Armour’s Immortal Memory Sustains Scots

With Alistair Forsyth and Colin Montgomerie slugging it out over the gargantuan Torrey Pines South layout this week it is easy to forget the early dominance Scotland enjoyed as golf developed into a transatlantic obsession.

Scottish golfers won 12 of the first 16 US Opens and Willie McFarlane added another in 1925. Perhaps Scotland’s most famous export in those early days, however, was Tommy Armour.

Armour’s US Open victory in 1927, coupled with his 1930 USPGA and 1931 Open wins, provided, if not the full stop, then certainly a very heavy comma on Scotland’s pretensions as a dominant nation in the game.

When Tommy Armour’s major winning days ended the Scottish nation looked around and the home of golf suddenly found that the game itself had flown the nest.

Armour, known as the Silver Scot, actually took American citizenship but he was born in Edinburgh. He went on to receive his education at Edinburgh’s Fettes College, alma mater of both the fictional James Bond and the very real Tony Blair, before being accepted at Edinburgh University.

The outbreak of the Great War was both an opportunity and a trauma for Armour. Rising through the posts of the Tanks Corp he was promoted from a rank and file private to a staff major. Dashing, gallant and handsome, Armour’s bravery won him an audience with the King.

But a mustard gas explosion left him blind in one eye and metal plates were inserted into his head and left arm. During a long convalescence he regained his sight and began playing golf. By 1920 he was proficient enough to win the French Amateur Championship and the cache of that title persuaded him he could make a name for himself in America.

Finding favour with the dominant professional golfer of the time, Walter Hagan (who he met on the trip across the Atlantic), Tommy Armour quickly found employment at the Westchester-Biltmore Club in North Carolina. In 1924 he joined Hagan as a professional golfer. Like the charming, incorrigible Sir Walt, Armour made a good living as a teaching professional and combined that with playing on the burgeoning professional tour.

That 1927 Major breakthrough, in a play off against Harry Cooper at Oakmont, proved Armour’s skill although his prowess, especially his 1930 USPGA win, was often overshadowed by the exploits of, amongst others his mentor Hagen and the incomparable Bobby Jones.

The fickleness of golf is, perhaps, most strikingly illustrated by Armour’s experience in the 1927 Shawnee Open. Crowned US Open champion just one week before Armour carded the first ever recorded “Archaeopteryx.” Or, in simple terms, he took an 18 over par 23 on a par five.

In 1935 Armour retired from major competition, although he proved a formiddable fundraising draw on exhibition tours during the Second World War, and taught golf at Florida’s Boca Raton Club. Charging $50 a lesson Armour saw celebrities and professionals queue up to be appraised by his keen eye.

In 1952 Armour produced another lasting gift for golf when wrote How to Play Your Best Golf – an instructional classic that is still read, enjoyed and lived by today. Less endearingly he also gave birth to the term the “yips” stating bluntly “once you’ve had ‘em, you’ve got ‘em.”

Armour summed up the professional golfers life:

“It is not solely the capacity to make great shots that makes champions, but the essential quality of making very few bad shots.”

And the writer Ross Goodner summed up the qualities that made him famous:

“At one time or another, he was known as the greatest iron player, the greatest raconteur, the greatest drinker and the greatest and most expensive teacher in golf.”

After a long and lucrative retirement Tommy Armour died in 1968. Shared by both Scotland and America he summed up the pioneering spirit of those early professionals and, through his writing, shared his love of golf throughout the world.

2 Responses to “Armour’s Immortal Memory Sustains Scots”

  1. Michael Donohue says:

    Minor correction: The Westchester – Biltmore was in Westchester County, New York and is now the Westchester Country Club. The Vanderbilt’s North Carolina estate was/is know as Biltmore.

  2. Bill Tidmore says:

    I”m totally blind in my left eye since age 4 yrs. I play golf from the rt with my lowest hdcp a 9. I have trouble with short game moreso close to green requiring pitch shots. I am better from the sand because I ” cheat” and ground my club. This was granted by friendly opponnets. Any suggestion on short game preventions of one eyed attempts? How did Tommy Armour play so well,it is amazing.

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