Tommy Armour - The Greatest

Dr Milton Wayne looks at the remarkable life of the legendary “Silver Scot”

Despite the adulation and financial success Tommy never truly felt that he had achieved all he could with his life, given his education. He once said: “It's nice to be a good golfer and win championships, but, hell, being the finest golfer in the world never cured anyone of polio.” He encouraged this thinking in his son Tommy Junior who became a surgeon, but it clearly didn’t reach the next generation. His grandson Tommy Armour III is a record-holding two- time PGA Tour winning professional, and is as infamous as his grandfather was in terms of his drinking and womanizing.
The common theme throughout Armour’s life was that he was at his strongest when things got tough. He was seen as a “closer” and a team man, whose tournament record includes five wins in team events. His overall contributions to the game in terms of playing, teaching, writing and club design have never been equalled. Overall Armour won twenty-seven events (twenty-five PGA), three Majors, and had twenty-one top-20 finishes in the Majors. It’s worth remembering that the Masters didn’t exist for almost his entire professional career, and he won the Western Open, long seen as a Major. He also won the Canadian Open three times, seen at the time as easily the biggest Open after the US and the British. He is still one of the top-25 PGA Tour winners of all time, and was elected to the PGA Hall of Fame in 1942. He avoided the “Hall of Shame” debacle and was grandfathered into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1976.
Tommy died next to his beloved Winged Foot in Larchmont, New York on September 11, 1968, just two weeks shy of his seventy-fourth birthday. He was cremated at the Ferncliff Cemetary in Hartsdale, resting place of celebrities like John Lennon, Yul Brynner, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Nelson Rockefeller, Ed Sullivan, Paul Robson, Christopher Reeve, Jerome Kern, Malcolm X and even Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. The records there list him as a “professional golfer” and it is nice to think that Tommy would be happy with that two word description. However, his continuing influence on the game tells us he was so much more.

The Greatest
It is easy to recall the dour drinker of his later years but surely the abiding memory should of the man, his achievements and the swing in his prime. Noted golf writer Bernard Darwin was in awe of his iron play and wrote that: “His style is the perfection of rhythm and beauty.” Ross Goodner remembered: “nothing was ever small about Tommy Armour's reputation. At one time or another, he was known as the greatest iron player, the greatest raconteur, the greatest drinker and the greatest and most expensive teacher in golf.” To that we can add the greatest fairway wood player, the greatest club designer, the greatest clutch player and the greatest writer. Without doubt, he was also the greatest character the game has ever seen; his enduring fame is the best indicator of his true status: Tommy Armour, The Silver Scot, The Greatest. - Dr.M.W.


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