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Money Players
Kevin Cook
July 18, 2006
In 1872, Royal Liverpool staged the richest tournament in early golf history. The question: Could anyone beat Tommy Morris?
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July 18, 2006

Money Players

In 1872, Royal Liverpool staged the richest tournament in early golf history. The question: Could anyone beat Tommy Morris?

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Old Tom and Willie Park fell far behind. The pug-nosed pro from Blackheath Club in London, Bob Kirk, also stumbled. In a turn of fate The Field called "rather unfortunate," Kirk hit three balls out-of-bounds and made a 17 on the 1st hole. His 97 in the first of two rounds left him 15 strokes behind Strath, whose 82 gave nervous Davie a three-shot edge on Tommy and the Rook.

By now the rain was pelting the links. The golfers waited out the downpour inside the hotel. Perhaps Tommy had a small beer, the low-alcohol brew he favored, with his cousin Jack, Royal Liverpool's resident professional. Jack Morris lived in a converted horse stall in the hotel's stables. Jack's father, George--Old Tom's brother--had spent years living down a thrashing at Willie Park's hands. After Park won the first eight holes of their match, with George unable to halve even a hole, George famously pleaded, "For the love o' God, man, give us a half!" In 1869 George Morris went to Hoylake with Robert Chambers, a wealthy amateur. Chambers had umpired a riotous match in Musselburgh, where Park's fans kicked Old Tom's ball and got so pushy they had to be held back with a rope, perhaps the first gallery rope in history. At Hoylake, Chambers and George Morris laid out the Royal Liverpool links. This wasn't the sort of task modern golfers would recognize as course design. They walked the links, picking out spots that looked like putting greens. When they found one, George cut a hole with his penknife. They left a stick or a seagull feather in the hole to show golfers where to aim.

Now, three years later, the players filed out of the Royal Hotel to finish the tournament in mist and drizzle. Tommy Morris didn't mind the rain; he kept a lump of pine tar in his pocket to aid his grip.

Davie Strath was nearly Tommy's equal. They were friends, but Strath, who'd given up a career as a law clerk to play golf, was growing tired of finishing second. Again and again he'd taken Tommy down to the wire only to lose--so often that Strath was accused of funking, which meant choking. "He swung high, and came through well with a sweeping stroke, driving a higher ball with more carry than Tommy's," one contemporary wrote, "but his putting [was] not so dangerous as his rival's. Nor had he so even a disposition. He was excitable, talked quickly, was readily elated or depressed." Strath nursed his three-shot lead while the course meandered to the beach and then back to the hotel. Tommy gained a stroke, then another.

The last hole was only 218 yards from the tee to the corner of the hotel. Tommy, aggressive as ever, knocked in a final putt, and Strath--chewing, spitting, chewing--failed to match him. Tommy had come from behind to win by a stroke. Some golf watchers would say Strath had funked again.

" Tom Morris, jun., increased his already very long list of achievements by carrying off the first prize, consisting of a medal and �15," one paper reported. "The members of the club regard this, the first golf tournament held in England, as a complete success."

The next day brought a foursomes match between England and Scotland, with national pride and �5 at stake. Two professionals from English clubs challenged Tommy and the Musselburgh pro Bob Fergusson. The Scots won in a rout, 8 and 7. Then the Champion Golfer headed home to St. Andrews, his triumph in England complete.

A letter to The Field congratulated Royal Liverpool for staging the golf show of the season: "Here the young champion added another leaf to his laurels; here England's professionals fought and lost against Scotland's ... here they stayed together as brother golfers, and parted in the best fellowship, without jealousy or discontent, satisfied with their own performances, the prizes and the links, anxious only again to meet, and in friendly fray swing the hickory wand."

The professionals would soon swing their hickories in a new, improved version of the Open Championship. On Sept. 11, 1872, the Prestwick Golf Club agreed to share the Open with the R&A and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, with the three clubs taking turns hosting the event at Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh, starting that fall. The purse would go up to �20, with �8 for the winner.

But now that Tommy owned the Challenge Belt, the golfers needed something else to play for. To that end the three clubs chipped in �10 each to buy a new trophy, a shiny claret jug.

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