age is Just a Number – Old Tom competed in 36 consecutive Open Championships during his career, until he retired from the tournament at the ripe age of 74. He remains the oldest competitor in Open Championship history. As a further indication of his longevity, he also claimed his final Open Championship victory when he was 46-years-old, another record that has yet to be broken.
3) The Pete Dye of the 1800s – Unbeknownst to most, Old Tom was not only a highly successful golf professional. He was also a very productive golf course architect, designing or remodeling 75 courses, including popular tracks like Carnoustie Golf Links and Muirfield.
4) Lapping the Field – In addition to his feats of longevity, Old Tom currently holds yet another Open Championship record – the widest margin of victory, as he dominated the 1862 Open Championship, winning by 13 strokes. In fact, his victory margin remained the largest in major championship history until Tiger Woods captured the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 shots.
5) Mentee, Mentor – For 12 years, Old Tom worked for fellow golf professional Allan Robertson as a golf ball maker. The two often paired up in golf team matches, supposedly never losing a single one, all while earning the nickname “The Invincibles.” Nearly 20 years after capturing his final Open Championship victory, Old Tom switched roles, serving as a mentor instead, for none other than Donald Ross, the designer of Pinehurst No. 2.
6) The Pioneer of Greenskeeping – In the midst of his prime, Old Tom was hired as the Keeper of the Greens of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, a role he maintained for four decades. Through this position, he established many initiatives still practiced by modern greenskeepers, including managing hazards and spreading sand on greens. He even reduced the length of golf courses to 18 holes, a custom that has endured for centuries.
7) A Man of Many Talents – Aside from winning Open Championships, building golf courses, and working as a greenskeeper, Old Tom somehow found time to also design golf clubs at his own shops. But the whereabouts of his very first shop were unknown for years, until golf history writer Roger McStravick discovered its location along the 18th fairway of the Old Course at St. Andrews – within a stone’s throw of the historical Macdonald Rusacks Hotel.
8) Like Father, Like Son – Despite his longevity and legendary status, Old Tom was unable to accomplish one significant feat – four straight Open Championship victories, a record his son, Young Tom, achieved in 1872. With eight wins, the Morrises remain the most successful father/son duo in major championship history.
9) Impersonating a Legend – Since 1990, David Joy, a native of St. Andrews, has been recognized throughout the world for his impersonations of Old Tom. Often appearing in television advertisements and documentaries, Joy’s impersonations have even been praised by major champions like Jack Nicklaus and Ben Crenshaw.
10) A High Honor – Once a year, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America awards one superintendent the “Old Tom Morris Award,” a tradition that began in 1983. Award recipients are honored for their positive influences and longstanding commitments to the game of golf, two traits that Old Tom is still particularly renowned for.