Andrew Strath: Bio of Early British Open Champ

Golfer Andrew Strath
A very early winner of the British Open, Andrew Strath was a St. Andrews golfer from a family of golfers. He also was one of the earliest golfers known for his ability to create backspin on iron shots.

Full name: Andrew Anderson Strath

Date of birth: March 1, 1837

Place of birth: St. Andrews, Scotland

Date and place of death: February 23, 1868 in Prestwick, Scotland

Andrew Strath's British Open Win and Finishes

Strath is remembered today because he was an early Open Championship winner. Strath won the 1865 British Open, the sixth Open ever played. And in the period from the first Open in 1860 through the 12th one in 1872, Strath was the only golfer other than Willie Park Sr., Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris to win the British Open.

On the 12-hole Prestwick course in 1865, Strath's first round score was 55, his second 54. He trailed Park by one after 24 of the 36 holes. In the final round, Strath again improved his score by one, shooting 53 and winning by two over Park (who scored 56).

Strath's score of 162 for 36 holes was the lowest yet in the young history of the tournament. Young Tom Morris broke Strath's mark in 1868.

Strath played in six British Opens. He was third in the first one in 1860, third again in the last one he played in 1867. In 1864, Strath was runner-up to Old Tom Morris by two strokes. He also finished fourth in 1863 and sixth in 1866.

Strath's Golfing Family

Andrew had three brothers, two of whom were also professional golfers. The best of the three, according to contemporaries, was Davie Strath. Davie was a three-time runner-up in the Open Championship, including a playoff at the 1876 British Open. Like Andrew, Davie died very early, only age 30 in 1879.

The third golfing Strath brother was George Strath, who did play in some Opens but is best known as the first professional at Royal Troon. George emigrated to America and worked at (and designed) several clubs there. He lived to 1919 and age 75.

The fourth Strath brother was as good at thievery as the other three were at golf. William Strath, known as "Mad Willie," "was a thug who specialized in home invasions," wrote Kevin Cook in his 2007 book, Tommy's Honour: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris (Amazon link).

William "would burst through your door at the dinner hour, beat you up, and steal your valuables," Cook wrote. "Golfers (at the 1865 British Open) joked that if Andrew Strath won the (Challenge) Belt he'd have to hide it from Mad Willie."

More About Andrew Strath

Andrew Strath, an many of the early Scottish golfers were, got into the game as a boy caddie and a teen clubmaking apprentice. He apprenticed to James Wilson, who had taken over the clubmaking shop of Hugh Philp, one of the giants of the trade.

By his late teens, Strath was acquiring a reputation for his playing abilities. There were no such thing as professional golf tournaments at the time, so Strath and other golfers who wanted to play for money played in "challenge matches."

From the mid/late 1850s through the mid/late 1860s (Strath died in 1868), Strath was a frequent figure in prominent challenge matches. Just a few of many possible examples:

  • In 1857, Strath and Allan Robertson teamed to face Old Tom Morris and Willie Park Sr. with £100 — a huge sum — on the line. Strath/Robertson won by six holes over two rounds. That Robertson, the giant of pre-Open Championship-era golf, would take Strath as his partner shows in what high regard Strath's game was already held.
  • In 1864, Strath def. Bob Ferguson 6-and-4 at St. Andrews.
  • In 1864, Strath partnered Old Tom Morris vs. brothers Willie and David Park. The Parks won by six holes over 36 holes.
  • In 1865, Strath and Willie Dow def. Old Tom and Willie Park 3-and-1 at St. Andrews. (Morris and Park preferred to play against one another and didn't have a great record as partners. Morris/Park lost another match to Strath, too, that time partnered with Bob Andrews.)
  • In 1865, Old Tom and Bob Kirk def. Andrew Strath/Willie Park Sr. by four holes.
What kind of golfer was Andrew Strath? He was best-known for his approach play with the iron-headed clubs of the day. The term "backspin" was not yet in use in golf. But Strath was one of the earliest golfers who became known for putting backspin on his approach shots.

In his 1891 book Golf, Horace Hutchinson (Amazon link), who played with many golfers who knew Strath, wrote that "Andrew Strath ... was said to put such a tremendous amount of cut on his ball that it absolutely ran backward rather than forward."

Strath was a demonstrative golfer who used a lot of what we would call today "body English" when playing. In another 1891 book, Golf and Golfers: Past and Present (Amazon link), by Gordon McPherson, the author, in a chapter titled "Style in Golf," wrote: "Andrew Strath, though an excellent player, was too anxious. He would jerk his knee when the ball rolled in putting, as if by a magnetic effort he could force it into the hole."

The year Andrew won the Open Championship, 1865, he took over from Old Tom Morris as the "keeper of the greens" at Prestwick.

Strath was 29 years old when he won that Open. But he was already showing some early signs of tuberculosis, a malady that ran in the Strath family. He was only 32 when he died three years later.

The 1865 Open was the first in which official scorecards were printed for use in the tournament. Strath's winning scorecard still exists today — it is on display in the Prestwick clubhouse.

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