Everything has led to this.
Our Decades of The Open series is celebrating the remarkable journey of golf’s original Championship in the lead up to The 150th Open.
This latest article focuses on the 1910s, when Harry Vardon set an Open record that remains unmatched more than 100 years on.
Braid’s stunning run continues
Not content with four Open successes in the 1900s, James Braid became the first man to record five victories in the Championship when he triumphed at St Andrews in 1910.
Although he won by four shots from Sandy Herd with a 72-hole aggregate of 299, Braid actually played five full rounds of golf over the Old Course.
Braid was on the 13th hole when he was informed the first round was being cancelled due to flooding caused by a severe thunderstorm. However, the Scot opted to play on in case he had been misinformed, carding a best-of-the-day 76, only for it to be wiped from the records.
Another 76 ensured Braid trailed by three after the rescheduled opening round and he was still two behind George Duncan with 18 holes to play.
However, while Braid shot 76 once again in the final round, Duncan slumped to an 83 and finished a somewhat distant third.
“I cannot play this damn game”
The following year saw Vardon match Braid’s haul of five wins, courtesy of a somewhat unusual play-off victory over Arnaud Massy at Royal St George’s.
Eight years on from his fourth victory at The Open, Vardon found himself facing 36 additional holes when he and Massy tied on 303 in regulation play.
However, the play-off then proved hugely one-sided, with Vardon opening up a five-shot lead over the first 18 and then extending his lead to 10 through 34 holes.
It all became too much for Massy, the Champion of 1907, on the penultimate scheduled hole. After Vardon had found the green in two, the Frenchman threw down his club and offered his hand in concession, stating: “I cannot play this damn game.”
Remarkably, the Championship began with a field of 226 players, meaning the first two rounds took three days to complete.
Jersey’s second Champion Golfer
Vardon is not the only Open Champion from the island of Jersey. In 1912, he had to be content with finishing second to his friend and fellow Jerseyman, Ted Ray.
What is more, Ray was able to make history at Muirfield as he recorded the first wire-to-wire victory in a 72-hole Open.
Having placed in the top six in each of the previous five years, Ray opened with a 71 to lead by one and then shot 73 in round two to open up a three-shot advantage over Vardon.
A 76 stretched Ray’s advantage to five and he finished four clear of Vardon courtesy of a closing 75, with Braid a further four shots back in third.
Five wins apiece for the Great Triumvirate
Ray’s win was one of only five successes between 1894 and 1914 that was not achieved by one of the Great Triumvirate, comprised of Vardon, Braid and J.H. Taylor.
The latter claimed his fifth and final Open victory in 1913, once again winning by a dominant margin at Royal Liverpool.
Each of Taylor’s previous successes had come by at least four strokes and this occasion was no different, as he matched the winning margin he had achieved at St Andrews in 1900, finishing a whopping eight shots clear of Ray.
Taylor’s success drew him level with Braid and Vardon, 19 years after he had become the first of the Great Triumvirate to win golf’s original Championship.
Vardon stands alone
The Open of 1914 would be followed by a lengthy hiatus brought about by World War I. When the Championship resumed in 1920, Taylor, Vardon and Braid were all aged between 49 and 50, and their time as the game’s dominant forces had finally come to an end.
However, in the final Open before the war, the then-44-year-old Vardon claimed a sixth victory at Prestwick to set a benchmark that has still to be matched.
With Braid having slipped out of contention following a solid first round, Taylor initially looked likely to record his sixth success when he moved two clear of Vardon through 54 holes.
Yet the defending Champion faltered badly in the final round, enabling Vardon to win by three courtesy of a closing 78.
In the decades to come, Peter Thomson and Tom Watson would join Taylor and Braid as five-time Champion Golfers, with Watson also coming agonisingly close to a sixth success at Turnberry in 2009.
Vardon, however, remains the only player to have won The Open on six occasions and – based on recent history - it is a record he appears likely to hold for quite some time.
The Champion Golfers of the 1910s
1915-1919 – No Championship due to World War I
Did You Know?
Five-time Champion Golfer Braid is the only man to have won two Opens at St Andrews and two at Muirfield. His final Open triumph came at the Old Course in 1910.
Average age of Champion Golfers in the 1910s: 40
Nationalities of Champion Golfers in the 1910s: Two Jerseymen (Vardon & Ray), one Scottish (Braid), one English (Taylor).