Golfer Bob Ferguson, 3-Time Open Champion

Golfer Bob Ferguson won the British Open three straight years in the 1880s
Bob Ferguson was a Scottish golfer in the 1800s who won the Open Championship three consecutive years in the early 1880s. He played with and against the Morrises, among others, but his playing days were curtailed by health problems.

Full name: Robert Ferguson

Date of birth: Unknown, circa 1846

Place of birth: Musselburgh, Scotland

Date and place of death: May 19, 1915 in Musselburgh, Scotland

Ferguson's Three Open Championship Wins

  • 1880 British Open: The 1880 Open was played on Ferguson's home links, Musselburgh. In fact, according to the Open Championship website, Ferguson "won the first of his three Open titles within sight of the house in which he was born in Musselburgh." The one-day, 36-hole tournament went to Ferguson when he carded a 39 over the final nine, beating his third-round co-leader by five strokes. Jamie Anderson, who had won the three previous Opens, did not enter this one. But Anderson and Ferguson met in the Open one year later.

  • 1881 British Open: And when Ferguson and Anderson met this year at Prestwick, Ferguson finish first by three strokes over runner-up Anderson. This Open was played in terrible weather, and the first hole was a massive-for-its-time 578 yards. Ferguson scored 8-9-8 on that hole in the three, 12-hole rounds, yet still won by three. Ferguson's first-round 53 was the best score by three strokes of anyone in the tournament.

  • 1882 British Open: It was another three-stroke win for Ferguson this year. Once again, Ferguson carded the best round of the tournament (83) in his first round. Willie Fernie was the runner-up. Ferguson thus joined Young Tom Morris and Jamie Anderson as golfers who won the Open three successive years.

  • Going for number four: What happened in 1883, when Ferguson took his shot at four consecutive Open wins? He finished second. In fact, Ferguson lost in a playoff to Fernie, his runner-up the previous year. Ferguson led by a stroke with one hole to play, but on that hole Fernie made 2 and Ferguson 4.

More About Bob Ferguson

What kind of golfer was Bob Ferguson? One who was famous in his time for putting — especially run-up putts from off the green. "He putted so well from off the green," the website of the British Open states, "that the stroke became known as the 'Musselburgh iron'." Sort of the Texas wedge of its day.

The golfer and writer Horace Hutchinson once wrote of Ferguson:

"Greatly to be admired is the swing and style of Bob Ferguson. ... So square and solid he looks, his very stand expressive of the dogged resoluteness of his play, yet with great loose, free-working shoulders swinging as true as if the backbone were a pivot! And that forward dig of his with the iron which he used to lay the balls up on the plateau-pitched holes of North Berwick as if by magic. ... His is a style which any golfer may, with advantage, study."
Growing up within sight of the Musselburgh links, Ferguson was caddying on those links by the age of eight. As for playing golf, you might say he burst onto the tournament scene.

On May 17, 1867, a golf tournament for professionals was played on the 7-hole Leith links. Using just a few borrowed clubs, Ferguson won the tournament, whose field included Young Tom Morris, Old Tom Morris, Willie Park Sr., Jamie Anderson and Andrew Strath, among others. After Ferguson's shocking debut, a benefactor paid for Ferguson to get a set of new golf clubs, and Ferguson used those clubs in his Open wins more than a decade later, and for the rest of his playing days.

His name established, Ferguson became in-demand, both for "challenge matches" and as a visiting pro at clubs. In 1868, Aberdeen Golf Club brought Ferguson and his caddie, who went by the nickname of "Fiery," to Aberdeen links for five weeks to help instruct new club members.

In 1868 and 1869, Ferguson faced off against the Morrises in a series of matches in which both sides were backed by money men, and on which many others had money riding. Ferguson beat Old Tom Morris six straight times, but then he lost three out of four matches against Young Tom Morris. The match in which Ferguson got the better of Tommy was one they agreed to play using cleeks only.

A few more examples of some of Ferguson's challenge matches:

  • He partnered Willie Park Sr. to beat the team of Young Tom and David Strath at North Berwick, winning by three holes.
  • On April 10, 1878, Tom Kidd defeated Ferguson on the Aberdeen links, 81 to 85.
  • On April 29, 1880, Jamie Anderson defeated Ferguson, also at Aberdeen, 75 to 77.
  • On August 6, 1881, at Gullane, Ferguson and B. Hall Blyth partnered against Old Tom Morris and John Ball in a series of matches. Ferguson's side won three of the matches and halved two, losing none.
Meanwhile, in 1875, Ferguson made the papers for a "golf marathon" stunt. Along with W.G. Bloxsom, Ferguson played 16, 9-hole rounds around the Musselburgh Links in a single day, 144 holes total — what was then an endurance record. They were ready to tee off their 17th round, but Ferguson's caddie Fiery had had enough, saying he would be "damned if he would carry another yard." So they stopped.

Ferguson first played the Open Championship in 1868 and finished fifth. He was fourth in 1875 and tied for third in 1877. His streak of three wins came in 1880-82, followed by the second-place showing in 1883, then a tie for fourth in 1874. From 1868 through 1886, Ferguson played the Open 10 times and finished no lower than a tie for eighth. His final appearance in the Open was in 1889, when he finished tied for 15th.

Along the way, Ferguson operated a shop in Musselburgh where he made clubs. And he also earned an income through caddying on the Musselburgh links. Imagine that: A golfer of the day could show up at Musselburgh and have a three-time Open champion carrying his clubs. Among the golfers who received instruction from Ferguson were Willie Campbell and Andrew Laidlay.

As late as 1907 Ferguson still shared (with Harry Vardon, Sandy Herd and Willie Park Jr.) the course record of 33 at Musselburgh.

Most sources state that Ferguson's playing days ended following a bout with typhoid during the 1880s. In the 1910 book Golf Curios and the Like, author Harry B. Wood stated that "around 20 years ago" Ferguson's sight started getting bad and "he was consequently compelled to practically give up the game."

Ferguson was believed to be 69 years old when he died in 1915. At that time, a memorial fountain was erected near the Musselburgh links to honor Ferguson. When the Musselburgh Golf Club changed locations in 1938, the fountain was moved, too. It remains in front of the Musselburgh clubhouse today.

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