Harrington Follows Braid into Record Books

As the challengers fell away on Sunday afternoon it looked like it was going to be a case of last man standing. Then Padraig Harrington reminded us why he is such a great champion. Harrington was four under for the last six holes and that included some of the best golf of the week. And his five wood into the 17th green was the shot of the championship – perhaps the finest shot in an Open for sometime.

That shot confirmed what, by then, we already suspected. Harrington, dogged, determined and inspired in equal measure, was going to retain his crown. In doing so he became the first European since James Braid to win back to back Claret Jugs.

James Braid clinched his back to back victories at St Andrews in 1905 and Muirfield in 1906. He’d already won at Muirfield in 1901 and went to capture two more titles at Prestwick in 1908 and St Andrews in 1910. That’s a record Harrington might like to emulate.

Like Harrington, Braid could actually be called a late starter: Harry Vardon and John Henry (JH) Taylor – Braid’s colleagues in golf’s Great Triumvirate – had won three Opens apiece before Braid won in 1901. In fact they had both won back to back triumphs: Taylor in 1893 and 1894 and Vardon in 1898 and 1899.

James Braid was born in Fife. Despite their proximity to the Home of Golf his parents displayed little interest in the game and the young James was taught by his older cousins. Trained as a carpenter, and skilled in finding and refining discarded second hand clubs, Braid developed his trademark style of forceful golf at the Elie links.

As an amateur he was offered the post of clubmaker at the Army and Navy in London. His success in the role, combined with good results in amateur tournaments, persuaded him to turn professional in 1896. He immediately made his presence felt on the professional circuit and finished second behind the English amateur Harold Hilton in the 1897 Open.

Like so many golfers before and after him, however, Braid’s fine long game was let down by a distinct lack of reliability on the greens. That changed when he cast off his wooden putter and began using a new aluminium model.

The simple change of equipment sparked a phenomenal 12 year stretch that included those 5 Open wins, another runner up place in 1909 and British PGA victories in 1903, 1905, 1907 and 1911.

Braid retired from competitive play in 1912 and became professional at Walton Heath in Surrey, where he remained until his death in 1950. As a course designer Braid was the architect of the Kings and Queens Courses at Gleneagles and helped remodel Carnoustie. It is thought that he designed or redesigned some 200 courses in Britain: although much sought after he was unable to work in America because of a fear of flying and motion sickness. He is also credited with inventing the “dogleg.”

As the Great Triumvirate Braid, Vardon and Taylor won 16 Opens between them and were instrumental in establishing the model of the modern professional golfer in Britain. Braid himself was a founder member, and later president, of the British PGA.

His great friend and rival JH Taylor described James Braid as “loyal, trustworthy and sincere.” Braid was a true giant of the game. To follow in his footsteps is to walk in exalted company. After the last week Padraig Harrington does not look out of place in Braid’s shadow.

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