Player Feature
Fred Daly
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The first Irish winner of The Open
Fred Daly The Open

There are few figures in the history of golf as beloved as Fred Daly – the former caddie at Royal Portrush who became the first Irish winner of The Open.

Celebrated by his fellow professionals and fans alike, the Ulsterman’s charm and wit ensured his triumph in 1947 – his one and only major title – was celebrated like few before it.

He remained the only winner of The Open to come from the island of Ireland until Pádraig Harrington matched the feat in 2007 – highlighting the scale of Daly's achievement 60 years earlier.

As The Open returns to Royal Portrush, it seems only right to reflect on the life of the man Sam Snead described as “one of the finest long iron players in the game”.

Never had a lesson

The son of a blacksmith, Daly was born in Causeway Street, Portrush, on 11 October 1911 and began his golfing career as a teenage caddy on the local course.

While he was encouraged to learn a trade by his father, his passion saw him obtain his first professional appointment in 1931 at Mahee Island Golf Club in County Down.He began as a green keeper and part-time professional - despite having never had a golf lesson - before moving to Lurgan Golf Club in 1933 where he focused more on playing professionally.

A lot of his early success came against the backdrop of the Second World War, with Daly winning the Ulster Professional Championship and Irish Professional Championship in 1940.

He won the Ulster Championship again in 1941, 1943 and 1944 before making his big move to Balmoral Golf Club in Belfast, where he remained for the last 45 years of his life.

It was at this time that he started to make his name in championship golf, playing his first full season of tournament golf in 1946 when he became the first Irish winner of the Irish Open.

Daly also won the Ulster Professional Championship again and finished tied eighth at The 75th Open at the Old Course at St Andrews – a sign of what was to come a year later.

His greatest triumph

Daly was already on a hot streak of form heading into The Open in 1947, with three top tens in the three tournaments he played in before teeing up at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake.

He opened up with a five-over 73 which placed him in a tie for fourth, four shots behind joint first-round leaders Laurie Ayton Jnr and England’s Henry Cotton on one-over.

Many of the first day leaders fell away during difficult conditions on the second day, but Daly surged up the leaderboard with 70 to move into a four-shot lead after 36 holes.

However, he suffered a setback in the third round as a 78 dropped him back into a four-way tie with Cotton – the Champion Golfer in 1934 and 1937 – Arthur Lees and Norman Von Nida.

With the two final rounds played on the same day, Daly had no time to reflect on his disappointment and was soon back out in the same grouping as he had been in the morning.

Reg Horne, who had begun the final round two shots back, set the early clubhouse lead with an aggregate of 294, while Daly’s struggles continued on his front nine.

He went out in 38 shots, but he dug in deep on the back nine and, thanks to a birdie on the final hole, he posted a total of 293 (21-over par) to edge out Horne by one shot.

Cotton made the turn in 36 and needed a repeat performance on the back nine to tie, but he finished on 297 - leaving Frank Stranahan as the only man who could deny Daly.

But a three putt on the 17th left the American amateur needing a two on the last and when his second shot missed the hole by inches, Daly was crowned Champion Golfer for 1947.

No one-hit wonder

Despite his win being dismissed by some as a ‘flash in the pan’, Daly went on to enjoy more success in 1947 as he continued to prove his doubters wrong in the aftermath of his Claret Jug victory.

He narrowly missed out on defending his Irish Open title a week later, before claiming the first of three British Matchplay Championship titles – defeating rival Cotton in the semi-final en route.

Later that year, he made his first of four Ryder Cup appearances, becoming the first Irish-born player to do so in what was a one-sided contest against the Americans, who won 11-1.

He delivered a valiant defence of his Champion Golfer crown a year later, finishing in second behind Cotton who claimed his third Claret Jug with a five-shot victory at Muirfield. Daly’s record at The Open remained impressive throughout the rest of his career; finishing tied second in 1950 behind Bobby Locke; fourth in 1951 at Royal Portrush and third in 1952.

In addition, he came seventh behind Ben Hogan at Carnoustie in 1953 and finished in the top ten at St Andrews two years later, while he was only 12 shots off the winner in 1958, aged 46.

His love for the oldest major championship never diminished and he played in The Open five times between 1970 and 1976 when previous champions were exempted from qualifying.

Daly lived until he was 79, when he died of a heart attack, but his legend still lives on today as a golfer whose game attracted admirers around the world.

He remained the only Northern Irish winner of The Open until Darren Clarke joined the elusive club in 2011 at Royal St George’s and Rory McIlroy followed suit three years later at Hoylake.