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Heartbreak

Of course, I found it nearly impossible to know, when looking at photos of Young Tom, whether or not I read accurately into his faraway look, that it was indeed a sensitive nature I saw in his gaze. I was discussing that very thing with David Joy one day, and he alluded to something I'd never heard or read about Young Tom before, a kind of inner turmoil beneath that apparently placid and always amiable demeanor, which may well have added to his depression and anomie in those dark final months after Margaret's death.

"You look at the photographs of Tommy as he gets older," Joy said, "that distance in his eyes. It stems in part, I think, from the fact that he was kind of stuck between two stools in his life. When he was down at Prestwick he was going to school at the Ayr Academy with Colonel Fairlie's R&A-bound sons. But to be a professional golfer back then was kind of frowned upon. It was sort of subservient. The attitude of the very gentlemen they caddied for would be, 'Of course he can beat me, all he does is play golf all day.' There was a definite divide. Old Tom never went into the R&A club in his life, even after he retired and was made an honorary member.

"If he wanted to see the secretary, he'd tap on the window or knock at the side door. He knew his place. Young Tom knew both societies and didn't fully fit into either. He was gaining a huge following and was incredibly charismatic and yet there was still not really any status as such in being a pro golfer. I'm not saying he was an angry man, but there had to have been stress."

There does seem to be some evidence to support the suggestion that Young Tom was, in Joy's words, "hugely unpopular" with the R&A members back in the early 1870s, because of what they perceived to be a certain petulance on the part of the young champion. One of the R&A captains is said to have bumped into Young Tom outside the club one afternoon and sternly questioned him about why he was not removing his hat for a gentleman. To which Tommy replied, "If I saw a gentleman, I would."

By the time he turned sixteen, when he would finish fourth in the 1867 Open at Prestwick, five strokes behind his father, one does see in photographs a definite swagger in his stance, especially when posing among fellow pros, as well as the emergence of those famously big hands. In fact, in all the photos I've seen of him from that year, his jacket sleeves are far too short, as though his clothes couldn't keep up with his burgeoning body. He would win his first Open Championship and its signature trophy—a deep red Moroccan leather belt with a massive silver-plated buckle—at Prestwick in 1868, at age seventeen, with a thirty-six-hole score of 154, sixteen strokes better than his father's winning score the previous year and eight better than Andrew Strath's record score, set in 1865. And if anyone suspected his second straight Open win the following year to be a fluke, Tommy promptly laid that notion to rest by posting an all-time record low of 149 in 1870 (again at Prestwick) and gaining himself, in accordance with the rules of the day for three consecutive Open wins, outright ownership of the championship belt.

It is kept now at the private St. Andrews Club, a few doors down from Old Tom's shop along the Links Road, in a glass case filled with Young Tom mementos: his chain pocket watch, his winning scorecards, his clubs and a replica of the Claret Jug. The new Open prize instituted in 1872 after a year's hiatus to conceive of a more difficult challenge to golfers in the wake of Young Tom's dominance, the first jug was promptly won by, of course, Young Tom (his fourth and final Open win). Just above his belt there is the familiar photo of a gussied-up and very dandyish Tommy bearing his silver-buckled prize around his waist with what, at first glance, appears to be an almost defiant cock of his left hand on his hip (page 104). I said as much over a cup of St. Andrews Club coffee one afternoon to Joy, who, as an honorary Club member, managed to get me inside, the two of us sitting at a table directly beneath the glass display case.

"I thought that too at first," Joy replied, "and then I realized he's standing that way because he's holding the belt up. Look at the girth of the thing, and there's nothing to adjust it with."

A flag was raised in front of Old Tom's shop when word got back to St. Andrews in the autumn of 1870 that Tommy had won the belt outright. And when it became known that the victor would be arriving back to town on the following Saturday night's ten o'clock train, a large number of friends and fans were waiting there at the station to meet him. "He had scarcely set foot on the railway terminus," reported the St. Andrews Citizen, "ere he was hoisted shoulder high and borne in triumph to Mr. Leslie's Golf Inn," then a favorite haunt of caddies and club makers.

I followed the very route they took to the Golf Inn that night, starting up at what is now the town's bus station, the train no longer running through St. Andrews. It was all of a three-minute walk, down City Road, past the cottage at Six Pilmour Links, a simple tan stone structure with moss-edged windows and a little "6" embossed in the pediment above the door, and then a half block to the corner of North Street and Golf Place. The inn is still there, renamed One Golf Place now, but still with a set of rooms upstairs and a pub and restaurant below, featuring wall-to-wall photos of golf's bygone days.

It wasn't at all difficult for me to retrace the footsteps of Young Tom's brief life in St. Andrews. Indeed, it was much harder to avoid them. St. Andrews—a town of three main streets, North, South and Market, all converging at a ruined medieval cathedral built around a few bones of a first-century martyred saint—is nothing if not a place of palpable and persistent ghosts, and Young Tom's seemed to loom in front of me wherever I turned. Aside from those childhood years in Prestwick and the matches he played on other town courses in surrounding Fife, his entire life pivoted around a less-than-one-square-mile area stretching from the top of North Street down to the tiny warren of streets containing his father's cottage and shop, the R&A clubhouse and Mr. Leslie's Golf Inn.

He'd celebrate his first and only Claret Jug there as well, in 1872, and in November of 1874, his marriage to Margaret Drennan, the stunning and statuesque redhead he met at the train station in nearby Ladybank, she on her way to her teaching job in Stirling and he to his brief turn there as golf pro. "Long may the hammer strike"—when you sit now at the bar at One Golf Place, you can almost hear Old Tom honoring his son's wedding night with the club maker's signature toast—"and the lathe turn."

Young Tom's first and only house with Margaret (sadly, no photographs or paintings of her are known to exist) was at Two Playfair Terrace, just a few doors up from the Inn. A block from there is the house on North Street where Old Tom was born in 1821. A little farther on, at the far end of North, are the cathedral ruins, the still-standing tower and the massive east window so prominent against the skyline that Old Tom and his caddies had long been in the habit, just as today's caddies still are, of instructing players on their approach shots to the home hole: "Aim on the cathedral steeple, sir. Just aim on the cathedral."

Alongside it is the churchyard where, in the fall of 1875, the Morris family plot held only the first Young Tom. And directly below there, down a winding stone path, is the long, stone, town-harbor pier where, on the afternoon of September 11, 1875, just a few hundred yards offshore, Young Tom received the news that would all at once render the very cozy confines of his life in St. Andrews into an inescapable echo chamber of grief, anger and guilt.

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