Golfer David Brown, 19th-Century Open Champ

David Brown was a Scottish golfer who was a British Open champion in the 1880s. After emigrating to the United States, he came very close to winning a U.S. Open, too, but lost in a playoff.

Date of birth: May 9, 1861

Place of birth: Musselburgh, Scotland

Date and place of death: July 8, 1936 in Inveresk, Scotland

Nickname: Davy or Deacon

Brown's British Open Win

The 1886 Open Championship was played on the Musselburgh links in Scotland, which is a lucky thing for David Brown: He had played in two Opens previously, but each time only because they happened to be played in his hometown.

The Open once again in Brown's hometown of Musselburgh, he entered again in 1886. The Open was played on November 5, four trips around the nine-hole links.

Willie Campbell was the leader after morning play with two 39s, for a 78. Brown was one stroke back after going round in 38 and 41. Brown took the lead in the last three holes of the third round, scoring 8 over those holes. It helped him record a 37 and take a one-stroke edge over Campbell into the final round.

And in that final nine, Brown shot 41 to Campbell's 42, finished at 157 and won by two strokes. He earned £8 for the victory.

The website of Musselburgh Links shares a story about how Brown wound up in the tournament, perhaps apocryphal but too good not to share:

"The story was told that he was a slater to trade and John Anderson, who was secretary of the Musselburgh Club at the time, sent for him to make up the numbers. When he arrived at the Royal Musselburgh clubhouse he was as black as a sweep and was given a bath, then a pair of striped trousers, a frock coat and a lum hat. This did not prevent him from winning."

More About David 'Deacon' Brown

David "Deacon" Brown worked as a roofing slater in Musselburgh or wherever the job was, playing golf in his spare time. And he became known as one of the better local golfers. But he rarely played in publicized tournaments or matches (prior to his Open success) unless it was something convenient to his job site.

So when Brown first entered the Open Championship in 1880, it was because the tournament took place in Musselburgh. And Brown tied for fourth place that year, seven strokes behind winner Bob Ferguson.

The Open was on a three-links rotation at that time: Prestwick, St. Andrews, Musselburgh. So when the Open returned to his hometown in 1883, Brown entered again. This time he didn't show so well, tying for 24th place.

But when the Open returned to Musselburgh in 1886, Brown etched his name on the Claret Jug, ensuring his place in golf history.

The golfer and writer Horace Hutchinson described Brown as "a painstaking player, brimful of confidence, a long, powerful driver, and an extremely dexterous wielder of Park's patent lofter." (Park's Patent Lofter refers to a "lofting club" designed by Willie Park Jr. that had a concave face and supplied extra backspin for higher-lofted approach shots.)

But Hutchinson also advised beginning golfers not to copy Brown's swing, which Hutchinson described as "a rather slow, wild swing upward, with a tremendously long pause at the top."

Brown finished ninth in the Open in his title defense in 1887. From 1889-1897, he placed in the Top 10 six out of the nine times he played, with a best of tied fourth in 1889.

Brown worked at various clubs in England from shortly before his Open win, starting as greenskeeper at Hayling Island Golf Club in 1885 (he replaced Joe Lloyd, who later won the 1897 U.S. Open). Around 1888 he became professional at Newbiggin by the Sea Golf Club, and was later pro and clubmaker at Malvern Club until 1898.

In 1900, Brown moved to the United States, initially settling in Boston.

He first played the U.S. Open in 1901, placing seventh, and had an an eighth-place finish in 1907. But in-between, he nearly won the 1903 U.S. Open: Brown started the final round six strokes behind leader Willie Anderson, then shot 76 to Anderson's 82 to tie at 307. In the 18-hole playoff, though, Anderson bested Brown by two strokes, 82 to 84.

Brown last played a major tournament in 1908, tying for 12th in the U.S. Open.

Brown served as pro at many clubs in America, including Crescent Athletic Club in Brooklyn; Wollaston Country Club outside Boston; Merrimack in New Hampshire; and The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

Along the way, Brown earned a good deal of money in the stock market. But when the market crashed, precipitating the Great Depression, in 1929, Brown lost nearly everything.

He returned home to Musselburgh, but, now destitute, wound up in the Inveresk Intistution, a facility for the poor and infirm. He was confined there the last five years of his life. Brown was 75 years old when he died, at the time having been the oldest-living British Open winner.

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