1920 – 1939 : BETWEEN THE GREAT WARS
The First World War decimated Scottish golf. Every village war memorial attests to the numbers who fell in France and few clubs are without a memorial to some rising star, who played out his last match on the fields of Flanders. Some great players survived but the consequence of terror gutted their game. Those that came through unscathed were few in number, determined never to see the like again and often took the decision to play in America – golf’s promised land.
There was one notable exception in the mercurial George Duncan. Born near Aberdeen, George served his time as a carpenter before rejecting his trade and the offer of professional football with Aberdeen FC to become the professional at Stonehaven, before moving to the lucrative South and acclaim. He won the first post-war Open at Deal in 1920 when Sandy Herd at the age of 51 was runner-up. Duncan also played in the Ryder Cups of ’27 and ’29, captaining the side in 1931. Scottish golfers were sorely tried by the wave of first generation Americans that returned to assault the Championships after the War. These players transformed the game, bringing a flair and lifestyle that induced some disquiet in the home based players.
Though life in America did not suit all tastes, with the Dunne’s and Willie Park Jr. among those who went and returned, there were many more who did not make the return journey. Alistair Mackenzie and Donald Ross from Dornoch were just two who left an indelible mark on America as course architects. The Smiths from Carnoustie, Ben Sayers from North Berwick, Tommy Armour from Edinburgh, the Simpsons from Elie and many others from St Andrews all left lasting impressions in the States and left Scotland bereft of its best and dearest.
Jock Hutchison was the last St Andrews born player to win the Open, while Paul Lawrie was the last native Scot when he won at Carnoustie in 1999. After Jock’s win, the Open was dominated by the American, Walter Hagen who won the first of his four Open titles in 1922 at St George’s and followed up with victories in ’24, ’28 and ’29. Together with his compatriots Jim Barnes (1925), Gene Sarazen (1932) and the incomparable Bobby Jones who won in 1926 and ’27, this was an unprecedented period of Open Championship domination by US players.
The year 1922 saw 20 years old Gene Sarazen burst onto the scene in dramatic fashion, landing both the US Open and US PGA Championship, retaining the latter the following year after a play off with Walter Hagen. Hagen bounced right back after this setback and won the next four PGA Championships from 1924 to 1927. 1923 witnessed the mercurial talent of Bobby Jones winning the first of his four US Open titles and Jones followed this with victory in the Open at Royal Lytham in 1926, retaining it at St Andrews in 1927. The Ryder Cup was held for the first time in 1927, when the United States, captained by Walter Hagen, took on and comprehensively defeated their counterparts from Great Britain & Ireland.
1946 – 1960 : THE EMERGENCE OF THE WORLD GAME
If the First World War decimated Scottish golf, the second came close to gutting it completely. The First War took the players – the Second War took the golf courses.
The Scottish links lands border long sandy beaches, usually in remote places of low population density. As a result, it did not take a brilliant military mind to reason that the links beaches would make for ideal disembarkation sites and the courses equally perfect places for airborne landings. The huge concrete blocks that were erected to stop the movement of tanks from the beaches can still be seen today. The hallowed fairways of the Old Course were staked with massive wooden poles to prevent aircraft landings and Turnberry made the ultimate sacrifice when it was turned into a runway. Few courses remained unscathed – golf was not only suspended for the duration of the War, it was very nearly extinguished.
US golf became pre-eminent and though the Americans may not have been entirely responsible for winning the war, they did win the battle of post-war golf. One could argue that not having experienced the social and economic upheaval of Europe or the long interruption of play, they were infinitely better prepared for the resumption of golfing hostilities. Equally, the sheer numbers that were now playing golf in the US made pre-eminence statistically inevitable. Whatever the reason however, American golfers certainly came to the fore, following the War years.
The US domination of the Open Championship itself however, did not occur after the war as it had in the pre-war era of Hagan and Jones. Sceptics argue that the Americans did not play because doing so would have resulted in loss of earnings at home but history tells a different story. Though Sam Snead won the first post-war Open at St Andrews in 1946 and Ben Hogan was victorious in his only visit to Carnoustie in 1953; every other major figure in US golf had come and gone with notably less success. English players were dominant in the immediate post-war years, with Cotton, Burton, Faulkner and Daly (Irish) all winning.
It was the Colonials however, who were to do the real damage as far as the Open was concerned. Bobby Locke from the Transvaal, a first generation South African Irishman and Peter Thomson, an Australian of solid Scots stock were about to take the golfing world by storm. These two overwhelmed golf in a period of a few years when Locke won in 1947 and ’51 and Thomson in ’54, ’55, ’56, ’58 and again in ’65. Indeed, Thomson never finished worse than second from 1952 to 1958. Their achievements, although less impressive in the US, were nevertheless significant. Thomson beat Hogan on his home turf to take the Texas Open, while Locke was the leading money winner on the US tour. Both these players found their spiritual home on the Scottish links where their best golf was played. Locke was a near resident visitor throughout his life and Thomson now has his home in St Andrews, only a wedge away from the R&A.
1961 – TODAY: THE TRULY GLOBAL GAME OF GOLF
The record books do not lie and Scottish Golf, though healthy at home, was faring ill abroad. The game had become truly global with players from Taiwan and Japan threatening for major honours. The Swedes were gathering amateur honours throughout Europe and there seemed no end to the talent emerging from Spain.
American Golf had come into maturity with a vengeance in the form of Arnold Palmer. Palmer played the game as it should be played – with verve and a swashbuckling style. Palmer was of course idolised in his own country but he found real appreciation in the discerning crowds that lined the links fairways of the Open Championship. Together with Tip Anderson, his St Andrews caddie, Palmer was lord of every links he surveyed.
In Palmers absence in 1964, Tip Anderson carried the bag of Tony Lema through the most testing gales on the Old Course. It was Lema’s win more than any other event that put paid to the excuse that the game had changed and that the new form of golf required only an accurate lofted shot to a soft pulpy green – a shot at which the Americans were clearly adept. The leader board of the ’64 Open showed that Jack Nicklaus and plenty more US stars could play the chip-and-run under the wind as well as any that had gone before and as well as any of the home bred players.
The reason for the Scottish golfing hiatus during this period may be simply statistical, as the game had grown to the extent that the numbers now playing in every developed country dwarfed the numbers playing in Scotland. There is no doubt that the game itself had changed with the new courses that were being built throughout the world. American architects led by Robert Trent Jones were building courses that were both long and difficult. Greens were soft and holding in contrast to the hard running greens of the links. The grassy fairways presented another type of problem as the ball sat up on the lush grasses and required club contact quite different to that on the tight lies of the links. Possibly of greater significance was the early adoption in the US of the ‘big ball’ – the 1.66-inch ball that required a different strike and made for greater control.
Great exponents of the game poured out of the US and the US Tour was becoming a multi-million dollar industry with even mediocre golfers, grossing millions of dollars not only through tournament play but also through commercial endorsements. Tip Anderson was still caddying at home in St Andrews when he attained celebrity status in the US without ever setting foot outside the British Isles, backing Palmer in a beer commercial. Television coverage ensured star-status for many players and the American College System, to their credit, acted as a virtual conveyor belt of talent.
Following the foundation of the European Tour and the opening of the Ryder Cup to European players, sponsorship grew and European golf blossomed into a money market comparable to that of the US tour. One final ingredient was required however – a star with the charisma of a Palmer and the appeal of a Nicklaus. And so as they say, a star was born. 1979 saw a smiling young genius becoming the first Spaniard to win the Open, with Jack Nicklaus coming second in the race for the Claret Jug for a record seventh time – Seve had arrived on the world scene.
The 1980’s began with Seve Ballesteros becoming the first European to win the Masters and at 23 years old, the then youngest champion. Nicklaus however, continued his remarkable career with his fifth double-major year, winning his fourth US Open and fifth PGA title. Seve won his second Masters title in 1983 and the following season, he collected his second Open Championship when finishing two strokes ahead of Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson, who was attempting to equal Harry Vardon’s record of six Open Championship successes.
Lee Trevino won his second US PGA Championship in 1984, made all the more special by the fact that only eight years previously, he was seriously injured having been struck by a lightning bolt. Germany’s Bernhard Langer turned the tables on Ballesteros in 1985, beating him in the Masters and gaining revenge for his two-shot defeat in the Open the previous year. 1985 also witnessed the first European success in the Ryder Cup and two years later the US team tasted defeat again but this time on home soil. The Masters of 1986 was perhaps the most thrilling of all. A fantastic late surge from the Golden Bear saw him win his sixth Masters title at the age of 46 – his 21st major victory in an as of yet unparalleled career.
The glory days of Scottish golf briefly returned in 1985 when Sandy Lyle triumphed in the Open Championship at Royal St George’s and the amiable Scot added a further major title at the Masters in 1988. Though Ballesteros won his third Open with a scintillating final round of 65, domination of the world game by Nick Faldo had already begun when he won his first major title at Muirfield in 1987, shooting par on every hole in his final round. Two years later, Faldo shot an amazing closing 65 to force a Masters play off with Scott Hoch, which he duly won on the second extra hole. Faldo’s best year came in 1990 when he became the only player since Nicklaus to defend his Masters title. Just a few months later, Faldo played the most devastating golf of his life in winning his second Open title at St Andrews and he duly added his third Open two years later, again at Muirfield.
Greg Norman’s second Open success came at Royal St George’s in 1993. His two-stroke victory over Faldo prompted the late, great Gene Sarazen to comment that this was the greatest championship of all time. Major champions have come and gone over the years, with O’ Meara, Olazabal, Stewart and Lawrie among those whose names are now etched on the most prized possessions in golf.
Not until 1994, did a player with the potential to match the greatness of past legends, come along. Speculation started when Tiger Woods won the US Amateur Championship, continued when he retained it the following year, grew when he became the youngest ever champion at the Masters and climaxed as he stormed to six wins out of six starts in the 1999/2000 season. Though Tiger may have a long way to go to be classed in the same league as Palmer and Nicklaus, there are not many who would bet against it.