Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Remembering Old Tom: the founding father of golf and his record breaking son, Tommy

Posted on 23 September 2019 by Thomas Clark

September 23rd 2019 may not be the most exciting day in the sporting calendar, with apologies to fans of Welsh and Georgian rugby and County Championship cricket, but in 1868 it was the date for one of the most remarkable family showdowns in sporting history.

Throughout the history of sport there have been some incredible sporting families, the Mannings in NFL, baseball’s Boone lineage, the Williams sisters dominating all before them in tennis and the Italian Maldini clan to name but a few. However, none of these surely match the extraordinary achievements of Scots Tom Morris Senior and Tom Morris Junior. 

Old Tom on the first hole of St Andrews Links

To fans of golf the surname Morris, will be a well known one, the Tom’s are seen as the founding father and son of golf, and two of the sports greatest ever competitors. ‘Old’ Tom struck the opening shot in Open Championship history and won 4 of the first 7 tournaments. He is well known for his course design, innovative greenkeeping and for 138 years held the record for the largest winning margin in a major championship, until a certain Tiger Woods took that crown from him. Despite this and the numerous other golfing achievements he attained, Old Tom is generally considered by golfing historians to have only been the second best golfer in his family. 

Young Tom Morris, like his father, was an exceptional golfer and is to this day still the youngest ever winner of a major championship, at the age of 17 he claimed the first of his four straight Open titles. 151 years on, he still holds the record of being the only man to win four Open Championships in a row.

Winning a golfing major at 17 is an incredible feat, but what makes his first title even more remarkable is that Young Tom had to come from behind to beat his father to be crowned Champion Golfer of the Year for 1868. Morris Jrn had clearly been well schooled by his father on his home course of Prestwick, as he hit a remarkable final round of 49, over the course of 12 holes, to overturn his father’s lead and take the championship by 3 strokes. 

It wasn’t the first time the younger Morris had defeated his father, he first achieved that feat as a 13 year old in a friendly round when Tom Snr was reigning Champion Golfer, but it was in 1868 that the changing of the guard from father to son truly happened and began Young Tom’s unprecedented era of success. 

Sadly ‘Tommy’ passed away aged only 24, but his and Old Tom’s legacy live on in a myriad of ways. From Tom Morris Junior’s name being the first engraved on the famous Claret Jug in 1872, to both men being ranked inside the top 20 golfers of all time by Golf Magazine in 2009 and of course being the only ever father and son combination to finish champion and runner-up in a golfing major, the Morris’ will never be forgotten. 

Embed from Getty Images

The two are buried in the shadow of the “Home of Golf” in St Andrew’s Cemetery, and receive countless golfing pilgrims each year, proving to this day what an extraordinary influence they have had on the sport of golf. Whether it be playing together in friendly matches or competing against each other for the most significant prize in golf, the two Morris’ must surely be considered sports ultimate family.