Biography of the Golf Pioneer
Young Tom Morris was arguably the first “rock star” in golf, a player whose fame extended beyond the game. Born into a Scottish golfing family — his father was, naturally, called Old Tom Morris — Tommy (as he was often called during his brief life) began playing professional tournaments at the age of 14. He won four Open Championships in the 1860s and 1870s before dying tragically young at the age of 24.
Fast Facts: Young Tom Morris
- Known For: 19th century golf pioneer
- Born: April 20, 1851 in St. Andrews, Scotland
- Died: December 25, 1875 in St. Andrews, Scotland
- Key Accomplishments: Winner of four Open Championship titles
- Spouse: Margaret Drinnen (died 1875)
- Fun Fact: In the 2016 movie Tommy’s Honour (based on the book of the same name), actor Jack Lowden portrayed Young Tom Morris.
Major Championship Wins
Morris’ four wins in the Open Championship happaned in 1868, 1869, 1870 and 1872. The 1868 tournament was the ninth time the Open, founded in 1860, was played. The 1872 tournament was the 12th time it was played.
Since the Open was not played in 1871, that makes Morris the only golfer to win the British Open four consecutive years. (Only one other golfer has won the same major four years in a row: Walter Hagen in the PGA Championship, 1924-27.)
Young Tom Morris Biography
Long before there was Tiger Woods — before there was any other famous player in golf history, for that matter — there was Young Tom Morris: a prodigy of such accomplishment that he was a legend in his own time. So accomplished was Morris that he was responsible for the creation of the Claret Jug, the now-traditional trophy for the winner of the Open Championship.
But Morris’ life was all too brief: He died tragically, on Christmas Day, at the age of 24.
Morris’ father, known as Old Tom Morris, won four of the first eight Open Championships ever played. His last British Open was in 1867, one year before Young Tom’s first British Open title.
But Young Tom Morris had been turning heads even before that. His first big win, according to the World Golf Hall of Fame, was an exhibition match in Perth at the age of 13. At 16, he won a big professional event at Carnoustie.
Morris’ introduction to golf came over the Prestwick Golf Links, where his father was the greenskeeper (in fact, Old Tom had laid out the original Prestwick twelve). When he was 13, Young Tom beat Old Tom in a match for the first time, and his father was the reigning British Open champion, so that was a pretty big achievement.
Young Tom played in the Open Championship for the first time in 1865, when he was just 14 years old.
When he won the British Open in 1868, he was only 17 years old. Young Tom won again in 1869 and 1870. At that time, the winner of the tournament was presented with a “championship belt,” officially called the Challenge Belt. The rules stipulated that anyone winning the belt three consecutive years got to keep it. Morris did just that, and the belt was his permanently.
But that left the tournament organizers with a problem: They no longer had anything to present to the winner.
There was no tournament in 1871 (largely because there was no “trophy” to present), but by 1872 the now-famous “Claret Jug” had been commissioned. The new trophy wasn’t ready yet, however, so when Young Tom Morris won the 1872 Open, he didn’t get it. The Claret Jug was first presented the following year, but Morris’ name was the first winner engraved on the trophy.
Three years later, Morris was playing an exhibition match when he received word that his wife and child had both died during childbirth. Morris himself died mere months later, on Christmas Day, 1875, at the age of 24. At the time most people sentimentally blamed it on a broken heart, but the death certificate listed the cause as a pulmonary hemorrhage.
Young Tom Morris was outlived by his father, Old Tom Morris, by more than 30 years.
- Old Tom Morris after his son’s death: “People say he died of a broken heart; but if that was true, I wouldn’t be here either.”
- Inscription on memorial at Morris’ gravesite: “Deeply regretted by numerous friends and all golfers, he thrice in succession won the Championship belt and held it without envy, his many amiable qualities being no less acknowledged than his golfing achievements.”
- In 1868, Young Tom Morris won the Open Championship and Old Tom Morris finished second. It is the only time a son and father have finished 1-2.
- At the 1869 British Open, Young Tom Morris scored the first recorded hole-in-one. It happened during the first round.
- In 2007, the book Tommy’s Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf’s Founding Father and Son, by Kevin Cook, won the Herbert Warren Wind Book Award as best golf book of the year. In 2021, the book was turned into a golf movie, also titled Tommy’s Honour.