Arnaud Massy: Bio of First French Golf Star, Open Champ

Golfer Arnaud Massy
Arnaud Massy won one British Open and nearly another (he lost in a playoff). He was the first great French golfer and remains, more than 100 years after his Open victory, the only French golfer to win one of the men's major championships.

Full name: Arnaud George Watson Massy

Date of birth: July 6, 1877

Place of birth: Biarritz, France

Date and place of death: April 16, 1950 in Etretat, France

Massy's British Open Win, Playoff Loss, Other Majors

Arnaud Massy will always have an important place in the lore of the Open Championship: He was the first non-British golfer to win it, 47 years after it began. And he was the last golfer from Continental Europe to win it until Seve Ballesteros at the 1979 British Open.

Massy's victory in the 1907 British Open was by two strokes over runner-up J.H. Taylor. He was the first-round leader after a 76 in strong winds, and still led by one stroke despite an 81 in Round 2. But Taylor, a member of the Great Triumvirate, took the third-round lead with a 76 to Massy's 78. But Massy evened the score on the third hole of the fourth round, took the lead on the seventh, and didn't give it up. He shot 77 to Taylor's 80.

While Massy was at Royal Liverpool, in Hoylake, England, winning the Open, his wife was back in Scotland giving birth to a daughter. She was given the middle name "Hoylake."

Four years later, Massy came close to winning the 1911 British Open before ultimately falling to Harry Vardon in a playoff. Three golfers had a chance to tie Vardon for the 72-hole lead by making four on the final hole. Massy was the only who did.

But in the 36-hole playoff, Massy, being outdriven by 20-30 yards on every drive, was five strokes down after the morning 18. It didn't get any better for him in the afternoon. By the 34th hole, Massy was 10 strokes behind. He dropped his club, shook hands with Vardon and conceded.

And then, bringing to mind Phil Mickelson's, "I am such an idiot" comment nearly a century later at the 2006 U.S. Open, Massy said, "I cannot play this damn game."

What about other years? Massy never played in any of the majors in the U.S. His record was consistently good in the Open Championship, however, starting with a 10th-place finish in his first, the 1902 Open. That was one of 10 Top 10 finishes in the Open for Massy, the last of which was in 1921. He was tied for fifth in 1905 and solo sixth in 1906, the two Opens preceding his victory. He last played an Open in 1930.

List of His Biggest Wins

  • 1906 French Open
  • 1907 Grand Duke Michael's Tournament
  • 1907 British Open
  • 1907 French Open
  • 1908 Blackpool Tournament
  • 1908 Turnberry Open
  • 1908 Pitlochry Open
  • 1910 Belgian Open
  • 1911 French Open
  • 1912 Spanish Open
  • 1919 Inter-Allied Games
  • 1921 Tooting Bec Cup
  • 1925 French Open
  • 1925 Omnium National
  • 1926 Omnium National
  • 1927 Spanish Open
  • 1928 Spanish Open

More About Arnaud Massy

Golfer Arnaud Massy

Arnaud Massy grew up the son of a sheep farmer in Biarritz, home to one of the most-famous golf courses in Continental Europe. As a youth, he worked on a boat with a sardine fishing crew. To make a little money, Massy also caddied at the Biarritz club.

Located in southern France, the warmer climate drew many top British golf pros to Biarritz for offseason practice. Massy learned to play the game by watching those golfers.

Playing at Biarritz, Massy played left-handed. But in 1898, encouraged by the British pros, he moved to North Berwick, Scotland to focus on golf (he was tutored by Ben Sayers). There, he switched to playing right-handed. (He also met his future wife, and lived most of his professional career in Scotland.)

Before long, Massy was lowering his scores and becoming good enough to play top-level competitions. His first important tournament win was the 1906 French Open, the first time that tournament was played. Massy had a knack for winning inaugurals: He also won the first-ever Belgian Open and first-ever Spanish Open.

After winning the 1907 Open Championship, Massy toured Continental Europe playing exhibitions. He is credited with helping popularize golf across the continent. (He continued exhibition tours throughout his competitive career, and in 1926 won an exhibition match against Bobby Jones.)

Massy represented France in multiple international matches, including a 1913 France-United States match. In that one, Massy defeated Tom McNamara in singles after also winning his foursomes match. France won the overall title by a 6-0 score. Massy was also on the winning French team in the 1919 Inter-Allied Games, open to military personnel from all countries that were part of the Allies in World War I.

His career was interrupted during World War I, during which he served in the French Army and was wounded at Verdun. But he successfully returned to golf after the war, already in his 40s, and had some big late-career successes: His last French Open win at age 48, the 1927 Spanish Open at age 50, and the Spanish Open again at age 51.

In addition to his four wins in the French Open, he was runner-up three other times, including a playoff loss to Aubrey Boomer in 1921. His 1925 French Open win was also by playoff, over Archie Compston.

After his tournament career ended, Massy worked as a club pro at several courses in England and France, as well as Morocco. He lived during his career in North Berwick, Scotland, and later Edinburgh, Scotland, but retired back home in France.

He died in France in 1950, according to some reports, in poverty. Massy's name was always in the record books, but his reputation somehow faded over time. In the early 21st century a golf historian began searching for his grave. After a six-year hunt, they eventually found it back in Scotland, in Newington cemetery in Edinburgh, and in 2012 a new headstone was erected.

Massy was the author of an early, influential instructional book, originally published in French around 1910, titled, simply, Golf. You can read it online for free.

Vardon on Massy's Game and 'Twiddley-Bit'

Massy pulled all his putts, but he was considered a superb putter: Harry Vardon called him a "deadly man on the green."

In his book, How To Play Golf (Amazon link), Vardon also described Massy's swing:

"Arnaud Massy has a curious custom which never fails to put his club on the right track at the start of the downward swing. It has aroused a lot of comment from time to time. I have seen it described as Massy's 'pig-tail,' Massy's 'twiddley-bit' and whatnot, and a great deal of wonderment has been expressed as to why the Frenchman does it and the possible effects of it.

What happens is, that, at the top of the swing, Massy makes a strange little flourish, a circling in the air, with the head of his club. Whereas most men, having gone up, promptly start to come down again, Massy waits to perform this 'twiddley-bit.'

It would be a fine thing for any of us if we possessed the same habit. By giving the club-head that little turn at the top, he pushes it out behind him so that it is almost certain to come down right. It is practically impossible for him to throw his arms forward since they have been urged into the proper track by that flourish which makes the club-head circle away from him."

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