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The Life of Tom Morris
Chapter XVI - Tommy's place in the Golfing World - He and old Tom play Strath and Anderson

WHEN at Muirfield in 1896, watching, as he puts it, "the tide of glorious battle," my friend the Rev. William Proudfoot, one of the parish ministers of Haddington himself a great golfer, admirable writer, and very fine preacher, son of the able schoolmaster of Leuchars in my youth had the good fortune to "foregather with that grand old golfer, Mr William Doleman, of Glasgow." In regard to Mr Doleman, he very justly says: "As all who know him will frankly admit, his golfing lore is comprehensive and accurate, and his critical estimate of golfers is never lightly spoken, never merely fanciful, but always thoughtful and based on something like solid argument." Mr Doleman and Mr Proudfoot were talking of Herd's marvellous 72, and they reverted back to talk of "the immortal days of Tommy." The mention of the name suddenly lit up the face of the old golfer a sure signal that some reminiscence, humorous or serious, was forthcoming. "I tell you, sir, there isn't a man, English or Scotch, in all this field that impresses me with the same sense of power, or golfing genius call it what you like as Tommy did, the instant he addressed the ball." He had just been speaking with warm admiration of Braid, Vardon, Taylor and Herd, and Mr Tait, but his heart had to return to the old love, to the kindling memory of a prowess that has never been quite restored to the green by even the most brilliant of present-day heroes.

Old Tom and Young Tom

Mr Proudfoot could not but concur in the remarks. It was just his own feeling. He told Mr Doleman so, adding that he seldom cared to express it in the presence of a younger generation, who were never slow to ascribe it to rank prejudice. "Prejudice is theirs," replied Mr Doleman, "and proof, I humbly think, is thine." "But they tell us he had nobody to play against." "That's nonsense, for he had Davie Strath, Bob Fergusson, Jamie Anderson and other notable golfers; but supposing he hadn't, he had always the ideal, the 'par' score of the green to play against. Pin them to that, and let them wriggle as best they can, for it is there we get at Tommy's position in the golfing world of to-day." Then came the following train of reasoning. "He asked me," Mr Proudfoot tells us, "what I thought the 'par' play on Muirfield." Mr Proudfoot went over the holes thus:

Out, 3 4 4 4 5 4 4 4 4 - 36
In, 4 5 4 4 3 4 5 4 5 - 38 -- 74

The calculation was allowed to pass. Indeed, it was the same as Mr Doleman's own calculation, and that of some professionals with whom he had discussed the question. Perfect play, then, for the 2 rounds, or the 36 holes, may be set down at 148. In favourable weather conditions, the best score for the two rounds in succession at the Championship meeting was 155, or 7 strokes worse than the ideal. He then, according to the very same standard of reckoning, submitted the "par" play at Prestwick in 1870, when Young Tom won the Champion Belt for the third time in succession. First hole, 5; Alps, 5; Tunnel, 3; Stone Dyke, 5; Sea He'therick, 5; Tunnel, 4; Green Hollow, 3; Station, 3; Burn, 5; Sauch House, 4; Short Hole, 3; Home Hole, 4; total, 49. Three rounds were played, to make up the 36 holes. The "par" score accordingly stood at 147. And what was Tommy's card on that ever-memorable day? It was 149, or only two strokes in excess of absolutely faultless play. That aggregate, unequalled in the history of the Championship, was made up thus: 47, 51, 51. "Now, sir," said the very shrewd and analytical old golfer to Mr Proudfoot, "if in the face of facts like these, which no man can deny, anyone will venture to accuse us of prejudice, or tell us we are the antiquated slaves of foolish sentiment, or that we haven't seen as great things in our young day as any the present can show, I know with whom lies the prejudice, and I leave all such to love their own darkness. Some of these moderns are grand golfers, no doubt, but the more I think out these things, the more am I convinced of Tommy's surpassing greatness, and the better am I able to vindicate his superiority against all comers."

To this Mr Proudfoot adds: " My old friend's argument seemed good, sound sense. There are other considerations, too, in the shape, not of sentiment, but of evidence, which go to strengthen his contention. Herd's 72 at Muirlield (par play being 74) is matched by Tommy's 47 at Prestwick (par play being 49); and while Herd fell grievously away in the subsequent round, Tommy held steadily on to a very high level of excellence. Herd's 77 in the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1895. the finest achievement of the meeting, was equalled by Tommy twenty-six years ago in a professional tournament, and those deeds of a quarter of a century back were performed when less attention was given to green-keeping, with old-fashioned clubs, with neither bulger nor mashie, nor putter of the twisted neck, which, according to their fancies, go to saving of strokes, and with hand-hammered balls that did not rejoice in the name of 'Agrippa' or 'Silvertown.'"

In regard to Tommy's record score of St Andrews links, it is somewhat amusing to read the figure at which it was put in a paragraph in Boys for May 1894, page 490: "Spofforth, on his best day, or in his best season, was incomparably the finest bowler that ever donned cricket shoe. What cricketer will ever forget that first famous appearance at Lord's? No event in the record of ball games in our memory, at all events ever created such a furore. The nearest approach to it that I can think of is, when in golfing circles it was passed from mouth to mouth, in awestruck whispers, that Tommy Morris had done the medal round at St Andrews in 1774. But as golf had not taken the deep hold on the public fancy that it since has done, the excitement in that case was more or less of a local character. Moreover, since poor Tommy's death, we believe his record has been broken."

On the 17th July 1873 Tommy and Jamie Anderson played 3 rounds over St Andrews links against Davie Strath and Tom Kidd. The former, after being 2 down at the end of the first round, won by 8 holes out of the 54. A contemporary record says: "It is doubtful whether such an exhibition of foursome play was ever witnessed, the average of the 3 rounds being a little over 85."

As a matter of fact, according to the careful statistics kept by Mr J. G. Denham, the rounds of the winners were 89, 82 and 81 252; while their opponents were 87, 85 and 88  260.

In 1875, on the 7th of May, the first professional match of the season was played at St Andrews between Old and Young Tom Morris against Davie Strath and Jamie Anderson. Two rounds were played, and the stake was 20. A local report says that "the play on the whole was not marked by great brilliance, though some rare good shots were made on both sides. A defect of both parties, noticeable at the outset, was a timidity on the putting-greens, but the players attained more confidence as the game progressed. In the second round especial!)' the play of Strath and his ally was very bold, but their too-great daring placed them several times into hazards which otherwise they would have escaped. The Morrises played with their usual caution, and landed the stake with the substantial majority of 7 holes, or n strokes." The respective scores were:

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