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The Life of Tom Morris
Chapter XIII - Father and Son - Their styles and their successes


BEFORE we begin to chronicle the great feats of Young Tommy, who for a time alas! it was for too short a time quite overshadowed even his father's great reputation as a golfer, let us consider what Tom Morris was in his prime as one of the greatest players of his day. Let his friend, Mr H. S. C. Everard, introduce him. "Turn we now to his golfing capabilities," says that excellent player and equally excellent writer in the Badminton Golf (Longmans). "As to that, there is no doubt he was, when in his prime, a very fine player, though perhaps there has been a tendency in some quarters to with-hold from him that recognition of his merit which is undoubtedly his due, and to make use of such a phrase as 'respectable mediocrity' when referring to him; and, indeed, as one writer has well remarked, we really are perhaps apt to forget how good a player he was owing to the fact of his fame in a great measure being over-shadowed by that of his son, Young Tom, with whom he freely admits he never could cope.

Then, too, the standard of play has reached a height never approached in Tom's younger days: so many men, professionals and amateurs alike, are so very good that his best performances are equalled and excelled every day; this, too, tends to the belittling of his deeds of fame.

"But," Mr Everard goes on to say, "it is to be borne in mind that four Open Championships have fallen to Tom's share, viz., in 1861, 1862, 1864, and 1867, with scores of 163, 163, 160 and 170 respectively, over Prestwick, and that he was at least the equal of any man living for a great number of years."

Then Mr Everard comes to what, amongst the greatest living players, has been his besetting sin, judged from the standard of perfection. "True it is that but for one peculiarity he would have been better still; one weak place there has been in his armour, and not a golfer but will know to what we refer. Those short putts! Put him 12 feet from the hole and not a better holer-out could be named. But with 18 inches or 2 feet as the measure to be negotiated but it were kinder to allow the figure of aposiopesis to come to the rescue. Candour, however, compels the admission that of late years he has evinced (the first edition of the Badminton Golf was issued in March 1890) an enormous improvement in this latter respect. In his own words, ' I never miss thae noo! but it is improbable that he will ever live down his shady reputation regarding them; and if he were to hole 5000 consecutively, but miss the five thousand and first, it is a moral certainty that the taunts of the scoffers would be levelled at him as of yore. One day, many years ago, he had a most successful encounter with a putt of some six or seven inches, not with his putter, which he habitually used, but with his iron, and for many a long day afterwards, being convinced that he was now at last happy in the possession of the magic secret, he toiled on valiantly with this weapon with varying, but, on the whole, tolerable success. His one theory is (and few golfers will be prepared to question it) that whatever the club used, 'the ball maun be hit,' but the trouble is, or rather was, with him, that he couldn't hit it. ' Gin the hole was a yaird nearer him, my fawther wad be a guid putter,' Young Tom used to say of him, with a touch of unfilial satire; and Mr Wolfe Murray once went so far as to address a letter to ' The Misser of Short Putts, Prestwick,' which the postman took straight to the champion."

Mr H. G. Hutchinson, in his chapter on "Elementary Instruction" in the same volume, in writing of the manner of the grip for putting, says, "We should say that since putting is a very delicate matter, requiring great niceness of touch, the putter should be held well within the fingers not home in the palm of either hand and we would advise that the thumb be laid down along the handle of the club. This gives a greater delicacy of power of guiding. ' Old Tom ' used at one time to carry this tender fingering of his putter to such a length that he putted with his right forefinger down the handle of the putter. But when it was suggested to him on his missing a short putt, ' If you would have that forefinger amputated, Tom, you might be able to putt,' Tom said he would not go to the length of that, but that he would try the effect of holding it round the club, as most human beings do; and he has been putting in this, the normal fashion, ever since, with manifest improvement."

In regard to Tom's driving, Mr H. G. Hutchinson, in his paper on "Elementary Instruction" in the Badminton Golf, says, "Of all good players, Old Tom Morris is probably he who plays with the most supple club, which he is able to do only by reason of the comparative slowness of his swing." He always liked a club with the right amount of life in it, what he himself has called the proper note of "music," and which Mr Hutchinson well elaborates. "A fine steely spring is what the golfer wants to feel, a spring that will bring the club back, quick as thought, to the straight. Then it feels, in his hands, like a living tiling, full of energy, of controlled obedient energy to do his service."

When the club feels in your hand like that, answers this description, then it is that it, according to Tom, is full of music. One part of the game at which he excels, Mr Everard thinks, is the running shot up to the hole with his iron. Of this I think there can be no doubt. In his prime, then, Tom may be said to have been a driver who, as a rule, could be depended on as a long and straight hitter, a splendid approacher, and, with the exception of those fatal short putts, a most admirable putter. His judgment in play of all descriptions was sound. He always played with the club he fancied at the time, and his "fancy" was seldom at fault. He was deliberate, cautious, and yet not too cautious, and steady. He knew the game thoroughly. His intuitions were seldom at fault, and he followed them. Yet he could always give a reason for what he did; and when he made mistakes was not slow to admit his judgment or execution had been at fault. He had plenty of nerve, and always a great reserve of strategy.

And now let us look at some points in regard to Young Tommy's play, and to some of the matches that he engaged in with his father and others.

Tommy was born at Prestwick in 1951. It was in 1864, when a boy of thirteen, that he made his debut as a golfer, when he played and beat Willie Greig on the North Inch of Perth. Next year, in 1865, he took up his residence with his father, in St Andrews, and began that brilliant career as a professional golfer which, alas! lasted only for ten years, for he died at the pathetically early age of twenty-four.

It was in 1868 that he won his first championship "the belt" at Prestwick, with the fine score of 154 - 20 strokes less than that in which it was won by Willie Park eight years before; nine strokes better than his father's best (163) in 1861 and 1862; 8 strokes better than Andrew Strath's record in 1865 (162); 16
strokes better than his father's winning score in the previous year, 1867.

In 1869 Tommy won it again in 157, but next year, 1870, he eclipsed his previous record by 5 strokes, and won it with a score of 149. He thus became the possessor of the trophy a rich red Morocco belt, ornamented with massive silver plates, bearing appropriate devices a fine piece of workmanship, which cost, we believe, some thirty guineas. Of course, it is still in his father's posse>Mon. And the grand old man is always proud and pleased to show it to any one.

After an interval of a year a challenge cup was substituted, to be played for annually in turn on the three greens, Prestwick. St Andrews, and Musselburgh. In 1872 he won the championship for the fourth time in succession, this time with a score of 166, which was the same total with which Willie Park won on the next occasion on which it was played for over Prestwick 1875. His record "belt" scores, 149, 154, 157, were never beaten, though Jamie Anderson won the cup at Prestwick in 1878, with the score of 157, young Tommy being second. On the same links in 1881 Bob Fergusson was champion with 170; in 1884 Jack Simpson won it with 160. In 1887 W. Park, junr., stood first with 161, and in 1890 John Ball, junr., with 164.

After 1891 the competition was extended to 72 holes.

In 1869 Tommy achieved a record on the links at St Andrews. While playing for professional prizes he tied twice with Bob Fergusson of Musselburgh. They went out a third time, and he was round in 77. Here are the details:-

Out, 4 4 4 5 6 4 4 3 3 - 37
In, 3 3 4 6 5 4 5 5 5 - 40

It was about that time that I used to see him play most frequently; and I shall never forget - and no one can his dash and style. His grand swipes, the Glengarry bonnet falling oil his head every time he took a full drive, his accurate approaches and his phenomenal putting can never be forgotten, and how, when necessary, he could "press," and with success!

Let us look at what some of the cognoscenti say of various parts of his game.

Mr H. G. Hutchinson, in his chapter on Elementary Instruction, in the Badminton Golf, incidentally alludes to him. He says: "All through the upward swing of the club, the eyes are never, for the fraction of a second, to be seduced by the temptation of looking to see where it is going. It is a temptation, most of all a temptation, so poor Young Tommy Morris used to tell us, with the attractive glitter of the well-polished iron."

Again, writing of the proper and improper "waggle," he says, "Now this ideal ' waggle ' is so smooth and quiet a performance as almost to belie the name which it has, in common parlance, earned, from its exaggeration. Even such a brilliant player as Young Tommy Morris used to ' waggle ' his driver with such power and vehemence in his vigorous young wrists as often to snap off the shaft of the club close under his hand before he even began the swing proper at all. But genius is superior to rules of grammar." Again, in regard to the great No 1 rule of golf: "Do not take your eye off the ball"; "It was the opinion of the late Young Tom Morris than whose no opinion is entitled to greater respect that the reason amateurs so often failed in their iron approaches was that they allowed their eye to wander back after the glitter of the iron lace; and certain it is that taking the eye off the ball is a very frequent and fatal cause of failure in playing approaches."

And here is the same writer's description of Tommy as a putter: "The favourite position for putting is very similar to the favourite position for iron play, i.e., off the right leg. This, we believe to be, almost without exception, the position adopted by professionals. One of the very finest of professional putters was the late lamented Young Tom Morris. His attitude was typical of the later professional putters. His right leg forward the ball nearly opposite his right foot. The putter held with perhaps about equal grip with both hands if anything rather firmer with the right. If he were drawing the ball to the left of the hole at all he would probably have told us that it was because he was gripping too tight with the right hand. If he were pushing it away to the right of the hole he would have said that he was rather too firm with his left hand. And most likely he would have been right. Let us have a glance at J. O. F. Morris, brother of the above, and a very fine putter. His style of putting is a modification of that of even his more famous brother. In one point, though, we see that the latter is not typical of the run of good players. He seems to hit his ball much upon the toe of the putter. Doubtless he does better execution than if he were to bother himself about striking the ball truly in the centre of the club; but for the learner the centre is the place in which to strike it." Further on Mr Hutchinson adds: "Most of the professionals, playing off the right leg, give a curious little knuckle inward of the right knee, just before they draw the club away from the ball. This is probably of no essential assistance to the stroke, but is more likely only an evidence of the imitative tendency of the golfer a survival, we should fancy, of the dashing style of poor 'Young Tommy' though it may date further back."

Before leaving Tommy as a putter, let me quote what Major Chalmers of Blairgowrie has to say in regard to him in that capacity:

"The best golfers will admit that while they have days when their putting is quite at its best, they have also days when it is very bad indeed. To this failing Young Tom was a notable exception. Whatever the rest of his game may have been on an odd occasion, his putting never varied from its wonderful accuracy. Most players have occasionally to own that they were short with a putt because of sclaffing the ground behind the ball. Tommy never from this cause failed in a putt, because in putting he always half-topped his ball, which caused it to run like a high-hit billiard ball. The ball thus rolled over slight obstacles instead of jumping, as sometimes happens. In addressing his putt there was no crouching with right forearm on knee. He stood well up, legs nearly straight, right foot pointing straight to the ball, and so near it that the spectator almost expected to see him hit the toe of his shoe, but this never occurred. If the green was good he always used the wooden putter; if rough, he putted with the common cleek. Many have tried to imitate Tommy's method of putting; we have never heard of one who succeeded.

"Those were the days of small putting-greens. The lawn-mower had not come into use. This implement has revolutionised golf and made the game of games practicable all the world over." So says Major Chalmers, and he is right.


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