Everything has led to this.
Our Decades of The Open series is celebrating the remarkable journey of golf’s original Championship in the build-up to The 150th Open at St Andrews in 2022.
This latest article focuses on the 1900s, when James Braid firmly established himself among the dominant players of the era along with Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor.
History was also made as The Open was won by an overseas player for the first time, with France’s Arnaud Massy claiming a hugely significant victory at Royal Liverpool.
Brilliant Braid makes his mark
Braid was a distant third in the first Open of the new century at St Andrews, finishing five behind Vardon – who was chasing a third title in succession – and a whopping 13 strokes adrift of the dominant Taylor.
Victory for Taylor meant he and Vardon had combined for six wins in seven years, but Braid was about to make his own indelible mark on golf’s original Championship.
The big-hitting Scot broke through at Muirfield in 1901 and was victorious again at the same venue five years later as the defending Open Champion, having triumphed in the meantime at St Andrews in 1905.
Braid then thundered to another success at Prestwick in 1908, finishing eight clear of his nearest rival as he secured a fourth win in the space of seven years.
By the end of the decade, each member of the Great Triumvirate – Braid, Taylor and Vardon – had four Open titles to their name, tying the record held by Old Tom Morris, Young Tom Morris and Willie Park Snr.
What is more, neither Braid, Taylor nor Vardon were finished, with all three adding to their tally of Open wins in the 1910s.
Herd’s sole success
Only two players – Gary Player and Sandy Lyle – have competed in more Opens than Sandy Herd, who made 38 appearances between 1885 and 1933 in a career of outstanding longevity.
A frequent challenger for the Claret Jug, Herd suffered the pain of a second-place finish on four occasions, with 28 years separating his first runner-up finish in 1892 and his fourth in 1920.
Yet there was no denying the Scot in 1902 as he edged out both his compatriot Braid, and Vardon, by a single shot at Royal Liverpool.
Herd benefited from using the new Haskell ball, which had a wound rubber core, rather than the old gutty and his success prompted his rivals to follow suit.
A Vardon double act
Following his successes in 1896, 1898 and 1899, Vardon’s only success in the 1900s came at Prestwick in 1903.
The 43rd Open would prove particularly special for the Vardon family, as Harry’s brother Tom claimed second place behind his more illustrious sibling.
The Vardon brothers became the third set of brothers to record a 1-2 at The Open, after Willie and David Park in 1866, and Hugh and Andrew Kirkaldy in 1891. The feat has not been repeated since.
Massy the trailblazer
Few Open triumphs carry as much significance as Arnaud Massy’s victory in 1907.
Prior to The 47th Open, the Championship had been won exclusively by golfers from the United Kingdom, but Massy changed all that by holding off Taylor at Royal Liverpool.
Taylor led by one with 18 to play, but his 80 in the final round was bettered by a 77 for Massy.
It would not be too long before many more overseas players, led by a host of American stars in the 1920s, were able to follow Massy’s lead by becoming Champion Golfer.
However, Massy remained the only winner of The Open from continental Europe for 72 years, until Seve Ballesteros claimed the Claret Jug for the first time at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
The Champion Golfers of the 1900s
Did You Know?
An enormous field of 183 players took part in The Open of 1906 at Muirfield. The following year saw a rule change, with all competitors required to come through a qualifying competition at Royal Liverpool. As a result, only 67 players made it through to The Open proper.
Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1900s: 33
Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1900s: Three Scottish (Braid, Herd, White), one English (Taylor), one Jerseyman (Vardon), one French (Massy).