To lift the Claret Jug once takes a special golfer, twice a truly remarkable one. But being a three-time Champion Golfer of the Year is the most exclusive of clubs.
Only 19 men have won The Open on three occasions, yet there is an even shorter list – those who became Champion Golfer in three straight years.
Harry Vardon lifted the Claret Jug six times – more than anyone else in history – but never managed three in a row, a feat that also eluded the likes of Tom Watson, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Yet four men in the 160-year history of golf’s oldest major can claim to have triumphed at The Open thrice on the spin and each is an incredible story.
Young Tom Morris – 1868-70 (all Prestwick)
Poetically, a year after Old Tom Morris became the oldest winner of The Open, his son Young Tom Morris became the youngest ever Champion Golfer at Prestwick in 1868 – starting a reign of dominance.
He was 17 years and 156 days, almost four years younger than anyone else ever to win The Open, and not only produced record scoring but defeated his own father by three strokes.
Young Tom shot a final-round 49, a new record for the 12-hole course, and posted a total of 154 – which was eight strokes better than the old record of 162 posted by Andrew Strath in 1865.
The youngster not only repeated the trick at Prestwick the following year but also achieved The Open’s first hole-in-one at the 8th, known as The Station Hole.
It was 166 yards, over the Alps hill to a blind green protected by the huge Sahara Bunker and Morris pitched the ball on the front, it bounced forward and then curved into the hole.
That helped inspire an 11-stroke victory which showed that the 18-year-old was already distancing himself from the rest as the best golfer of his generation.
And he added to his legend in 1870 by becoming the first man to win three in a row and claim the Challenge Belt as his own, just as the original deeds demanded.
He ultimately won by 12 strokes, just one shy of the record set by his father eight years earlier, and as in the previous year, there appeared to be an unstoppable force about his golf.
To follow his historic hole-in-one, Young Tom started The Open with the first-ever 3 at Prestwick’s 578-yard opening hole.
Two good hits left him with a blind third shot of 200 yards. His ball just carried the Cardinal Bunker and then hit the flagstick and dropped into the hole.
Such was Morris’s dominance that there was no rush to provide another trophy – meaning there was no Open in 1871 – but when it returned in 1872, Young Tom won his fourth in a row and remains the only man in history to achieve that feat.
Jamie Anderson – 1877-79 (Musselburgh, Prestwick, St Andrews)
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, the son of ginger beer seller left the rest of the field trailing in his wake.
He 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 to win three Opens on the spin and the first to do it on three different courses.
By the late 1870s, Anderson was undoubtedly the best player in the world and became Champion Golfer for the first time at Musselburgh in 1877, when he defeated the field by two strokes.
He then proved his dominance in style at Prestwick in 1878 as he battled Jof Morris, Young Tom’s little brother, for the title.
Jof reached the Prestwick clubhouse in 161 shots, leaving Anderson – four holes back – needing to finish in 17 strokes or fewer, having played the previous two holes in 15.
But a 150-yard hole-out in poor weather on the 9th and a hole-in-one on the 11th – after a watching child had stopped him hitting his tee shot from beyond the markers, which would’ve meant instant disqualification – helped him ease home.
Anderson completed the trifecta at St Andrews in 1879 when he defeated Jamie Allan and Andrew Kirkaldy by three strokes but didn’t compete the following year, so had no opportunity to match Young Tom Morris’s four-in-a-row.
We dived into the full story of Anderson – the forgotten Champion Golfer – which you can read here.
Bob Ferguson – 1880-82 (Musselburgh, Prestwick, St Andrews)
The year after Anderson’s triple, Bob Ferguson started his own three-on-the-spin at The 20th Open.
The Musselburgh Links were within sight of the house where he was born and from the age of eight he had caddied on the course.
Andrew Kirkaldy hit a hole-in-one at the 9th in the opening round and then missed doing the same again in a later round by only inches but Ferguson’s local knowledge helped him to a comfortable five-stroke win over Peter Paxton.
The following year saw vile conditions hit Prestwick as a late September storm included gale-force wind, rain, sleet and snow. For context – almost 200 fishermen lost their lives at sea that day.
Play was delayed for an hour and a half while sufficient markers were found to accompany the 22 players who elected to take part and only eight of them finished.
Scoring was unsurprisingly high yet Ferguson triumphed by three strokes from the returning Anderson, which gave him a shot at matching his rival’s hat-trick at St Andrews in 1882. And match it he did.
The Scot’s form had been patchy prior to The Open but the double defending Champion Golfer produced his best when it mattered most to beat Willie Fernie by three strokes.
Ferguson’s form around the Loop at the far end of the Old Course was particularly fine, as his only 5 came at the 12th in the second round.
He almost made it four on the trot at Musselburgh in 1883 but lost a play-off to Fernie before an attack of typhoid shortly after prevented him from playing regularly again.
Peter Thomson – 1954-56 (Royal Birkdale, St Andrews, Hoylake)
The only man to achieve the three-year hat-trick since the dawn of the 20th century, Peter Thomson was also the first Australian to become Champion Golfer, went on to win four in five years and had a remarkable streak of finishing either first or second for seven championships in a row.
In 1954, Royal Birkdale made its debut as an Open venue and Thomson eventually triumphed by one stroke from Dai Rees, Bobby Locke and Syd Scott.
In the final round, the Australian found himself on the steep slope of a bunker at the 16th, 25 yards from the flag. With his feet together in an awkward stance, and his eyes closed, he thumped the ball high in the air and it stuck virtually where it landed, just inches from the hole.
“That won it for me, no doubt,” he later said. “Had I made a mess of that one, I’d have been a goner.”
At St Andrews in 1955, the then-25-year-old successfully defended his title thanks to rounds of 71, 68, 70 and 72 – his total of 281 setting a new record for an Open at St Andrews, beating Bobby Jones’s old mark from 1927 by four strokes.
Thomson’s prize of £1,000 was the first time a four-figure cheque was issued to the Champion Golfer and this was the first Open to be televised on the BBC, which broadcast parts of the final round.
And in 1956 the treble was complete, as Thomson became the first player to win three successive titles since The Open was extended to 72 holes.
The Australian’s victory was by three shots from Belgium’s Flory van Donck with a truly international field also seeing Argentina’s Roberto de Vicenzo finishing third and South Africa’s Gary Player coming fourth on his Open debut.
His place in golfing legend was secure.