Golf clubs, meanwhile, with the development of more sophisticated tool-and-die machinery such as lathes and drill presses, were undergoing their own refinement and standardization. This would prompt, in turn, the commensurate emergence, as though from a separate but intrinsically bound factory, of ever-more powerful and sophisticated golfers, whose skills would gradually elevate the role of the "professional" from that of golf bum/caddie and betting fodder for the upper-class "amateurs," or gentlemen golfers, to one of great distinction and desirability.
They are all part of early golf lore now, the majority of them buried in that same cathedral churchyard where Young Tom Morris's effigy now looms largest: Allan Robertson, "the first professional golfer," expert club and ball maker and Old Tom's mentor and predecessor at the R&A; the famous Park brothers, Willie, Davey and Mungo, of nearby Musselburgh; the brothers Strath, David and Andrew; three-time Open champion Jamie Anderson; and, of course, Old Tom Morris, four-time Open champion, expert club maker and course designer extraordinaire.
Young Tom played, it is said, with incredible dash and style, taking a big, full, devil-may-care swing on his long shots that would often send his balmoral bonnet flying off his head. His hands and wrists were so strong, meanwhile, that he'd occasionally snap his hickory shafts in the course of his preshot waggle. And yet his full-bore, fearless style was afforded by his complete confidence in his approach shots and short game to bail him out of any occasional wildness and in his uncannily accurate putting over none-too-smooth greens. He also excelled in poor conditions and could press whenever necessary, having that knack for pulling off the great shot when he absolutely had to.
"Tommy had exceptional strength," local golf historian and writer David Joy told me as we stood by the Old Course home hole one afternoon. At age fifty-four, Joy is something of a legend himself in St. Andrews. A painter, illustrator and author of numerous historical texts about the town and its long history with golf, he has also written a one-man show about Old Tom Morris in which he plays the game's grand old man at age eighty-six, looking back on his long and storied life, a role Joy has performed countless times in venues all over the world (including the current Titleist ads costarring John Cleese).
"Young Tom wasn't that big," Joy continued. "Old Tom was only five-foot-five, and Young Tom about five-foot-seven. But he had these huge hands and he was a big striker of the ball. Went for all his shots. He crunched them. Hit 'em with a lot of venom. Defending his Championship for the second time at Prestwick in 1870, he opens up with an eagle on a 578-yard hole. The longest hits back then would be on average 180 yards, and the ball only rolled six to eight feet. So that was a full long spoon he must have holed. But for all that, his short game was incredible. His touch, as his father put it, was heaven-sent.
"I remember watching Young Tom rabbiting about the links," I now heard a gravelly voice saying, and I looked up to see David Joy hunching over and squinting his eyes, fully slipping, as he often would throughout our time in St. Andrews together, into his aged Old Tom character. "And this big athletic swing he developed with the first wee sawed-off club I put in his hands."
It was on Scotland's opposite, western shore, along the Firth of Clyde, that the Tiger Woods of his day could first be seen "rabbiting" about with his sawed-off club. Shortly after Young Tom was born, his father was lured away from St. Andrews by Colonel James Ogilvie Fairlie, an avid golfer and great patron of the Morris family, who wanted Old Tom to establish and tend a twelve-hole links course in the seaside town of Prestwick, where the Open Championship originated in 1860 and would be contested for its first twelve years in succession.
For Young Tom, it all made for a rather idyllic upbringing, and one, thanks to Colonel Fairlie's patronage, that was a definite cut above the usual lot of a greenskeeper's son. He and his younger brother James Ogilvie Fairlie Morris were schooled at the distinguished Ayr Academy with Colonel Fairlie's six sons: "the sorts of people," as Joy put it to me, "who go on to be captains of the R&A." (The youngest Morris boy, John, was born a paraplegic and would remain at home, working his whole life as a ball and club maker for his father.) When not at school, Young Tom was either playing and caddying out on the links or hanging around in his father's Prestwick golf shop, listening to the talk about equipment and the game.
Young Tom's great feel for golf may have been, as his father claimed, heaven-sent, but it was not at all bothered by emerging in this milieu. This was a boy who spent long hours in his father's shop practicing stymie shots by chipping guttas with his rutting iron off the cement floor into a small bucket. A boy whose maestro father preferred a club with what he called the proper note of "music" and one to be played at a counterintuitively slow beat.
By the time Old Tom returned with the family to St. Andrews to take over as the R&A's Keeper of the Green in 1864, his game was at its symphonic peak. Old Tom "always played the club he fancied," wrote his friend W.W. Tulloch in The Life of Tom Morris, "and his fancy was seldom at fault. . . . He knew the game thoroughly."
Having already won the Open twice while at Prestwick, Old Tom would return there to win twice more in 1864 and 1867. And yet as dominating as he was in his prime, he was about to be fully eclipsed by the feats of his preternaturally talented son. Young Tom was only thirteen when he made his debut as a public figure in an especially arranged adjunct match to the 1864 pro tournament on the North Inch of Perth. Pitting the day's two most promising youthful prospects against each other, Tommy Morris and Willie Greig, a rising star at the Perth Academy, for the prize of five pounds, the match wound up attracting more spectators than the pro contest did.
Young Tom carried the day. "Master Morris seems to have been both born and bred to golf," went the newspaper report afterward containing Young Tom's first mention in print. "He has been cast in the very mould of a golfer, and plays with all the steadiness and certainty in embryo of his father."
There is a remarkable picture of Young Tom Morris taken a week after that victory in Perth—remarkable for being, among other things, one of the earliest examples of photography seen in that area. Nearly floating there, at the far upper-left corner of an otherwise dour, lumpy-jacketed assortment of early golf's grizzled greats, is a cherubic thirteen-year-old Tommy Morris, the ghostly outline of a cleek held aloft in his right hand, his left draped over his proud father's shoulder, his gaze, even then, at once intently focused and faraway. Seeing this, one can't help but conjecture about his mind-set: how good he knew he was and would go on to be, what he foresaw for himself, both as a golfer and as a man.