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The 100 Greatest Ever Golfers

The 100 Greatest Ever Golfers

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by Andy Farrell, Padraig Harrington (Foreword by)

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Walter Hagen to Tiger Woods, a fascinating and knowledgeable history of golf through the most talented men and women to have ever played the game

Covering the early amateur masters of the game, starting with Old Tom Morris, to the maestros of the Open era, this collection features biographies and career statistics of players from all over


Walter Hagen to Tiger Woods, a fascinating and knowledgeable history of golf through the most talented men and women to have ever played the game

Covering the early amateur masters of the game, starting with Old Tom Morris, to the maestros of the Open era, this collection features biographies and career statistics of players from all over the world, including the U.S., UK, South Africa, Europe, and Australia. From Ben Hogan and legendary figures such as Jack Nicklaus, to contemporary greats including Phil Mickelson, this history recounts the lives and achievements of the sport's leading lights through fascinating anecdotes and insights into the development of the game across the decades. Arranged alphabetically and with additional sections on the greatest ever drivers, bunker players, and putters, this is the ideal pick-up-and-dip-in book for all golfing aficionados, whatever their handicap.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Won Golf Book of the Year at the 2012 British Sports Awards

"An enjoyable read."  —LibraryJournal.com 

"A good, quick reference — perfect for bedside reading." — The State

Product Details

Elliott & Thompson
Publication date:
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5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.50(d)

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The 100 Greatest Ever Golfers

By Andy Farrell

Elliott and Thompson Limited

Copyright © 2011 Andy Farrell
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-909653-48-1


From the Pioneers to the Great Triumvirate 1860–1900

With the establishment of the Open, now one of the modern game's four majors but initially from more humble beginnings in the second half of the 19th century, so came golf's first great heroes. A motley collection of mainly Scottish caddies, the game's first professionals, gathered each year to play for the Challenge Belt – although after Young Tom Morris had won this three times in a row, he was awarded it outright. The original trophy was replaced, after a year's hiatus, by the claret jug that is still competed for today – Young Tom won that as well, before dying at the tragically young age of 24.

These early days of the Open were a fascinating time, with John Ball becoming the first amateur winner. With Harold Hilton, another Open champion, and Freddie Tait also making their mark, the Amateur Championship quickly established itself as a coveted title. Golf reached its seminal moment, however, in the golden age of the Great Triumvirate. JH Taylor was the first to win the Open, while James Braid dominated over a short span. But Harry Vardon superseded both, winning the Claret Jug six times – still a record – as well as the US Open. With a swing that produced wonderfully consistent golf, he pioneered a new way of playing the game. There was no greater pioneer, however, than where the story starts, with Allan Robertson.

Allan Robertson

Born September 11, 1815, St. Andrews, Fife; died September 1, 1859, St. Andrews, Fife

As we have seen, while Allan Robertson lived the concept of championship golf did not exist. Instead, it was in money matches that Robertson earned his formidable reputation as the best player of the age. The St. Andrews man once beat Musselburgh's big-hitting Willie Dunn in a match of 20 rounds over ten days. It was said he never lost a singles match on even terms, while Robertson and his apprentice Tom Morris were unbeaten at foursomes. Robertson picked his duels, however, and never took up a standing challenge from Willie Park, nor went head-to-head with Morris once the latter reached his prime.

Acknowledged as the game's first professional, Robertson, like his father and grandfather before him, was a caddie for the members of the Royal and Ancient (R&A) and a maker of feathery golf balls (balls consisting of feathers in a leather casing), over 2,000 a year emerging from his kitchen and selling for half a crown each. He was also responsible for some of the key improvements to the Old Course and, in summer, he would rise at dawn to play the links, perhaps the first to develop his game by actually practising.

He was not a long hitter, but kept control of the ball and was deadly at running the ball up towards the hole. He was barred from entering the occasional competition for caddies – to give the others a chance. James Balfour, a prominent R&A member, described a 'short, little, active man, with a pleasant face and a merry twinkle in his eye. His style was neat and effective. With him the game was one of head as much as of hand; he always kept cool, and generally pulled through a match, even when he fell behind. He was a natural gentleman.'

But he was also a master of the dark arts, the game's first serious hustler. With the honour on the tee, he might make a great show of putting all his energy into a swing, only to hold back at the last minute and have his ball finish just short of a bunker. His opponent, believing trouble was out of reach, would inevitably knock his drive into the trap, and be praised for his great strength. On the final hole of a tight match, Robertson would remove his jacket, roll up his sleeves and spit on his hands – all designed to unsettle his rival. Or when partnering a weak club member who faced a dicey shot over severe trouble, he would persuade him to choose an air-shot, allowing Robertson to hit to safety rather than risk losing ball and hole.

'It's nae gowff,' Robertson said of the new gutty ball, a solid ball made from the Malaysian percha tree, that would make his feathery-making operation obsolete. Eventually accepting the change, he developed new techniques using iron-headed clubs, as opposed to the wooden-headed clubs then in use. In 1858 he birdied the final hole of the Old Course for a 79, the first time anyone had broken 80 on the links – hardly anyone else could break 100. A year later he was dead of jaundice, at the age of 44. 'They may toll the bells and shut up the shops at St. Andrews, for their greatest is gone,' said one tribute. It would be the following year before the annual crowning of the game's champion golfer would begin.

Willie Park Snr

Born June 30, 1833, Mussselburgh, East Lothian; died July 25, 1903, Scotland Open champion 1860, '63, '66 and '75

The first staging of what is now called the Open Championship was at Prestwick in 1860. Eight caddies, who the following day would be back carrying the clubs of their amateur masters, contested the title over three rounds of the 12-hole course in one day. Tom Morris, the home professional, was the favourite. Willie Park, from Musselburgh, was the winner. He won by two strokes and was the first to claim the Challenge Belt, made of red Moroccan leather by Edinburgh silversmiths James & Walter Marshall. A replica was presented to South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen on winning the 150th anniversary Open at St. Andrews in 2010.

Park, the son of a farmer, learnt the game by playing with a whittled stick. He was a prodigiously long driver of the ball and a fine putter – he used the same club for both facets of the game. He arrived in St. Andrews in 1854 as a wiry youngster of 20 and challenged the great Allan Robertson to a game. Robertson never did play Park but a match was arranged with George Morris, Tom's brother. George was thrashed, losing the first eight holes, so Tom, now based in Prestwick, ventured east to regain family honour. He could not. Over rounds at St. Andrews, North Berwick and Musselburgh, Park prevailed.

The pair would battle many times over the decades, often partnered by Tom's son, Tommy, and Willie's brother Mungo. In their last head-to-head match at Musselburgh in 1882, Park was two-up with six to play when the referee stopped the match because spectators were interfering with play. Morris and the referee retired to the pub but Park stayed out and sent word that, if they did not return, he would play the remaining holes anyway and claim the match. Which he did.

In the first nine Opens – amateurs were allowed to play from 1861 – Park won three times, finished runner-up four times and was never worse than fourth. He won a fourth title in 1875. Mungo Park, five years younger, also became Open champion in 1874, while Willie's son, Willie junior, was the champion in 1887 and '89. Willie junior then devoted more time to his club-making business and he became one of the first commercial course designers, with the Old Course at Sunningdale among his gems. He also wrote well on the game and said: 'The man who can putt is a match for anyone.' As a fine putter it applied to himself, as well as to his father.

As well as issuing a standing challenging to anyone in the world to a £100-a-side match, Willie Park Snr also took on club golfers while standing on one leg and playing one-handed. They say he only lost once. While putting, he was one of the first to stress the importance of never leaving the ball short of the hole, in stark contrast to his great rival, Tom Morris.

Old Tom Morris

Born June 16, 1821, St. Andrews, Fife; died May 24, 1908, St. Andrews, Fife Open champion 1861, '62, '64 and '67

Tom Morris's one flaw as a golfer was his putting. 'He would be a much better player,' his son chided, 'if the hole was a yard closer.' Worse, from close range he was shaky. A letter was once delivered to him successfully, addressed to 'The Misser of Short Putts, Prestwick'. He was not offended. As someone who lived to the age of 86 and survived his wife, daughter and three sons, perhaps he knew there were worse things in life than missing a few putts.

By the time of his death, from a fall down the stairs at the New Club in St. Andrews, Morris was much loved as the game's 'Grand Old Man'. His influence on the game outweighed anyone else's in the second half of the 19th century. He first started playing golf in St. Andrews as a six-year-old. He was an apprentice of Allan Robertson but they fell out for a time when he was found using the new gutty ball, which his employer had banned.

Morris went to Prestwick in 1851 as Keeper of the Green, establishing the course that would host the first 12 Opens. He was runner-up in the first of them but then won a year later and the year after that by 13 strokes, a record for major championships that would stand until Tiger Woods won the 2000 US Open by 15 strokes. He won again in 1864, the year he returned to St. Andrews to become Keeper of the Green on the Old Course, paid a salary of £50 a year by the R&A. The course we know today essentially evolved under Old Tom's care.

He also laid out many other courses, including the New Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Muirfield, Dornoch and County Down. He influenced some of the finest course architects, including Donald Ross, Charles Blair Macdonald and Harry Colt, while Dr Alister Mackenzie studied his work extensively.

Morris was a man of deep religious conviction and established the convention that the Old Course should be rested on a Sunday. He also bathed in the sea, summer and winter, east coast or west, every day. Horace Hutchinson described his golfing style: 'There is a great deal of body swing in his driving stroke. It is a rather slow swing, the kind of swing that permits a man to use a rather supple club. Tom's clubs are supple and flat in the lie and his swing is a flat one, rather of the "auld wife cutting hay" style, according to Bob Martin's description of his own fine driving manner – generally sending the ball away with a fine flat trajectory that gives a good run.'

After the death of Robertson, Morris and Willie Park were the pre-eminent professionals of the time – until his son, Tommy, came along. Tommy was dashing and daring, everything his father was not. 'I could cope with Allan myself,' Old Tom said, 'but never with Tommy.' In 1867, at the age of 46 years and 99 days, Old Tom won his fourth Open title and remains the oldest ever winner.

Young Tom Morris

Born April 20, 1851, St. Andrews, Fife; died December 25, 1875, St. Andrews, Fife Open champion 1868, '69, '70 and '72

In 1868, at the age of 17 years, five months and eight days, Tommy Morris – later to be written into golfing legend as 'Young Tom' – won his first Open and remains the youngest ever winner. He was aided by the championship's first hole-in-one on Prestwick's eighth hole. Once he started winning, he did not stop. He won the next year and again in 1870, when his three-round, 36-hole score was 149, which remained the lowest ever until the championship expanded to 72 holes in 1892. He won by 12 strokes and The Field reported: 'His play was excellent. In fact, we never saw golf clubs handled so beautifully.'

Under the rules bequeathing the Challenge Belt, anyone winning it three times in a row was allowed to keep it. The belt remained on the Morris sideboard until Old Tom's death in 1908, when it was relocated to the R&A clubhouse. There was no Open in 1871. With no trophy to play for, once again, as in the days of Allan Robertson, golf had an undisputed champion.

When the Open resumed in 1872, with a new silver claret jug to play for, Morris won again, and remains the only player to win four times in succession. He was the game's original boy wonder. He first started hitting balls on the beach at Prestwick but his game really developed after the family returned to St. Andrews. Aged 13, he accompanied his father to a tournament in Perth but played in a private match against a local boy. His score would have won the official competition. Aged 16, he beat all the professionals at Carnoustie, winning a playoff against Willie Park and Bob Andrew.

Young Tom never cared for the deferential life of a club caddie. Instead, he saw himself solely as a player. 'His exuberant address and slashing full swing was regarded as the only model for a first class player,' wrote contemporary golf author Garden Smith, who added that notions of 'slow back', 'keep your eye on the ball' and 'stand firm on your legs' were 'conspicuous by their absence'.

In 1874, Tommy married Margaret Drinnen and in September the following year they were expecting their first child. Tommy and his father went off to play against the Park brothers at North Berwick but word came that they should return home. They sailed back that night but it was too late. Meg and the baby had died in childbirth. Tommy was distraught with grief. He played golf only twice more, the last time in a six-day, 12-round match in December. They played through snowstorms and Tommy won but, now drinking heavily, his health was deteriorating. He was found on the morning of Christmas Day, dead of a ruptured artery that had bled into his lungs – although the romantic legend endures that he died of a broken heart.

He was buried in the cemetery in the grounds of the ruined St. Andrews cathedral, walking distance from the Old Course. A monument was erected with the inscription: 'Deeply regretted by numerous friends and all golfers. He thrice in succession won the champion's Belt and held it without rivalry and yet without envy. His many amiable qualities being no less acknowledged than his golfing achievements.'

John Ball

Born December 24, 1861, Hoylake, Cheshire; died December 2, 1940, Holywell, Flintshire Open champion 1890; Amateur champion 1888, '90, '92, '94, '99, 1907, '10 and '12

If Young Tom was the first player we would recognise today as a tournament professional, John Ball was the opposite – the game's first great amateur champion. His father was the owner of the Royal Hotel at Hoylake, which provided the headquarters for the Royal Liverpool Golf Club when it was founded in 1869. Ball was eight at the time and living on the edge of the links immediately gave him a new passion. He was talented and proficient enough to finish tied for fourth place in the Open at Prestwick in 1878 as a 16-year-old (some texts say he was 14 but the dates suggest otherwise).

As a prize he received ten shillings, a payment which became relevant when his club decided to put on a national championship for amateur players in 1885. The only problem was that no one knew quite what an amateur was. The suggestion was someone who did not take prize money from a competition, which ruled out the Elie stonemason Douglas Rolland, who was runner-up at the 1884 Open and accepted the prize. But what about Ball, the host club's ace? The club decided to place a statute of limitation on the acceptance of prize money and Ball was cleared to enter.


Excerpted from The 100 Greatest Ever Golfers by Andy Farrell. Copyright © 2011 Andy Farrell. Excerpted by permission of Elliott and Thompson Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Won Golf Book of the Year at the 2012 British Sports Awards

"An enjoyable read."  —LibraryJournal.com 

"A good, quick reference — perfect for bedside reading." — The State

Meet the Author

Andy Farrell is the author of The Open Championship. Padraig Harrington is a professional golfer who plays on the European Tour and the PGA Tour. He has won the Open Championship twice and the PGA Championship.

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The 100 Greatest Ever Golfers 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
louvin2 More than 1 year ago
An engaging new volume has British golf expert writing biographical sketches of 100 notable golfers. Farrell's approach is chronological from Allan Robertson to Rory McIlroy. The proflies (generally about a page each) are excellent and make a case for each golfer's inclusion giving the essential details of each career and omitting nothing important. Having said this, I have two reservations. First, the pictures (one for each golfer) are not well-reproduced, ranging from just adequate to very poor (Lee Trevino, for example.) Second, Farrell's choices tend to be inclusive rather than analytical. John Daly and Charlie Sifford both have great stories, but neither is among the best hundred. And Farrell tends to include golf pioneers whose career credentials don't quite measure up. The book is a great read, but for a reliable list of golf's best, I'll stick with Elliott Kalb's WHO'S BETTER, WHO'S BEST IN GOLF, even though a few years out of date.