1st British Open Golf Championship
The previous year’s General Open Championship had been contested by eight professionals, with Willie Park the winner over Old Tom Morris by two shots. The 1861 tournament, again held at Prestwick Links Course, was the first true Open , with nine professionals competing with eight amateurs.
The Victorian view of gentlemen and players is nicely epitomised in the fact that the professionals had to play accompanied by markers to ensure they did not cheat or adjust their scores, while the gentlemen amateurs naturally were trusted to mark their own cards.
In spite of this the leading amateur finished 21 shots adrift of that year’s winner, Old Tom Morris, who shot 167 to beat his great rival and the winner in 1860, Willie Park. It is interesting to note that the leading amateur was none other than Major James Fairlie, whose brainchild the previous year’s tournament had been. Fairlie finished in eighth place, beating two of the professionals.
The championship was again played over 36 holes, three rounds of the Prestwick course as it then was. Morris, then aged 40, and the holder Park were tied on 54 shots after the first round. Park took a two shot lead at the end of the second, repeating his 54 while Morris could only manage a 56.
Park lost his lead with a daring attempt to cross “the alps” on the second hole, ending up in a hazard. Morris increased his lead to two by hole four, but they were level pegging again after six. Old Tom now hit a hot streak and was four shots up after 11, managing a two at the short 11th hole.
With Park having finished on 167 Morris had to play the final hole without disasters to win, but he flirted with danger by driving long grass just in front of a large pool of casual water, the residue of the heavy rain that had soaked the course. Rather than take a penalty drop – and he had shots in hand – Morris swiped the ball out of its tough lie, and recorded a final round of 53 to win by four strokes, the first of his four Open wins.
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