Player Feature
Jamie Anderson
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The forgotten Champion Golfer
The Gravestone of three time Open Champion Jamie Anderson at St Andrews Cathedral. Image Credit: Paul Sutcliffe

In The Open’s juvenile years, Scotland dominated.

From the players to the courses, the game’s oldest major started life north of the border, where legends were formed and its heroes first played.

Indeed, the first 29 Championships were won by Scottish golfers and even now – more than 100 years on – they remain the standard-bearers for today’s players, the elders of the links.

From Willie Park Sr - the first Champion Golfer at Prestwick in 1860 – to four-time Champion Old Tom Morris, the early years were littered with all-time greats.

But one man often forgotten is Jamie Anderson, a three-time Champion Golfer and two-time runner-up.

Unlike Young Tom Morris, whose natural talent carried him to the top of the game as soon as he was old enough to swing a club competitively, Anderson was something of a late bloomer.

But when he did bloom, he left the rest of the field trailing in his wake.

Golf genes

Like so many of the early Champion Golfers, the game ran in Anderson’s blood.

He was born in St Andrews in 1842, the son of David ‘Daw’ Anderson – a greenkeeper at the Old Course who would have undoubtedly worked alongside Old Tom Morris.

Anderson Jr first started playing at St Andrews aged 10, while also assisting his father sell ginger beer from a portable cart.  

Indeed, the sight of them selling their drink was so familiar, the Old Course renamed their par-4 fourth hole ‘Ginger Beer’.

But Anderson did more than just assist his old man. He also worked as an apprentice in his early life and mastered the art of club making.

However, to anyone who saw him play, it was obvious it was on the course where he really excelled.

Jamie v Tom

It was a rivalry that captivated the time. The young, swashbuckling Tom Morris Jr – the heir to Old Tom’s throne – and Anderson, the son of a ginger beer seller, battling it out across Scotland in an arm wrestle to be top dog.

Add in Bob Kirk and Davie Strath, two up and coming players who would both go on and record multiple second-place finishes at The Open, and you had a golden generation ready to snatch the mantle from Old Tom and his more senior adversaries.

Anderson held his own and the matches were always close. But when Young Tom was at his best, there was simply no stopping him.

He won his first Claret Jug aged just 17 in 1868 and went onto defend it in each of the three following years.

It took Anderson until 1873 to show future Champion form when he finished second behind Tom Kidd at St Andrews, but the premature death of Young Tom prevented the two going head-to-head in their prime.

Anderson’s age

Anderson first captured the Claret Jug in 1877 aged 35 and followed it up with two further wins in 1878 and 1879, becoming the second player – after Young Tom – to win three Opens on the spin and the first to do it on three different courses.

By the late 1870s, he was undoubtedly the best player in the world and he proved it in style at Prestwick in 1878.

On the 12-hole course, he battled J O F Morris, Young Tom’s little brother, to be Champion Golfer of the Year.

J O F reached the Prestwick clubhouse in 161 shots, leaving Anderson – four holes back – needing to finish in 17 strokes or fewer (Anderson had played the 7th and 8th holes in 15 shots).

However, on the 9th hole he produced a piece of magic in poor weather, launching his approach shot towards the narrow green from 150 yards.

He breathed a sigh of relief when it landed safely on target and then celebrated wildly when it rolled into the hole.

More drama followed on the par-3 11th, when a watching child noticed Anderson was about to hit his tee shot from ahead of the markers – an error that would have meant instant disqualification.

After replacing his ball, Anderson swung hard and carried the ball to the back of the green before watching it roll gently back down the slope and in for a miraculous hole-in-one.

A simple five on the last saw him retain his title, while thousands of supporters revelled in what they had just witnessed.

Fall from grace

After such a long journey to the top of the sport, Anderson’s time there was short-lived.

The well quickly dried up, with a second-place in 1881 to Bob Ferguson, who was about to equal Anderson's feat of three consecutive Open wins.

His career and life unravelled as he fell into the dangerous traps laid by alcohol, and he died aged 64 in a poorhouse near Thornton.

He was laid to rest in the Cathedral graveyard, a short walk from the Old Course but – as one of only four golfers to have won three consecutive Opens – a campaign was sparked to erect a fitting memorial.

Roger McStravick, a local author, was at the heart of the campaign, and with the help of crowdfunding he organised for a headstone to be unveiled in July 2018.

Jamie’s legacy

Anderson may have been forgotten by many but his legacy was as strong as any in Open history, perhaps because of the following tale.

In 1879, at the peak of his powers, Anderson was followed by a fan, marvelling at every stroke the three-time Champion Golfer played.

Later in the day, Anderson coached the man’s son and told him that he too could become Champion Golfer of the Year.

In 1901, 22 years later, James Braid fulfilled Anderson’s prediction.

“I followed him like a little dog gazing with admiration at everything he did, touching his clubs and repeating to my friends some of the wonderful things that he said in ordinary conversation,” said Braid – who would go on and become a five-time Champion Golfer.

In an age of Old Tom and Young Tom, Bob Ferguson and the Park dynasty, Braid’s hero was Jamie Anderson – a golfer who cannot not be forgotten.