Golfer Bob Martin: Bio of 2-Time Open Champion

golfer Bob Martin
Bob Martin was a Scottish golfer born in the 1850s who won a pair of British Open titles and had several other near-misses. He was known for playing a set of clubs almost devoid of irons, and for often using the same, single club for driving, approaching and putting.

Birth name: Robert Martin

Date of birth: Martin's exact birth date is unknown, and the year of his birth is not known with certainty. He is believed to have been born in 1853.

Place of birth: Cupar, Fife, Scotland

Date and place of death: March 9, 1917 in Strathkinness, Fife, Scotland

Nickname: The Herd Laddie (explanation in the "More About" section below)

Martin's Open Championship Wins, 2nds, Other Finishes

Bob Martin won the Open Championship twice, and both his wins were on The Old Course at St. Andrews. That gives Martin a distinctive place in Open Championship history: first golfer to win it twice at St. Andrews. Today, Martin remains one of only five golfers who've won the Open twice at "the home of golf," and he is in very special company: J.H. Taylor, James Braid, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are the other ones.

In the 1875 British Open, Martin finished runner-up. He was co-leader after the first and second rounds, but wound up two behind the winner, Willie Park Sr.

But the next year, at the 1876 British Open, Martin returned to get the win. It happened in an unusual way, however: After a rules dispute, his playoff opponent, Davie Strath, refused to show up. Martin won the Open in a literal walk-over (details at the preceding link).

He earned win No. 2 in the 1885 British Open, once again receiving a little help from an opponent. David Ayton led by five strokes with two holes to play, but blew up with an 11 on the second-to-last hole.

Martin was runner-up again in the 1887 Open, one stroke behind Willie Park Jr. (son of the man who topped Martin in 1875). Martin first played in the Open in 1873, last completed it in 1891, last entered (but withdrew) in 1895. In all, he finished in the Top 4 in 1874 (fourth), 1875 (second), 1876 (win), 1878 (tied fourth), 1881 (fourth), 1882 (tied third), 1885 (win) and 1887 (second), and also had two other Top 10 finishes.

More About Bob Martin

Horace Hutchinson, in his book Golf (affiliate link; published in the 1890s, when Martin was still active), described Bob Martin as "a good putter and straight driver, though not gifted with great power," and wrote that "the most noticeable characteristic of his game when he happens to be in form is the perfect and unique manner in which he runs up long half-cleek shots to the hole."

Martin's cleek run-up shots were what he was famous for. He hated iron-headed clubs and typically carried only two of them. The rest of his clubs were all wood-headed. His cleek (cleeks are often compared to later 1- and 2-irons) was one of those, and he often used it not just for run-up approaches from 40, 60, 80 yards away, but also for driving off the tee and for putting. (A contemporary once called Martin a "one-club wonder.")

Martin was born near St. Andrews and his parents moved to St. Andrews when he was young. He spent nearly his entire life in that area, with the exception of short stints as "keeper of the greens" (which basically meant pro) at Cambridge and Felixstowe clubs in England.

Rather than attend school, Martin began caddying at St. Andrews at a very young age. He soon went to work in the clubmaking shop of Jamie Anderson, who later won three consecutive Open Championships (1877-79).

From there, Martin moved on to Old Tom Morris' shop, and he worked for Morris for years. According to author Henry Leach, writing as the "British correspondent" for The American Golfer magazine in 1917, upon the occasion of Martin's death, Martin's service to Old Tom ended "when, in getting himself over a stone wall on one occasion, Bob slipped and broke his leg, with the result that he was in hospital for a long time."

Martin would have played in his first Open Championship (1873) by that point.

In addition to working for Old Tom, Martin was very well-acquainted with Tommy Morris (Young Tom Morris), too, as a competitor. Martin's nickname, "The Herd Laddie," dates to a competition that also involved Young Tom. During a time when the clubmaking business had slowed to a crawl, Leach wrote in The American Golfer, Martin picked up work on a farm in Scotland, where one of his duties was tending sheep. He took a break from the flock to enter a tournament at St. Andrews, where, playing alongside Tommy Morris, Martin won the tournament. Hearing about Martin's farm work, the other golfers, Leach wrote, "for a long time after that ... called him 'The Herd Laddie.'"

Martin also played in a match in 1875 that was one of the last ever played by Young Tom Morris. In October, a month after the death of his wife and baby during childbirth, Young Tom partnered his father Old Tom to face Martin and Davie Strath. The Morrisses led 4-up with five holes to play, but the griefstricken Tommy fell apart over the final five holes. Martin/Strath won them all, and the match. (It was Strath who refused to play the playoff against Martin at the next year's Open.)

Leach described Martin's swing: "He had a long, low sweeping style in driving, and used to play with very flat clubs. (Editor: In this usage, "flat" means very low-lofted.) He himself described his style excellently as being like that of 'an old wife cutting hay.' ... The great feature of his game was his running up approaches done from comparatively short distances, as from 40 to 70 or 80 yards. ... He played the shot with the wrist, put some cut on the ball, and was so successful that it was undoubtedly through this one shot, in which he had no successful imitators, that he won his championships and many other matches."

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