Bob Martin twice won The Open at St Andrews. He was the first player to achieve the feat, which has only been matched by some of the game’s greats in JH Taylor, James Braid, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. In each instance, the 17th hole of the Old Course played a pivotal role for his opponents.
In 1876, with the links crowded with other players not competing in The Open and many spectators, Davis Strath unwittingly played to the 17th green before it was clear of the players in front. His approach hit one of them and was stopped from going onto the road behind the green.
He two-putted for a 5 and then took a 6 at the last to tie with Martin. There were objections that Strath should be disqualified but the Championship Committee ruled that a play-off – which would have been the first in the history of The Open – should be played before they ruled on a possible disqualification.
Strath refused to play unless a ruling was made before the play-off so Martin was declared the winner after a walk-over – after literally walking the course at the appointed time without an opponent.
Nine years later David Ayton led by five strokes by took an 11 at the 17th, twice having to play from the road. In the strong winds, Martin’s steady play enabled him to win by one from Archie Simpson, brother of the 1884 Champion Jack, and by two from Ayrton.
Martin was a St Andrews caddie and worked with Old Tom Morris in his club making business. He had a consistent record in The Open, only once finishing outside the top-nine between 1873 and 1887, and was runner-up in 1875 to Willie Park Snr and in 1887 to Park’s son, Willie Jnr.