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History of The Open

James Braid


The Open's first five-time Champion

A portrait of five-time Champion Golfer James Braid

Over a century has passed since James Braid last won the Claret Jug, but he remains the founder of one of the most exclusive clubs in golf after becoming the first five-time Champion Golfer of the Year.

Braid capped a decade of exceptional performance in 1910 with a fifth Claret Jug in 10 years, while in that time he also recorded three runner-up finishes and two other top-fives.

The Scot remains one of the most consistently successful golfers The Open has ever seen. On his debut in 1894, he finished in a tie for 10th and it was not until 1913 that he finished lower - a run of 18 successive Opens.

He won four of his titles in just six years and in 1910 joined Bob Martin and J.H. Taylor as a double winner at St Andrews, having also won in 1905. He remains the only player in Open history to have won twice at both the Home of Golf and Muirfield.

Along with fellow Open icons Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor, Braid was one third of the Great Triumvirate that dominated golf in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a relentless player who boasted incredible consistency and enviable talent.

Five-time Champion Golfer James Braid

Promise from an early age

Born in Fife in 1870, Braid played golf from an early age despite his parent's lack of enthusiasm for the sport – first picking up a club at around the age of four at a local club.

He originally trained as a carpenter and joiner upon leaving school at 13, before his interest in reconditioning old golf clubs saw him take up a position as a clubmaker in London.

Following a successful spell as an amateur, Braid turned professional in 1896 and worked as a club professional in Romford before later moving to Walton Heath in Surrey.

He made his Open debut at Royal St George's in 1894 and was immediately competitive, yet prior to the turn of the century Braid struggled to convert his immense potential into wins.

Switch works wonders

As a tall man, Braid was known for possessing a formidable long game and he could hit the ball huge distances compared to many of his rivals around at the time.

Yet he was hampered by his inconsistent form on the greens as he experienced a number of near misses at The Open - finishing sixth in 1896, second in 1897, fifth in 1899 and third in 1900.

That all changed when he switched from a wooden-headed putter to an aluminium-headed model in 1900, with his first Open title following a year later at Muirfield.

Having previously found himself in the shadow of Vardon and Taylor, who had already won three Opens each by 1901, Braid began to not just win - he dominated the rest of the field.

James Braid as Walton Heath professional

The crowning moment

At Muirfield, he hooked his first tee shot so badly it went over a wall and out of bounds but after that, there was hardly a mistake.

He went into the final round with a five-shot advantage over Vardon, with Taylor two further strokes behind, before eventually clinching his first Claret Jug by three strokes.

The 72nd hole at The Open has always been one of the most dramatic settings in sport and Braid had his own moment with his final approach shot - as the shaft of the club splintered and the head flew off towards the clubhouse. Fortunately, the ball went where it was supposed to and he finished with a four to become Champion Golfer of the Year.

Once he had overcome his initial trouble on the greens, Braid became a masterful putter.

Taylor said of his rival: "I have yet to meet the player who could hole the 10-yard putts with greater regularity."

Both Taylor and Vardon were three-time Champion Golfers by the time Braid won his first Open in 1901, but the Scot soon overhauled both men.

Further victories in 1905, 1906 and 1908 were followed by that historic fifth title in 1910, lifting Braid above an illustrious quintet of four-time Champions in Taylor, Vardon, Willie Park Snr, Young Tom Morris and Old Tom Morris.

To this day, only Vardon – who went on to record his fifth and sixth wins in 1911 and 1914 – has surpassed Braid’s haul of victories. Taylor moved alongside Braid in 1913, before Peter Thomson and Tom Watson achieved the same outstanding feat in 1965 and 1983 respectively.

A lasting legacy

Dressed in his signature tweed cap and Norfolk jacket, which was always worn with collar and tie, Braid was known for his stylish look as well as his stylish game.

In his later years, he retired from professional golf and concentrated on his passion for course design while remaining head professional at Walton Heath, where he served for 45 years.

It is estimated his influence as an architect was felt by more than 200 golf courses around Great Britain, Braid leaving his mark on lasting treasures such as Royal Troon and the Championship Course at Carnoustie before his death in 1950.

According to the James Braid Golfing Society website, Braid's course designs "amount to a legacy the equal of any golfing architect from his day to the present.

“Braid was a ‘thinking’ golfer’s course designer. He could visualise how a hole could be created from the natural lie of the land. His bunkering tested the slightly wayward shot, not those of a novice. He thought deeply about variety, wind direction, turf condition, green size, tee positions and he sought to give pleasure and challenge to all golfers.

“For these reasons the basic layouts of Braid’s courses are often intact today, merely enhanced or modified for modern equipment and tastes.”

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