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Player Feature

Bob Ferguson


Destined for Open greatness

Back in the latter half of the 19th century, The Open was a tournament characterised by dynasty.

First Young Tom Morris, then Jamie Anderson and finally Bob Ferguson; all three men completed the feted trio of back-to-back-to-back triumphs.

A feat that has been achieved only four times, it took more than 50 years for Peter Thomson to complete the hat-trick from 1954-56 – and no-one has done it since.

But it was Ferguson who was the last of that great trio, whose name will be forever writ large on the Claret Jug for all to see – not once, not twice, but three times.

Destined for the links

Born within sight of a course that is synonymous with The Open’s early years, Ferguson’s relationship with Musselburgh began early.

He started caddying there at the tender age of eight, learning every inch of one of the world’s oldest courses.

By 18 he had moved the clubs from his back to his hands and was making a name for himself as a player, reputedly impressing a spectator so much on his way to winning the

Leith Tournament that he bought Ferguson a set of sticks that he would go on to use for the rest of his career.

A long driver and the champion of a run-up putt from off the green with what quickly became known as his ‘Musselburgh iron’, It was only a matter of time before the local lad was to take the step up in what were surroundings that could not have been more familiar.

The perfect homecoming

Back in the early days of The Open, the championship was rotated between three Scottish venues: Prestwick, St Andrews and Musselburgh.

After coming close on a number of occasions – a tied third at his local course in 1877 and a fourth at Prestwick in 1875 – Ferguson’s time finally came at the dawning of the new decade.

His sixth Open, Ferguson capitalised on a field that was light of several of the game’s leading stars, reigning champion Anderson a notable absentee.

Playing with Old Tom Morris in his first round, a 40 from his nine holes was a fine return considering the fact that it included an eight after he dinged one off a nearby telegraph pole.

Two more steady rounds left him level with Peter Paxton at the summit of the leaderboard heading into the final nine.

But local know-how kicked in, as the consistent Ferguson saved his best for last, carding a 39 as Paxton faded with a 44 to scoop the title and a winner’s cheque of £7.

Continued success

After his maiden Musselburgh success, the challenge really started for Ferguson.

Out to defend his title the following year, he would be made to do so not only on a Prestwick course that was far less familiar to him than his home links, but by this time beating the likes of the returning Anderson.

In terrible weather, Ferguson kicked his Championship off with another eight, setting off a nightmare stint at the first across his three rounds – going 8-9-8.

In spite of his early troubles, he recovered to shoot 53-60-57 in a three-round Open to edge out Anderson by three shots.

The following year, Ferguson looked to make it a hat-trick of triumphs at separate courses as he arrived at St Andrews as the man to beat, incentivised by a bounteous prize kitty bumped up all the way to £12.

Another different format saw the championship split into two rounds of 18, Ferguson’s 83-88 enough to see him claim glory once again by three shots.

A runners-up finish the following year meant he missed out on matching Young Tom Morris’ four on the spin as he lost out to Willie Fernie in a play-off.

Two more Open appearances followed, but a bout of typhoid ended his competitive career prematurely, leaving him to return to Musselburgh as custodian.

His legacy was enshrined not only on the Claret Jug but, trivially, in the follicular records: until Shane Lowry became Champion Golfer of the Year in July, Ferguson was the last bearded man to win The Open.