Willie Anderson - 4 Time US Open Winner - Local Links
In the sixteen years between the first U.S. Open golf championship and Johnny McDermott becoming the first native born American to win the national open, the English and Scottish professionals prevailed, Willie Anderson said to be the best of the lot.
The 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage, if won by Tiger Woods, the odds-on-favorite, would put him into yet another elite category - winning four U.S. Open titles, back-to-back titles, and the first since Willie Anderson to win the national championship four times in a decade.
Willie Anderson, ah yes, the lad did well, and got a bad rap, almost as bad as Johnny McDermott himself.
As McDermott is known as the forgotten American hero, Willie Anderson is the forgotten son of a small Scottish community that produced dozens of legendary golfers, none more forgotten than Anderson.
"In his short life Willie Anderson compiled a record second to none," writes Francis R. S. Broumphrey, "but circumstances conspired to make this first great American golfer almost forgotton."
There's a lot of bull about Willie Anderson floating around, but Douglas Seaton seems to have the story down pat, so I'm going to quote a lot from him, adding some of my own tid bits, and focusing on his local New Jersey and Philadelphia area golf professional jobs and Open victories.
Willie Anderson’s biographer Douglas Seaton writes of Famous North Berwick, Scotland golfers, Willie Anderson among them. Many thanks to Douglas Seaton for all he the research and writing he's done, which can be found in his book and at: [http://www.northberwick.org.uk/anderson.html]
According to Seaton, Willie Anderson "was born 21st October 1879 at 18 Westgate opposite the Abbey Church.… educated at the Public School in North Berwick...was a licensed caddie on the West Links from the age of eleven, and on leaving school he apprenticed as a club maker under Alex Aitken in Gullane."
"Willie Anderson, aged 16 years sailed for America on the S.S. Pomeranian from Glasgow,” writes Seaton, “arriving at Ellis Island in March 1896...A report in the New York Times stated that Willie Anderson had arrived on Sunday 21st March 1896 to take up his position at Misquamicut Golf Club, Watch Hill on Rhode Island and that the famous amateur Horace Hutchinson considered Anderson to be one of the best."
"In 1896 Anderson extended the course at Misquamicut to eighteen holes. Willie Park Jr. laid out the first nine the previous year, and then Anderson moved to Lakewood Golf Club NY...In his first U.S. Open, in September 1897, Anderson finished second, one stroke behind Joe Lloyd."
A golf pro at ten clubs over fourteen years, Willie Anderson spent time working as a golf pro at Baltusol and at Montclair, New Jersey, then three years at Apawamis C.C (1903-06); Onwentsia (1906-09), St Louis C.C. (1909-10).
Seaton: "Willie's father and brother emigrated in 1900 and when Willie left Montclair C.C in 1902 his father took over as resident professional. During this period Jerry Travers was a member at Montclair when he won the US Amateur in 1907 and 1910 and US Open in 1915. Tom Anderson Sr. remained at Montclair until his death in 1913. Willie's younger brother Tom Anderson Jr. also worked at Montclair in the 1909-10 season and as head pro in 1913-15. Willie's mother Jessie remained in Scotland with her four daughters living at 15, South Clerk Street, Edinburgh."
"During the winter months Anderson was pro at St. Augustine in Florida. In December 1899, Anderson traveled west playing in exhibition matches with U.S. Open champion Horace Rawlins. To earn some money Anderson and Rawlins worked as green keepers at Oakland Golf Club, San Francisco. They entered the Southern California Open at Coronado Beach which Anderson won by one stroke from Alex Smith. In the 1900 US census Willie Anderson was listed as a boarder living with a European couple in the town of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin."
"At the 1901 US. Open played at Myopia Hunt Club near Boston, Massachusetts, Willie Anderson and Alex Smith posted a 72-hole score of 331, to tie the tournament. In the first 18-hole play-off in Open history which had to wait until the Monday because Sunday was members day at Myopia, Anderson won by one stroke."
It was "At that championship, the American media picked up on Anderson's quote when he growled 'No, we're no goin’ tae eat in the kitchen,'" and setting the tone for other golf professionals, notably Walter Hagen, who refused to live by the outdated social standards that refused golf professionals access to the dining room.
Seaton: "Willie was furious when told the professionals could not enter the clubhouse. The players were eventually allowed to eat in a specially erected tent."
“At Christmas 1901, Anderson traveled to California where he was engaged in giving golf lessons at the Hotel Green in Pasadena."
For those who really want a detailed descrition, Seaton gives it to us: "Anderson was described as sturdy, with muscular shoulders, brawny forearms and exceptionally large hands. His accuracy was legendary particularly with his favorite club the mashie, equivalent to the present day five iron. He drove the ball more off his left than his right foot, hitting it 233 yards. The strongest part of his game was his brassie, particularly from a bad lie and he changed to the overlapping grip in 1900. His grip was even more of an interlock than that of the Laidlay-Vardon-Taylor school for the index finger of his left hand extended 'way through between the third and little fingers of the right, instead of allowing only the knuckle to show in that aperture. His was not the upright swing of a Vardon, but the flatter, fuller sweep of the typical Scot. Anderson regularly played with eight clubs: driver, brassie, cleek, midiron, one he called a pitching iron, heavy-centered mashie, large mashie-niblick, and putting cleek. He named the driver as his favorite; then mashie, midiron, and brassie."
Willie Anderson also engaged in the practice of hitting the ball blindfolded, sometimes as many as 200 balls at a time, a practice picked up by his friend and mentor, Chick Evans, a great local amateur.
"Described as a dour man "who attended strictly to business and displayed little sense of humour on the course, writes Seaton, Anderson "...was a mixer off the course and popular with his fellow professionals...Willie's unhurried move through the ball disguised effortless power and he was also a rhythmical putter but his main attribute was his unflappable demeanour. Golfers during Anderson's time essentially wore clothes formal enough to attend church in but not Willie Anderson. His typical attire was a tartan wool cap pulled low (to camouflage his large ears), baggy plaid trousers, a plain shirt, a cloth neckerchief (instead of a silk tie), and an old tweed jacket."
There is a classic golf photo of some early professional golf champions sitting under a tree, surrounded by caddies and young kids. Willie Anderson is the fellow in the middle, his odd unstuffy dress setting a new sporting style for players.
In 1902 Anderson was resident pro at Hotel Raymond in Pasadena, California, and on 17th September 1902, captured his first Western Open, then a major, shooting a record 299 for 72 holes with one round a 69. Anderson became the first player to hold the titles to the US two major tournaments, and no golfer had previously broken 300 for 72-holes in America."
"In October, the U.S. Open was played at the Garden City Golf Club," notes Seaton, "where Willie finished fifth, the new Haskell rubber-cored ball was now in use."
"The 1903 US Open was played at Baltusrol in New Jersey where Anderson was the first pro in 1898. … In the 1903 play-off for the US Open, which was marred by pouring rain, Anderson beat Brown by two strokes, 82-84. Willie Anderson became the first two-time winner of the Western Open on 1st July 1904 with a four-stroke victory over Alex Smith….One week later at the U.S. Open played over Chicago's Glen View Course, Willie didn't need a play-off this time as he prevailed by five strokes. Setting a U.S. Open record of 303 and his closing round 72 was also an 18-hole tournament record."
"Anderson designed clubs for Worthington Manufacturing and endorsed the 'near indestructible' Champion ball, Their woods bearing his signature were the first example of an autograph branded club made in America. In June 1905, Willie Anderson and Alex Smith returned to Scotland especially to take part in the Open Championship at St. Andrews. Smith finished sixteenth but Anderson's performance was disappointing, taking 86 and 88 for the first two rounds and failed to qualify."
When one golfer was asked how Willie Anderson played out of bunkers, "he was never in them," the response came, a fact we now know to be wrong, as Seaton notes.
"Willie struggled with the new bunkers at St Andrews, he was in eight of them in the first round. The bunkers were laid out by one of his father's apprentice green keepers from North Berwick, Hugh Hamilton. He took over from Tom Morris as head green keeper and was responsible for creating many of the bunkers at St Andrews and lengthened the course in reaction to the Haskell ball. The newspapers reported that Willie Anderson was dressed in a grey jersey and blue trousers and the headlines suggested he must be the first golfer dressed like that to drive off the first tee at St Andrews."
"Anderson and Smith returned to the States in September for the U.S.Open at the Myopia Hunt Club near Boston. At first, it looked as if Anderson was out of the running for a third straight title. Scores of 81 and 80 left him five strokes behind Alex Smith and Stewart Gardner. But…by the 70th hole, he had a four-stroke lead and held it together to prevail by two over Smith. Anderson received $200, a gold medal and custody of the cup was given to his club....The Eastern Professional Golfers Association was established in 1905 following a meeting held in Astor House, New York when over seventy pro's attended including George Thomson, and Willie Anderson was elected to the Executive Committee."
"In March 1906, Willie escorted his wife back to the USA where he had signed a contract at Onwentsia C.C. IL which was reported to be for more money than any other golf pro in the USA."
While some have complained that there is very little information available on Willie Anderson, Seaton has certainly found a lot, and it appears that we can still learn more.
"In 2006, Mike Marshall the historian at Apawamis C.C discovered that Willie Anderson's wife Agnes was born in 1883, the daughter of an Irish immigrant John Beakey and his wife Mary. Agnes was a native of Rye, Westchester, New York and they met while Willie was pro at Apawamis C.C."
"On 18th June 1908, at Normandie Park Golf Club in St. Louis , Anderson became the first three-time winner of the Western Open… and on 15th September 1909, Willie won the Western Open at Skokie Golf Club in Illinois, for the fourth time...Tom Mercer, a fellow pro and close friend of Anderson said that although Willie was not a glad-hander, he went that route with his friends, buying them drink and probably his convivial habits had much to do with undermining his health..."
"In 1910, Anderson returned from his winter post in Florida which he had for the previous six years, to take up the position of head pro at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, venue for the U.S. Open in June."
It was at this U.S. Open that a young, Philadelphia caddy, the teenage son of a postal clerk, tied for the lead and faltered at the end to the Scottish professionals. His father was surprised to read about his son the next day in the news papers. McDermott would come back to win the next two U.S. Opens back-to-back, and become the first native born American, and at 19, is still the youngest to have won the Open. And like Willie Anderson, McDermott would be touted as possibly the best to ever play the game, but whose career would be cut dramatically and tragically short.
As Seaton says, "It was reported in some quarters that Anderson's game had deteriorated but he was still playing to a high standard. In April 1910 he was second in the Florida Open, played several challenge matches with Gilbert Nicholls, described in the press as being of an excellent standard. In July he was a finalist in the Eastern Professional Golfers Association tournament. He did not show to defend his Western Open title at the end of August which may have been a reflection on his health."
There's a photo of Willie Anderson and Gil Nicholls together on the day before Anderson died. Nicholls was one of the old pros who played well in the early tournaments, and I believe, held the first professional's job at Seaview, only to be replaced by Scottish pro James "Jolly Jim" Fraser, when Nicholls had a run in with Seaview club owner Clarence Geist.
Seaton: "Exhibitions were still where Anderson made most of his money and in October he travelled to the Pittsburgh area for three 36-hole matches with other leading pros and amateurs. On 24th October the day after he and Gil Nicholls lost on the last hole to amateurs Eben Byers and William Fownes, Anderson returned to his home at Wissahickon Ave, Chestnut Hill near Philadelphia where he died the following day aged 31 years."
"On 28th October 1910, Willie Anderson was buried in Ivy Hill cemetery in Philadelphia. His father and mother attended the funeral. Three years later, Willie was followed to the grave by his father Tom aged 59 years after 13 years as pro at Montclair G.C. in New Jersey. Beside them is a statue of a golfer erected by the Eastern Professional Golfers Association whose president at that time was Jack Hobens the former North Berwick caddie."
"Following Anderson's death, the amateur golfer Charles Evans Jnr. twice U.S. Amateur Champion collaborated with businessman C B. Lloyd of the Goodrich Company to raise funds for Willie Anderson's widow. They organized a special exhibition of moving pictures of noted golfers at the Chicago Indoor Golf School with all proceeds going towards the fund."
It would be interesting to find out what happened to this early “moving pictures of noted golfers."
And you can’t read a story about Willie Anderson that doesn’t tell you that he died young from drinking too much, but that story just doesn’t hold water. For one, there are only a few references to him drinking at all, and one report seems to get all the play. In addition, he couldn’t have kept up his high standards of play if he was an alcoholic and drank himself to death, as previously reported in widely published accounts.
As Seaton puts it: "It was reported in some quarters that Anderson died of arteriosclerosis, a fatal hardening of the arteries. The Philadelphia Public Ledger said he suffered a brain tumor. Other sources suggest Anderson may have died from something less socially acceptable - acute alcoholism. Most modern descriptions of Anderson - ' dour' personality and 'boozy' lifestyle seem to emanate solely from one man quoted in one place - a profile of Anderson in the December 1929 issue of The American Golfer. In 2005, golf writer Bill Fields searched the Philadelphia City Archives and discovered the official cause of death for 31-year-old Anderson wasn't hardening of the arteries, as has long been reported but epilepsy."
There's a chapter on Chick Evans in The Birth of the Birdie. Coming right up.