Willie Park SR was the very first Champion Golfer of the Year. He received the Challenge Belt, made of red Morocco leather, after winning the inaugural Open at Prestwick in 1860 and beating the home club’s professional, Old Tom Morris, into second place.
The pair were great rivals, often playing challenge matches which also included Willie brother Mungo, an Open winner himself in 1874, and Tom’s son Young Tommy, who was the best of the lot. Willie Park Snr’s son, also called Willie, became a two-time winner of The Open and a noted golf course architect. Willie Park Snr was the son of a farmer from Musselburgh and started playing golf with a whittled stick for a club.
Tall and lanky, he could hit the ball prodigious distances but was also accurate given his length. He had an attacking style which could sometimes cause his downfall. He was also a fine putter, making sure never to be short of the hole. His first tee shot in the first Open was described as “sounding as if it had been shot from some rocket apparatus”.
He came to the final green with two putts for the title from 30 feet, though over the bumpy green three putts could not be ruled out. He required only one, a sharp tap finding the hole and he won by two. In the first eight Opens he won three times and was runner-up four times.
A fourth title came in 1875, 15 years after his first, as he tied the two Morrises for the then record number of victories. For 20 years he issued a standing challenge that he would take anyone in the world on for £100 – even playing left-handed or while standing on one leg.