Golfer Horace Rawlins: First U.S. Open Winner

Golfer Horace Rawlins wears the US Open medal
Horace Rawlins was an English golf professional whom happenstance brought into the field at the very first U.S. Open, which he then won. Rawlins worked at multiple golf clubs in the United States, and still holds two U.S. Open tournament records.

Full name: Horace Thomas Rawlins

Date of birth: August 5, 1874

Place of birth: Shanklin, Isle of Wight, England

Date and place of death: January 22, 1935 in Reading, Berkshire, England

Rawlins' U.S. Open Win

In 1895, the first United States Amateur Championship was played. The U.S. Open that followed was almost an afterthought. Only 11 golfers (one amateur, 10 pros) entered. Horace Rawlins surely only entered because he happened to be the assistant pro at the host course, Newport Country Club in Rhode Island. Rawlins, age 21*, had arrived in the U.S. only 10 months earlier, in January (the 1895 U.S. Open was played on October 4).

The golfers played four loops around the 9-hole golf course, 36 holes total. After the first 18, Rawlins had a score of 91. That was two strokes behind the co-leaders, Willie Dunn, James Foulis and amateur Andrew Smith.

On his third loop around, Rawlins posted a 41. And then he followed that with another 41 — 82 over his final 18, two strokes better than anyone else managed over the first or second 18. Rawlins wound up winning by two strokes over Dunn.

A writer for the New York Sun wrote, "Today Rawlins was a wild horse, and he could not be stopped."

For the win, Rawlins received $150 and a $50 gold medal (which Rawlins is wearing in the photo above), and his club, Newport CC, got to hold the tournament trophy for the next year.

(*For many years after his win, Rawlins was listed as having been 19 years old at the time. He used to be listed, even by the USGA, as the U.S. Open's youngest winner. However, we know today his correct date of birth, and he was 21.)

More About Horace Rawlins

Rawlins played the U.S. Open the next 11 years, plus in 1907 and 1909, and, for the last time, in 1912. In those appearances, he had two other Top 10 finishes, in the two Opens immediately following his win.

In the 1896 U.S. Open, where the number of entries swelled from the inaugural 11 to 35, Rawlins was runner-up to winner James Foulis by three strokes. And he finished tied for eighth in 1897. Beyond that, Rawlins' best finish was solo 12th in 1903.

Rawlins grew up on the Isle of Wight, where he got into golf as a caddie at Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club. By 1893, when he was 19, Rawlins was the professional at Mid-Herts Golf Club in Hertfordshire, England, and then moved to Raynes Park Golf Club in Surrey, England.

Rawlins was then hired as an assistant at Newport Country Club in Newport, Rhode Island, and arrived in America in early 1895. When Rawlins entered the 1895 U.S. Open, it was only the third time he had ever played in a golf tournament.

After his U.S. Open win, Rawlins made a brief return to England before coming back to the USA. He went to work at Sadaquada Golf Club near Utica, New York. He had several stops at American golf clubs after that, including a stay in California at Oakland Golf Club, and in Pennsylvania at Springhaven Club. But he returned to England for good in 1913. He does not appear to have had much involvement in golf for the rest of his life.

Some golf annuals of the late 19th/early 20th century era refer to Rawlins as being known as one of the longer hitters among pros in America at the time, but that means his good drives were going around 230 yards. At the 1904 Western Open, Rawlins won $50 for placing first in a long-drive contest.

Rawlins is not known to have won many other tournaments aside from the U.S. Open. But one he did win was a 1900 tournament in Oakland, Calif., where he beat the runner-up, Alex Smith, by six strokes.

When Harry Vardon toured the United States in 1900, he played a series of exhibition matches across the country. In one of those, played August 21 in Jefferson, New Hampshire, he lost 4 and 3 playing against the better ball of Alexander Findlay and Horace Rawlins. A couple weeks later, J.H. Taylor, also touring America, partnered with David Findlay to defeat the team of Rawlins and Launcelot Servos, 5 and 4, in 36 holes.

The night before the 1903 U.S. Open began at Baltusrol, Rawlins, upon leaving a visit to the home of Baltusrol pro George Low, was trailed in the night by a man who opened fire at Rawlins with a pistol. The man fled after Rawlins dove for cover and yelled. No arrest was ever made and no explanation for the incident was ever uncovered.

Horace's brother Harry, who had also learned as a caddie at Royal Isle of Wight Club, also emigrated to the United States and had a long career as a pro and instructor. Harry Rawlins played in four U.S. Opens, twice finishing in the top 20.

In 1961, a mashie used by Horace Rawlins in winning the first U.S. Open was given to the Golf House, home of the USGA Golf Museum, then located in New York City. The gold medal that Rawlins won in 1895 was discovered in a safe deposit box by one of his grandchildren in the early 1970s. There is statue of Rawlins today on the grounds of Mid Herts Golf Club in England.

Rawlins still holds two U.S. Open tournament records today, and neither will ever be broken. His 91 for the first 18 back in 1895 is the highest first-round score by a winner in tournament history. And his 173 is the highest score to lead the tournament after 36 holes.

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