Allan Macfie, Golfer Who Won the First Amateur Championship

Golfer Allan Macfie showing putting
Allan Macfie was the winner of the first Amateur Championship (what Americans call the British Amateur) in 1885. Born in England, he played under the Scottish flag. His dedication to practicing his game rates him as the Vijay Singh of late 1800s.

Full name: Allan Fullarton Macfie

Birth date: February 18, 1854

Place of birth: Liverpool, England

Date and place of death: January 15, 1943, in St. Andrews, Scotland

Macfie's name, whether in contemporary articles about him or later articles written about him, is commonly rendered several different ways. In addition to Allan Macfie, he is frequently referred to as "A. F. Macfie" and "Allan F. Macfie." His surname is sometimes spelled "MacFie," with the capitalized "F."

Winning the Amateur Championship

Macfie traveled a very unusual path to winning the 1885 Amateur Championship: He advanced despite not winning his first-round match, then had to play his fourth-round match three times, then got a bye into the final.

Here's the explanation for all that. In the first round, Macfie halved with William Doleman. In the rules used that first year of the British Amateur, a halve resulted in both golfers advancing. Both moved on, but they had to play one another again in the second round, a match that Macfie won.

In Round 3 Macfie defeated Thomas Gilroy, 2-and-1. In Round 4, he played Walter de Zoete, but they halved. This time, a winner had to be determined. So they played the match over — and they halved again. So they played the match a third time, and that time Macfie won, 1-up.

The fact that only 22 golfers started the tournament combined with a couple halves in the first round (both golfers advancing), resulted in an unbalanced bracket: There were only three semifinalists. Macfie's side of the bracket had fewer players, therefore, he received a bye into the championship match.

And in that final, Macfie defeated Horace Hutchinson, 7-and-6.

More About Allan (A.F.) Macfie

Macfie played in the British Amateur 13 times, last in 1907. His other best finishes were reaching the quarterfinals in 1889 and 1894. He played in the British Open just three times, with a best finish of 18th in 1888.

Everyone from Macfie's era was a short hitter by later standards, but Macfie was a short hitter by his own era's standards. In The Who's Who of Golf (commissions earned), Peter Alliss related that during his Amateur Championship play, Macfie "never cleared the burn before the first green of St. Andrews in two strokes."

In his 1913 book Modern Golf (commissions earned), Harold Hilton, an Open and Amateur champion, wrote that Macfie, "a man of remarkably slight physique," was, during Macfie's Amateur Championship, "outdriven from the tee by nearly every player he had to meet."

But Hilton held Macfie up as an example of what diligent practice can do for an aspiring golfer. Hilton recalled as a boy seeing Macfie and being very unimpressed by him. But, Hilton wrote, Macfie worked and worked to make himself better:

"One would see him out early in the morning and late at night, with two or three clubs and numberless balls, playing the same class of shot for hours on end. It had the appearance of being a dull, monotonous species of amusement, but he apparently enjoyed it as he never seemed to tire of the ask, and in the end his assiduity met with its due reward."

One year earlier, in a 1912 book title The Royal & Ancient Game of Golf, Hilton and co-author Grant Smith, wrote that Macfie was extremely hard of hearing, and called him "a player of wonderful accuracy and very fine style."

Macfie, the authors wrote, was a player "continually making experiments in clubs, and for quite a time he putted with a weapon composed of a block of hickory and something resembling a croquet mallet or an implement to break coal with."

When Macfie died at age 88, an obituary in the Glasgow newspaper cited other tournaments he won as the 1886 Calcutta Cup, the 1889 and 1893 Silver Cross, and the Jubilee Vale in 1889.

Photo credit: Drawing of Allan Macfie putting by Thomas Hodge [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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