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History of The Open

'That's why the French play golf'


Arnaud Massy’s pioneering Hoylake triumph

Champion Golfer Arnaud Massy

The list of Champion Golfers to have lifted the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool includes several of golf’s most prolific winners, from the likes of J.H. Taylor and Bobby Jones to Peter Thomson and Tiger Woods.

Yet it can be argued that the most impactful win on Hoylake’s famous links came way back in 1907, when Arnaud Massy of France claimed a unique place in The Open’s history.

Few players from outside the British Isles had even competed in the first 46 editions of the Championship. Indeed, it was not until The 30th Open in 1890 that victory was secured by a non-Scottish competitor, Hoylake’s very own amateur star John Ball.

Harold Hilton, Taylor and Jersey’s Harry Vardon – the record six-time Champion Golfer - each enjoyed multiple successes in the years that followed as The Open continued to grow, moving beyond Scotland’s borders for the first time and attracting a wider range of players in the process.

However, the Championship remained an almost exclusively British affair throughout the first decade of the 20th Century, making a French victory in The 47th Open one of huge significance.

Ahead of The Open’s return to Royal Liverpool this July, we spoke to Massy’s great granddaughter, Tracy Edgar, to learn more about her pioneering forefather.

The Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool ahead of The 151st Open

The Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool

"The last thing he wanted to do was be a sheep farmer"

Arnaud George Watson Massy was born in the southern French city of Biarritz – roughly a half-hour drive from the Spanish border – on 6 July 1877.

“His family were actually sheep farmers and the last thing he wanted to do was be a sheep farmer,” explained Edgar, a retired nurse in Cape Town, South Africa, whose grandfather, George Wylie Alexander, married Massy’s daughter, Margot.

“He actually worked on a fishing trawler and when it was out of season he used to work as a caddie.”

Massy’s caddying duties were undertaken at Biarritz Golf Club, which happened to be a popular stop-off for British players seeking warmer climes. As a result, he was able to learn from many of the top professionals of the time.

“That's where he got his love for golf and decided that is what he would like to do,” Edgar continued. “And when he was doing so well he started to play professionally and left the fishing and the rest of the family business behind.”

A series of trips to North Berwick enhanced Massy’s golfing knowledge and it would not be long before he took up residence in the picturesque Scottish town.

At a time when the Great Triumvirate of Taylor, Vardon and James Braid were dominating The Open, Massy quickly showed his potential.

He finished 10th on debut at Royal Liverpool in 1902, fifth at St Andrews three years later and sixth at Muirfield in 1906, the year he won the inaugural French Open for the first of a record four titles in his national event.

A second French Open crown was secured the following year, but Massy was not finished there.

Arnaud Massy, the Champion Golfer of 1907

Arnaud Massy at Royal St George's

Putting France on the map

In June 1907 Massy returned to Hoylake, the site of his maiden Open appearance, and performed superbly amid challenging conditions to trail the then three-time Champion Taylor by one shot through 54 holes.

Renowned for his ability to excel in bad weather, Taylor was a strong favourite to regain the trophy he had previously secured in 1894, 1895 and 1900, but Massy sensationally got the better of the Cornishman, shooting 77 to his rival’s 80 in the final round.

For the first time in the history of The Open, a player from overseas had secured the famous Claret Jug.

Massy may have been settled in Scotland at the time of his Open success, but there was no doubting what it meant for him to claim victory for his native country.

"He was a proud Frenchman,” Edgar added emphatically. “He always believed that him winning The Open made the French people better.

“He always said that's why the French play golf, because of him. He definitely thinks that's when golf started in France as a major interest. He put France on the map with that win.”

The magnitude of Massy’s triumph certainly cannot be overstated.

To this date, he remains the only French winner of a major championship, with Jean van de Velde’s heart-breaking near-miss at Carnoustie in 1999 the closest the country has come to further glory in one of golf’s premier strokeplay events.

And although The Open would soon crown a host of American Champions through the 1920s, followed by winners from as far afield as South Africa, Australia and Argentina, it was not until 72 years after Massy lifted the Claret Jug that another player from Continental Europe, the iconic Seve Ballesteros, repeated the feat.

A smiling Massy poses for a photo at Muirfield in 1929

An enduring link to Hoylake

Remarkably, the week of Massy’s greatest golfing achievement coincided with the most joyous of news off the course as his wife Janet gave birth to the couple’s first daughter.

The child was later christened Margot Lockhart ‘Hoylake’ Massy in a nod to her father’s Open triumph, starting a naming tradition that has continued to the present day.

“My elder sister’s second name is also Hoylake,” added Edgar, whose own father was fittingly named Arnaud by Margot and her husband George.

“She is Mandrie Hoylake, so that’s carried on the tradition through the whole family.”

Arnaud Edgar was also a professional golfer, a career that took him and his relatives to South Africa.

Despite living over 8,000 miles from Royal Liverpool and the course where her great grandfather made history, Tracy Edgar has still been able to regularly revel in the achievement of her famous ancestor.

“I brag about it all the time,” she said. "I actually play the bagpipes and I played at the Citadel with the affiliation of 29 Commando and the Cape Field Artillery. We also played Music of the Night in Plymouth and holidayed in Scotland after playing there.

“When we went to St Andrews I got to brag that Arnaud Massy was my great grandfather and I made sure everyone knew that.

“We also had to make the trip to visit where my great grandfather stayed, just so I could show off again.”

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