- Alistair Tait
What Would Old Tom Morris Think of Golf Today?
You have to wonder what Old Tom Morris would make of golf as it is today if he could be magically reincarnated and transported from his resting place in the cemetery at St Andrews Cathedral and placed gently on the 18th hole of the Old Course, the hole named after him?
Today’s is Old Tom Morris Day, the 200th anniversary of his birth on North Street in the auld grey toon on the 16th June 1821.
Old Tom might not be able to stand on the 18th green too long staring at the flag that bears his name as St Andrews celebrates the bicentenary of his birth. Low handicap golfers on the 18th tee might be launching tee shots into him from the tee 354 yards away!
Wonder how close Old Tom ever got to the 18th green in his heyday?
Old Tom was the Champion Golfer of his era until son Young Tom took over. Old Tom won The Open four times – 1861, 1862, 1864 and 1867 – only to be upstaged by his son, who won it four years in a row.
The elder Morris certainly knew his way around the Old Course. Old Tom not only learned to play on the links of his hometown, he was appointed greenkeeper to the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in 1865, a position he officially held until his retirement in 1904, and then continued in an advisory role until his death in 1908.
What would Old Tom make of the R&A going out with the boundaries of the course for modern Open Championships to provide a sterner test for today’s players? What would he have made of the Rory McIlroy’s and Dustin Johnson’s hitting 360 yard bombs, driving the greens at the ninth, 10th, 12th and 18th holes in ideal conditions? Turning the 17th into a drive and pitch par-4 when there’s no wind?
What would he think of today’s white orbs that seem to travel forever? Clubs with frying pan heads and graphite shafts? Sixty-four degree wedges? Range finders? Computers that give spin rate, launch angle, clubhead path, angle of attack, clubhead speed and the shipping forecast within seconds of impact?
Maybe Old Tom would have rejoiced at golf’s evolution. After all, he himself was a club and ball maker. Indeed, he fell out with Allan Robertson, with whom he had served his apprenticeship, because Old Tom favoured the new gutty ball while Robertson was a feathery man.
Old Tom’s course expertise was renowned. Besides the Old Course, he helped create or remodelled numerous courses throughout the British Isles – Royal County Down, Royal North Devon, Machrihanish, Royal Dornoch, Carnoustie, to name a few. Maybe Old Tom would have welcomed the massive increase in distance, since it would probably have led to more design fees to help bring courses up to the challenge of today’s technology.
With his tweed jacket, tie and gaberdine troosers, wonder if old Tom would embrace shorts, ankle socks, and round-neck shirts untucked at the waist? Maybe he’d dress like Ian Poulter. Perhaps John Daly. There’s a thought!
The St Andrews Links Trust is planning numerous events to celebrate Old Tom Morris's legend. Golfers lucky enough to play the Old Course today will receive a commemorative certificate. The New Club of St Andrews is hosting a competition on the New Course for local golfers in his honour. Sunday sees the Old Tom 200 Invitational on the Old Course.
Wonder how old Tom would feel about all the fuss?
Maybe Old Tom wouldn’t be too worried about all of the above. Maybe, like seemingly the rest of the golf world, he be more interested in a faux feud between two American major winners that seems more media driven than player driven.
Wonder if Old Tom ever rolled his eyes at Willie Park from Musselburgh and grumbled under his breath? The St Andrews Citizen would have had a field day.
#JustSaying: “The Almichty had Gowf in his e’e when he made this place.” Old Tom Morris on first seeing Machrihanish