Cape Gazette

The 19th Hole

Young Tom died of a broken heart

By Gene Bleile | Jul 18, 2013

Young Tom was a handsome man with curly black hair who liked to wear the latest fashions. He would usually wear a suit, tie and vest when he played golf. He stood only 5-feet, 8 inches tall, but he was a giant of a man who left his mark on the game forever.

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He was born in St. Andrews, Scotland, The Home of Golf. Just like his father Old Tom, he was destined to become a legend and one of the great pioneers of the game. He was the first golf prodigy in the game's history.

He won his first British Open at age 17. He died on Christmas Day at age 24, from what many friends say was a broken heart. But before we discuss his death, let's get to know the man and his life.

The rest of the story:

Young Tom Morris, Jr. was born on April 20, 1851 and was the son of Old Tom Morris, the legendary golfer and head greenskeeper at St. Andrews Links. During his career, Old Tom won four of the first eight British Open Championships, invented new golf clubs and perfected the new guttie ball or gum center ball. Young Tom grew up and learned the game of golf at the Prestwick Golf Club, where his dad got his first job as head pro and greenskeeper. Old Tom was paid a nice salary for his reputation, knowledge of the game, lessons and technical advice on the course layout at Prestwick.

This allowed Young Tom to have the best of everything and his early schooling came at the prestigious Ayr Academy for the sum of 15 pounds per year. He studied with the sons of noblemen and rich businessmen and learned the game of golf from his father.

Young Tom did not caddy or go into the club-making business like his father, but he played the game with a passion on a daily basis. In 1864, at age 13, he defeated his father - the current British Open champ - in a friendly match at St. Andrews.

He then went on to win his first (professional) head-to-head match with another local youth champion. His first payday at age 13 was five pounds, which is the equivalent of $850 by today’s standards.

In 1865 at age 14, he played in his first British Open, but did not finish the event.  The following year, he placed ninth. In 1867 he came in fourth. In 1868, he reached golf’s immortal icon status.

Starting that year, he won four straight British Open Championships (1868-1872; there was no Open in 1871), all of which were played on his home course at Prestwick Golf Club. He currently holds two records which may never be broken. The first record is the youngest winner, at age 17, and the most wins in a row, four, both of which still stand uncontested to this day.

Young Tom also has the honor of being the first golfer to ever hit a hole-in-one during tournament play.  In his first British Open in 1868 he played a mid-iron from the 166 yard eighth hole and scored an ace. During play in the 1870 Open he started the tournament with a three or double albatross (eagle) on a par six, 578 yard hole, using  hickory shafted clubs and a guttie ball.

In September of 1875 Young Tom and his father were on the 16th green of a tournament at North Berwick, Scotland, when a telegram was quickly delivered to him. His heart sank when he read that his wife, Margaret, was in a difficult labor and his presence was urgently needed.

Tom and his father finished the tournament (Young Tom won) and rushed home by ferry across the Firth of Forth. When Tom arrived, he found his wife and baby, both dead from delivery complications.

Tom never recovered from the loss and died from a broken heart on Christmas day. Friends and family were told it was from a heart attack, but they all knew he couldn’t go on without his family.

19th Hole trivia

• In his last two British Opens, (1873, 1874) Tom finished tied for third and finished second respectively.

• Tom was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975.

• In a “Golf” magazine survey, Young Tom was ranked 14th best player overall; his father was ranked 19th.

• Prestwick Golf Course was a 12-hole course. (18 holes was not a standard.)

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