local knowledge

Young Tom Morris: Golf's Tragic Genius

July 10, 2023

James Hardie

For a figure like Young Tom Morris, there's always a threat that time will leave him a little colorless—nothing more than a name you vaguely recognize, but with all but the most prominent details ("he won some Open Championships, right?") washed out with history. He didn't live into his 80s like his father, Old Tom...in fact, he didn't live past 24. When he died on Christmas Day in 1875, professional golf was still in its infancy. Over time, of course, at least a dozen legendary golfers have come and gone, the center of power in global shifted across an ocean, and it's no surprise that names like Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods are going to resonate far more with American fans.

But there's something about Young Tom Morris that—when you fill in those colors—is both fascinating and heartbreaking. He was the greatest golfer of his time, a designation that includes his father, and despite his brief time in the spotlight, he completely transformed the world of golf and set the stage for the modern game. He was, in fact, the first true modern professional golfer, achieving a celebrity independent of his club, setting his own financial terms, and building up an impressive store of wealth considering the times and his own station in life. More than all that, he was a consummate winner.


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When the details are plucked from the fog of history, Young Tom comes to life. In this week's Local Knowledge podcast, we explore the man as he was, through his cockiness bordering on arrogance in the face of a sport dominated by wealthy gentlemen, to his incredible rise to the top at a shockingly young age, to the heartbreak of the fate that befell his wife and child and then, not long after, Young Tom himself. Compared to contemporary figures like Woods, source material on this original superstar is scant, and it's a testament to his legend that despite the intervention of the decades, we can still see him with great clarity—golf's tragic genius.

Listen to the Local Knowledge episode below, or wherever you get your podcasts.