In the rest of the world, they call it the Open Championship. Americans call it the British Open, but if any tournament is considered the battle for the world championship of golf, it is the one held annually on the great links courses of Scotland and England, the birthplace of the game.
By the time the 1977 Open came to Turnberry on Scotland's west coast, Jack Nicklaus had established himself as the greatest champion the golf world has ever known, well on his way to the record that Tiger Woods would spend his childhood dreaming of and pointing toward. The sight of Nicklaus on the leaderboard was enough to make strong golfers shake. Everyone knew that Nicklaus was the man to beat in every major championship he entered.
At the same time, Tom Watson had become the latest golfer to be heralded as the "Next Nicklaus." Watson had overcome his reputation for choking in big tournaments and was beginning to be viewed by his peers as the top player of his generation. He had won two majors, but there were still questions about his ability to stand up under the fiercest pressure.
There are few moments in sports when it is clear to one and all that a torch has been passed. The 1977 Open Championship at Turnberry was one such event. The weather was uncharacteristically warm, British golf fans bared their pink skin to the unfamiliar sun, and the course played hard and fast. Nicklaus and Watson were tied after the first two rounds. Nicklaus shot a blistering 65-66 over the last two days to post a 72-hole score that set a tournament record; but Watson, paired with Nicklaus over those fateful 36 holes, looked Jack in the eye and shot 65-65 to win by a stroke. And the Next Nicklaus had been found at last, even as the original kept winning major tournaments -- but the air of invincibility was gone forever.
Michael Corcoran takes the drama of this rare moment in golf history and brings it to vivid life. He draws on his interviews with competitors, caddies, commentators, and spectators to tell the magnificent story of this epic duel in all the rich detail any fan of golfing drama could ask for. Duel in the Sun is an unforgettable tale of the rise of a new hero and the grace of an older champion welcoming him to the summit of the game.
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Simon & Schuster
May 12, 2010
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Excerpt from Duel in the Sun by Michael Corcoran
In the summer of 1977, the eight best golfers in the world were all veteran American players. Jack Nicklaus was the most accomplished player and the biggest star among a murderer's row that included Lee Trevino, Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller, Raymond Floyd, Hubert Green, Hale Irwin, and Tom Watson. When these eight players teed it up at the Open Championship at Turnberry in southwest Scotland during the first full week of July that year, they were joined by an emerging threesome of extraordinary talent that would one day rise to eminence: nineteen-year-old Nick Faldo of England, twenty-year-old Severiano Ballesteros of Spain, and twenty-two-year-old Greg Norman of Australia. The scions of America's championship golf tradition, led by twenty-three-year-old Jerry Pate and twenty-five-year-old Ben Crenshaw, were also on hand at the Turnberry Hotel that week to compete in the 106th playing of the Open Championship. It was the first time that Turnberry had hosted the Open.
There were, of course, other big-name golfers at Turnberry, including the biggest name of them all. At age forty-seven, Arnold Palmer's best days as a player were behind him, but he was still the most recognizable golfer in the world. He was alone among the U.S. players in remembering and experiencing a time not even twenty years before when America's best golfers were reluctant to play in the Open. Some were undoubtedly too small-minded to grasp the significance of competing in the Open, a condition that was aggravated by the small amount of prize money available. Others shrunk from the challenge simply because of the arduous journey to Britain and the fact that, having made the journey, they would still have to survive two qualifying rounds before they even got to play in the championship proper. Still another obstacle in the days before widespread and convenient transatlantic air service was the proximity on the calendar of the U.S. PGA Championship to the Open -- the two were usually held within a week or two of each other.
Arnold Palmer went to Scotland to compete in the Open for the first time in 1960, and it would be inaccurate to say that America's undivided attention was focused on him when he crossed the Atlantic Ocean in late June. The Cold War, which had shown signs of reduced tension between the U.S. and Soviet Russia early in the year, had turned more bitter than ever in May when CIA-employed Gary Powers was shot down over Russia in his U-2 spy plane. It was also a presidential election year, and in the summertime the campaign of the young Irish Catholic senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, was gaining momentum. Sports fans in the States, however, had very little to distract their interest in Palmer's trip to the Open; his timing was just right. When the Olympics started in late August, Americans would be enthralled by the triumphs of Al Oerter, Rafer Johnson, and a skinny light-heavyweight boxer from Louisville, Kentucky, named Cassius Clay. When the World Series was played in the fall, it would feature the New York Yankees for the twenty-fifth time since 1920, led by American League MVP Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. Despite their big name players, the Yankees lost in the seventh game when Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski slugged a ninth-inning home run. A few months after that, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik would sit on top of Green Bay running back Jim Taylor as the clock ran out in the NFL Championship Game at the University of Pennsylvania's Franklin Field. In the sports championship void of high summer, however, Palmer was the biggest news in American sports. When he traveled first to Ireland to play in a tournament called the Canada Cup, and then on to St. Andrews for the Open, the sporting public's interest went along with him.
Palmer's professional contemporaries in America at the time certainly took note of his trip, and since he had been beating their brains out all year, were probably glad to hear he wouldn't be around for a few weeks. With the exception of Palmer, top-level American professional golfers in 1960 thought all the talk of the history surrounding the Open Championship and the significance of winning it was just so much flapdoodle when you got right down to it. American players reasoned that a trip to the Open was a money-losing proposition even if they won top prize (which in 1960 was ?1,250, or $3,500), and cited this as the reason they stayed home instead of trekking to Great Britain to try to win the game's grandest championship. Henry Longhurst, the brilliant English writer, didn't hold it against them. "With so much money at stake at home," wrote Longhurst in 1959, "the leading American professionals no longer venture across the Atlantic as [Walter] Hagen and [Gene] Sarazen did in the golden age of golf. Much as we may regret it in Britain, we can hardly blame them, yet I venture to believe that they lose something by not coming at least once, and that even [Ben] Hogan felt that the British Open added a sense of completeness to his career."
Palmer's bid for the Open title at St. Andrews in 1960 would be only the fourth by a leading American professional at the top of his game since the championship resumed after World War II. Frank Stranahan, an American amateur and heir to the Champion spark plug fortune, finished as the runner-up in the 1947 and 1953 Opens and played in the tournament regularly during the postwar years. Sam Snead, from West Virginia, won the first Open played after the war, in 1946 at St. Andrews, and then not a peep was heard from America's best professionals until 1953, when Texan Ben Hogan arrived to play in his one and only Open at Carnoustie on Scotland's east coast. Hogan won, adding the Open to the Masters and U.S. Open titles he won earlier in the year. He was the only player to win three professional majors in a single season until Tiger Woods matched the feat forty-seven years later. The Scots admired Hogan's single-mindedness, but quickly realized he lacked a warm side in public, dubbing him "the Wee Ice Mon."
During the postwar years, appearances by Americans were so rare that it was news during the 1951 Open that an American caddied in the tournament. His name was Bob Carlsson, and he wore a University of California sweatshirt while working the bag for K.E. Enderby. In 1955, the top American finisher was Ed Furgol, who had won the 1954 U.S. Open. Furgol finished eleven shots behind the winner, Australian Peter Thomson, and was joined in the field by Americans Johnny Bulla and Byron Nelson, who had by then retired from competitive golf. In 1956, the Open was played in England and Snead and Hogan were there just prior to the championship to play in the Canada Cup. Neither bothered to play in the Open. American Cary Middlecoff made the trip in 1957, one year after winning his second U.S. Open, but in 1958 the only recognizable American face at the Open belonged to fifty-six-year-old Gene Sarazen, who won the championship in 1932.
The 1959 Open was played near Edinburgh at a golf course called Muirfield, the home course of the oldest golf club in the world, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, established in 1744. (It is worth noting here that a golf club is a group of people -- members -- and the golf course is the playing field used by the members of the club.) Despite the venerable site, not a single American professional showed up. The top golfers from the rest of the world were there, however: Fred Daly from Ireland; Bobby Locke and Gary Player from South Africa; Antonio Cerda and Roberto De Vicenzo from Argentina; Dai Rees from Wales; Flory Van Donck from Belgium; Kel Nagle and Peter Thomson from Australia, who found the excuse of inadequate prize money a poor reason for not playing in the Open. "I know I was making money, or I wouldn't have been going," said Thomson. "The first prize I won at the Open was ?750. You could buy a reasonable house for that amount in those days. There was plenty of money to be made out of winning the Open Championship, but there wasn't much to be made by coming in second. Anyone who went to the Open worried about not getting their money back was probably better off out of it anyway."
Fifty years after he made his first trip to Britain in 1951, Peter Thomson recalled that "it took three days because a single air crew took the plane the whole way, and they had to rest every night. After leaving Australia, we stopped the first night in Singapore. The next night was spent in Karachi, and on the third night we finally made it to London. That was if the plane didn't break down, of course. In those days there were frequent breakdowns. It was a great adventure for me. I was a young man on a fact-finding mission." Thomson made regular trips to compete in the U.S. Open as well.
The Argentine De Vicenzo on occasion endured even more than Thomson to play in the old championship. "It is not so easy to get there," said De Vicenzo in broken English fifty-two years after he first made the trip. "I play for first time in 1948 and finish pretty good behind Henry Cotton. I keep this in mind and come back next year and I did good again. Then I decide to play every year. One year, I think it was 1949, I think I cannot go because I do not have the money to go on the plane. Some fellow at a boat company give me a free ticket to go, and it took seventeen days to get to England. When I woke up in Liverpool, I walk off the ship looking like a lost golf player."
South African Gary Player won the 1959 Open at Muirfield, but the talk of the town early in the week was "Papwa" Sewsunker Sewgolum, an Indian-born man playing out of Durban, South Africa, who shot a seventy-one in the qualifying rounds using a cross-handed grip. (For a right-handed player, which Sewgolum was, that meant placing his left hand lower on the club, beneath his right hand.) A black South African named Edward Johnson-Sedibe also tried to qualify to play at Muirfield. He borrowed a set of clubs, turned in a score of eighty-eight in the qualifying and told anyone who listened that he liked being there so much that he planned on sticking around, especially if someone would give him a ride to London. The journey from South Africa to Edinburgh was certainly more daunting and expensive than a trip to the same destination from New York, and if Johnson-Sedibe, a player who didn't even have his own clubs, understood what just having a chance to compete in the Open should mean to anyone who loved the game, were America's best players simply myopic in completely dismissing the Open?
The easy answer to that question is yes. The one thing American professionals could see clearly was the dollar sign. Palmer had won $14,400 when he won the U.S. Open in June 1960, roughly four times more than he would get if he won at St. Andrews. The prize money had never been big in the Open, but the lack of it hadn't deterred adventurous American professionals like Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen from going to Britain in the 1920s and '30s to see how they stacked up against the rest of the world. Compared to the players who came before them, American tour players in 1960 were living large. Writing in the May 2, 1960, issue of Sports Illustrated, Herbert Warren Wind noted that the young Americans, led by Palmer, "were fortunate in hitting the pro ranks at the golden moment when purses were reaching new highs, and endorsements and promotions frequently doubled what they earned in prize money." Wind, a keen observer of the game and its trends who also wrote about golf for many years for The New Yorker, was dead on the mark. Even players who completely lacked Palmer's appeal were making endorsement income. The magazine advertisements of the time support Wind's observation: Bob Goalby Autographed Clubs by Rawlings. More and more the choice of the young pro; Dow Finsterwald won the Los Angeles Open in Munsingwear. Winners wear Grand Slam Golf Shirts by Munsingwear. Don January won the Tucson Open wearing Munsingwear, too. A golf ball advertisement for U.S. Royal golf balls summed things up nicely. Beneath photos of Ken Venturi, Fred Hawkins, Al Besselink, Bill Collins, and Howie Johnson, the copy reads: Major tournament winners say: "You're longer off the tee with U.S. Royal...the ball with H.I.V.!" Several decades before the world was familiar with the AIDS virus, "the ball with H.I.V." was not the shocking thing about the advertisement (it stood for "high initial velocity"). What was astonishing was that as of 1960 none of those five men had won a professional golf championship of historic significance. The money they made from these endorsements certainly paled in comparison to the bounty reaped by current-day professionals, but it was income nonetheless.
America's leading golfers in 1960 were not a destitute lot who couldn't afford a trip to the Open. The median annual family income in America in the mid-1950s was $5,657. From 1949 to 1959 the lowest amount won by the leading money winner on the American golf tour was $26,088.83 by Sam Snead in 1951. By 1954, Bob Toski had more than doubled that total by winning $65,819.81. Palmer led the list in 1958 with $42,607.50. Even considering the expense of traveling to play on the American tour, the top money earners could have gone to the Open with some degree of regularity if they had any desire to prove they were the best in the world, even if it meant stretching the family finances and even if they made the trip only every other year. Where was the desire to prove oneself against the best that all professional athletes claim burns deep within? Moreover, what happened to the sense of adventure that Americans claim is part of their national heritage?
The reasons American players stayed away from the Open had to be deeper than money, and they were. The United States had emerged from World War II as the wealthiest and most advanced nation in the world in terms of technology and creature comforts. It never took much for Americans to assume that anything at home was better than what the rest of the world had, and during the postwar Eisenhower years this feeling ran deeper than ever. (Incidentally, Ike himself took to the links of Scotland. Grateful for his wartime service, the British had given him the run of the joint at Culzean Castle, just down the road from Turnberry. He played more than a few rounds at Turnberry.) "In those days," said Bob Toski nearly fifty years after he led American money winners, "if you were tops in America, you were tops in the world. The strength of the foreign players was nothing like it is today. I didn't have anything to prove by going over there. Even if I won, it wouldn't have covered the expense involved." For Toski and his fellow American professionals, it was easy to feel justified in their belief that professional golf in the U.S. was the game at its highest level. American teams regularly routed those from Great Britain during the biennial Ryder Cup competition, and non-American players rarely won significant tournaments in the U.S.
There were other reasons the Open did not appeal to American players. The golf courses used for the Open were not watered except when it rained, and this meant that the ball could take unpredictable bounces when it landed. At the time, competitive rules set by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (the Open's organizing body) dictated the use of a ball that was smaller in circumference than the 1.68-inch one used in America. The 1.62-inch "British" ball required some getting used to on the part of visiting players. As such, the Open Championships of the late 1940s and 1950s were viewed as an aberrant form of the game that favored those who grew up playing it. On the basis of what they knew of foreign golfers, American players could easily convince themselves that the Los Angeles Open had a better field than the so-called world championship played each summer in Great Britain. The great American players of the first half of the twentieth century had looked across the ocean and seen the world's best players embodied by the likes of England's Harry Vardon. An American golfer in the 1950s looked across the sea and saw nothing.
The American distaste for the Open was acquired at the expense of British golf fans, particularly the Scots. The British fans wanted to see all of the best players compete in their championship, and that included the Americans. Their love for the game was uncompromising; they were even interested in the week-to-week tournaments in the States, not to mention the three major championships played there. The Evening Telegraph, a Scottish newspaper, ran an American comic strip called "MacDivot" and encouraged readers to "sit back and travel the tough American golf circuit. Follow Sandy's adventures on the dollar trail in the exciting MacDivot picture strip."
Essentially, the leading professional golfers in America during the mid- and late 1950s didn't care one wit about the British readers of "MacDivot" or about what Longhurst described as a "sense of completeness" to their careers. The reality was that America's best players had rather lazily turned their backs on the game's oldest championship. The fact that every American player who sought true greatness before them had competed in the Open Championship was lost on all of them but one.
The golf tournament that American sports fans routinely refer to as the British Open does not have the word "British" in its name. It is simply the Open Championship. The qualifying "British" is a convenient way of distinguishing between the Open Championship and the U.S. Open Championship and was put into use by writers with an American audience. Over the years, American fans and most American professional golfers have considered their own U.S. Open to be the premier championship in the world and as such attribute to British snobbery any suggestion that the British version is the Open. There is, however, no arrogance involved in referring to the world's oldest golf championship as the Open. In fact, aside from the fact that it is sometimes held on golf courses in England and occasionally won by English golfers, the Open is not so much British as it is Scottish. (The current-day Great Britain is composed of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Each has a very distinct national identity while still acknowledging a single monarchy, the House of Windsor, embodied by Queen Elizabeth.) The championship's roots are in Scotland, and to this day it is conducted by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland (R&A), a body that is the game's primary governing and rule-making body throughout the world with the exceptions of the U.S. and Mexico. For the first thirty-five years of the Open's existence, there were no other meaningful championships that allowed professionals to compete, hence there was no need to call it anything other than the Open Championship. (It is only logical, and the same principle pops up in other places. British golf professionals are members of the Professional Golfers' Association, whereas their American counterparts are members of the Professional Golfers' Association of America. When the British formed their association, no other group of golf professionals existed. Similarly, the amateur championship of Great Britain, first played in 1885, is known as the Amateur Championship.)
When the Open was first played in 1860, it's unlikely that anyone in London or the rest of England even knew it had taken place. Certainly no one in America was aware that it had. The first transatlantic cable between the U.S. and Britain had been completed two years before, but broke after just a few weeks, laying silent until 1866. Even if another method of quickly and effectively transmitting the news had existed (it didn't), most Americans didn't care about anything that was happening elsewhere in the world. The few Americans who had time to pursue leisure activities in 1860 certainly weren't playing golf. In New York, a man might pass some time at Harry Hill's sporting house, watching and wagering on which of two gamecocks with razors affixed to their claws would kill the other. If he grew bored of that, he might go across town to Sportman's Hall to watch a rat-baiting handicap or classic. The hall held 250 spectators who paid up to a $1.50 to watch a handicap, in which a dog was timed to see how long it would take to kill its weight in rats, and $5 to watch a classic, where a specially trained terrier was thrown into an eight-foot-long pit with one hundred rats and timed to see how long it would take him to dispatch of all of them. The best terriers could get the job done in twenty minutes.
Only six million Americans -- about one in five -- lived in urban environments in 1860, so amusement took on whatever form was handy in rural areas. When they had time for entertainment out on the farms, they turned to things such as cornhusking and country dances. The family might gather in the parlor at night and take turns reading to one another or play Dumb Crambo, a game similar to charades. During the day they were playing a game that had British roots, but it wasn't golf. It was baseball, which in rural America at the time was called barn ball, old-cat, or town ball.
Across the Atlantic, after having suppressed the rebellion in India in 1858, Great Britain was at peace. Queen Victoria was one-third of the way through her reign, placing the still vast British Empire in the midst of what history would come to refer to as the Victorian Age. With the empire having set aside war for the moment, its citizens had time to reflect upon more cerebral pursuits. In 1859 they were shoved directly into the deepest intellectual question of them all with the publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection. Those who couldn't be bothered with Darwin's evolutionary theories could divert themselves by reading Charles Dickens's newest work, A Tale of Two Cities. It would still be a few years before they would see the words of Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing," which was written in 1860, but it is probable that the thing of primary interest to them from America was not poetry but whether or not the Union's naval blockade of the Confederacy would affect shipments of cotton to Britain. (It did. By the end of 1862, 458,000 people who worked in Britain's cotton-related industries were out of work and collecting relief administered by the Poor Law Board.) Members of the upper class might have heard news from the continent regarding Claude Monet and a chap named Renoir, two emerging artists, or perhaps of a young man named Paul Morphy, an American from New Orleans who was touring Europe and successfully defeating all comers at the chessboard.
Up in Scotland (up from England, that is), many of Her Majesty's subjects were using their free time to pursue the game of golf. They had been doing so for hundreds of years by the time Victoria ascended to the throne, and certainly during the reign of King James IV of Scotland (1488 to 1513), who has gone down in history as the man who issued the royal order banning "futeball and golfe" because he felt it was interfering with the archery practice of his soldiers. It turned out the king was correct: When he led his army in an invasion of England in 1513, he and his forces met the English at the Battle of Flodden. At day's end, James IV and most of his men lay "cauld in the clay." The surviving Scots presumably retreated to Scotland and resumed playing golf. James IV was the grandfather of Mary Queen of Scots, who herself enjoyed playing golf before being deposed in 1567. Kings and queens continued to pursue the game despite Mary's bad luck (she was eventually beheaded), but job responsibilities kept getting in the way. Charles I of England was playing a round of golf on the course in Leith (near Edinburgh) in 1641 when a rider approached carrying news of the Irish Rebellion. While the rider knelt before his sovereign, his horse munched quietly on the grass.
The round of golf being played by Charles I when he was so rudely interrupted was not all that dissimilar from the modern game. For certain, the clubs and balls were different, as were the rules and the number of holes that were played. Nevertheless, if an observer from the early days of the twenty-first century were spirited back to that day on the Leith links, he would undoubtedly realize that Charles I was playing golf.
Forty years after he went to St. Andrews in 1960, Arnold Palmer said that he made that trip because he remembered reading about the British Open as a schoolboy and seeing other accounts of players such as "Bob Jones and Walter Hagen, who not only played in the Open, but won it. Ever since I had robbed my wife, Winnie, of a Walker Cup honeymoon by turning pro late in the fall of 1954 after winning the National Amateur, I'd had it in my mind to play in the British Open. [The Walker Cup is a biennial match between amateurs from the U.S. and those from Great Britain and Ireland. The 1955 Walker Cup was played at St. Andrews.] I went in 1960 because it was at St. Andrews, and by then I had done well enough to afford to go. Of course, it turned out to be especially important after I won the Masters and the U.S. Open earlier that year." Palmer was on track to be the first professional golfer to win all four of golf's major professional championships in a single year. After watching Palmer pull off the largest ever final-round comeback to win the U.S. Open in June, Herbert Warren Wind wrote in Sports Illustrated that Palmer had "unshakable faith in himself and is wonderfully ambitious. Behind him lie the Masters and the U.S. Open now and before him the Centenary British Open. He will go to St. Andrews with a very good chance to continue his sweep [of all the major titles in a single year], for here is not only a marvelous golfer but, if you will forgive a Victorian phrase, he seems to be destiny's favorite."
Palmer's timing was propitious for the Open Championship as well as himself. The championship was celebrating its one-hundred-year anniversary, but its age was showing in the worst possible way. The championship was old, so old in fact that even Palmer probably didn't quite comprehend its true age. The Open predated the sinking of the Titanic by fifty-two years, the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk by forty-three years ("No Balloon Attached to Aid It!" cried the headline in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper), the massacre at Little Bighorn by sixteen years, the Transcontinental Railroad by nine, and the first bank robbery by Frank and Jesse James by six.
It's considerable age, however, wasn't enough to bolster the Open's fading prestige. The failure on the part of the best American players to fully participate had damaged the tournament. America had the most of a lot of things, among them the most recreational golfers (golf fans) and the most top-shelf professional players, and the absence of America's best players and the interest of its fans had pushed the Open to the brink of becoming an anachronism. The thing that had always made the Open stand alone in the world of golf was that it was the de facto world championship played in the land where the game began -- a championship that not only was open to all who aspired to play in it (assuming they were good enough), but one that encouraged and nurtured the perception of itself as a true international event. It had been that way almost from the outset in 1860 when the members of the Prestwick Golf Club, on the west coast of Scotland, laid the foundation for the Open. (While even nongolfers are aware of St. Andrews's reputation as the "home of golf," that town is on Scotland's east coast, on the opposite side of the country from Prestwick. St. Andrews is indeed the spiritual home of golf and is today the "home" of the Open insofar that the tournament's organizing body resides there. The Open's "birthplace," however, is Prestwick.)
The need to have a recognized champion in any pursuit of physical and mental skill is as old as man, a requisite for the content existence of both the highly skilled competitors and the not-so-talented who gather around to watch them. Contests of skill exist in every culture for two reasons: They lessen the tedium of life and, more important, they resolve doubt, which is one thing humans have a lower tolerance for than tedium. It was the gnawing of doubt that led to the Open. Throughout the 1850s, everyone in Scotland who knew anything about golf knew that Allan Robertson was the best golfer of them all. Robertson, who is regarded as the first golf professional in history, earned his living crafting golf clubs and balls (by boiling enough goose feathers to fill a top hat, stuffing them into a leather casing, and sewing it shut) at his shop in St. Andrews. On occasion, Robertson would put aside his tools and take to the links, where he had a reputation as a money player. The high-stakes games of the day had more in common with Thoroughbred racing than with today's modern professional golf tournaments. In Robertson's day, individuals would financially "back" players in competition, and during the course of play, spectators would crowd around the players and make countless bets as well. Robertson was considered the top gun in such matches and had been so since 1849 when he teamed with his understudy, Tom Morris, to defeat Willie and Tom Dunn of Musselburgh, with ?400 up for grabs. When Robertson died in 1859, it left a void in the minds of the game's enthusiasts -- there was no one who could be pointed to as the champion golfer among all others.
At the spring meeting of the members at Prestwick on May 30, 1860, one of Her Majesty's officers proposed a solution to the "problem" facing the golfers of Scotland. He was Major J.O. Fairlie, and his idea was that "a private subscription should be opened with a view to procure a Medal for professionals [author's emphasis] to be competed for under regulations submitted to the meeting." The men in the room immediately consented to put five guineas toward the purchase of the medal, with the hope that the other leading clubs in Scotland would contribute funds as well. They did not, and Prestwick was left holding the bag as it were. Undaunted, the men of Prestwick assumed the sole responsibility of creating the championship, and they eventually provided thirty guineas from the club's coffers for the purchase of a red morocco leather belt with silver plates attached to it. It was called the Challenge Belt, and the members of Prestwick declared that any man who won it three years running would take permanent possession of it.
On Wednesday, October 17, 1860, the tournament for the Challenge Belt was played at Prestwick. There were eight players in the field, and in that single day they went around the twelve-hole Prestwick links three times for a total of thirty-six holes. To understand how the Open actually became "open," it is important to review the scores of the eight men: Willie Park (174), Tom Morris (176), Andrew Strath (180), Bob Andrew (191), Daniel Brown (192), Charlie Hunter (195), Alex Smith (196), and William Steel (232). The three leading players, Park, the winner, Morris, and Strath played superb golf by the day's standards, with Park and Morris averaging slightly less than five strokes per hole and Strath averaging precisely five strokes. After those three players, the scoring dropped off significantly, with the last-place finisher Steel taking